Shadow chancellor John McDonnell has defended the Labour Party’s decision to ban Julia Hartley-Brewer from its next conference.
The talkRADIO presenter made a joke on Twitter about the ‘safe space’ at this year’s conference, and the Conference Arrangements Committee decided that her “conduct and the considerable distress she caused to vulnerable groups merited a ban from next year’s event.
talkRADIO’s Alex Dibble asked John McDonnell - who was in London to support the protest rally organised by Wetherspoon, McDonalds and TGI Fridays workers - whether the ban showed Labour was not “committed to free speech”.
“No, it’s showing that people have to behave acceptably,” responded McDonnell.
'She invaded the space and upset people'
At this year’s conference, McDonnell spoke about Labour’s Neurodiversity Manifesto, which was launched last year and aims to make things more inclusive for people with autism and other neurological differences.
He said the people who’d been involved with creating it were upset by Hartley-Brewer’s behaviour.
“We had a big debate about it on the fringes of [last year’s] Labour party conference,” he explained.
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“One of the issues that came out of that debate was to say actually, in some areas you need a safe space, particularly if people are on the spectrum and others who are really vulnerable.
“We accommodated that, and she invaded that space and upset people, and we can’t have that.
“All we’re asking journalists to do is respect people’s decisions, particularly with regards to those who are neurodiverse.
“Unfortunately she didn’t, and therefore the strong reaction from those people was to say ‘we don’t want that person here’.”
He added that if Hartley-Brewer were to apologise, the situation could be improved.
“I wouldn’t mind if she came along and apologised and behaved in the future, and actually met with some of the neurodiverse manifesto writers to understand what’s going on, but she hasn’t done that. I find that unacceptable,” McDonnell said.
'I hope she'll learn some lessons'
McDonnell said anyone with “human empathy” should have been able to understand the need for a safe space.
“I’m hoping she’ll learn some lessons,” he said.
“She should meet with the people who’ve been developing the neurodiversity manifesto to understand just how upset people are.
“I think, in our society we haven’t accepted our responsibilities to those people, particularly on the autistic spectrum.
“We need to understand just how concerned and upset they are. That’s why we had a safe space, why didn’t she understand that? If anyone had any form of human empathy I think they would.”