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On a heavier note - a reply to Ben Drake

Liz Davies and Mike Marqusee

 


Ben Drake asks: “On a heavier note, can I ask that you clarify your comments on finances in the Socialist Alliance? I don't think you meant to imply fraud or dodgy dealings, rather what you felt were formally incorrect procedures. But people might mistakenly read in darker implications, especially as this is a public access website.”

 

Unfortunately, what happened in the Socialist Alliance was much more serious than “formally incorrect procedures” and does indeed carry “darker implications”. Ben appears here to be innocently reflecting the self-serving falsehoods disseminated by the SWP leadership about this affair.

 

What follows is a brief summary by Liz Davies and Mike Marqusee of the events that led both to leave the Socialist Alliance, of which Liz was, at that time, national chair.

 

1. As chair of the SA, Liz was one of the authorised signatories of cheques drawn on the Socialist Alliance account. In October 2002, she became aware that at least three individuals had been involved in forging her signature on a number of Socialist Alliance cheques over a period of several months. 

2. The individuals were the SA National Secretary, the SA Membership Secretary and the SA full-time office worker. The office worker and the National Secretary were both prominent members of the SWP. Indeed, the National Secretary was a long-standing SWP full-timer with overall responsibility for the SWP's relations with the Socialist Alliance.

3. The repeated forgery of Liz's signature was kept secret from Liz herself as well as from the Treasurer and the SA Executive. It was only discovered by accident.

4. It has been claimed that the signature was forged as a result of emergency requirements. There is no truth whatsoever in that claim and no evidence to support it. Liz was readily available to sign cheques for bona fide requirements and was in touch with all three individuals on an almost daily basis throughout the four month period during which the forgeries were taking place and being kept secret.  She was a regular visitor to the SA office, where they worked.

5. When Liz discovered the forgeries, she immediately registered a strong objection to the practise directly to all those involved. The first response was a threatening telephone message from one of the SWP’s most prominent Central Committee members.  This was one of several attempts to bully us into silence (followed up by a smear campaign).

6 . The SWP members involved in the forgery refused to accept that it was a serious matter or that the practise was wrong. "It's a matter of convenience where we come from," Liz was told by the SA National Secretary, who berated her for informing the other national officers of her discovery. The SWP was absolutely determined  that the affair be covered up and that the guilty parties not be held to account in any form.

7. When Liz insisted on reporting the forgeries to the SA Executive, the SWP members’ response was to call her a "scab", accuse her of "witch-hunting" and argue that no steps at all should be taken against the perpetrators. Sadly, this irresponsible and unethical position was endorsed by most of the rest of the Executive, including the representatives of Socialist Resistance, the AWL and the CPGB. 

8. Several weeks after Liz's resignation, she was given (on her insistence) a list of 7 cheques on which her signature had been forged. Five of those seven cheques were made directly payable to the three individuals involved or to ‘cash’. The five cheques were drawn for a total of more than £3,000. Liz had been completely unaware, until she received this list, that the forged cheques had been made payable to the perpetrators.

 

We are sure that activists on the left will understand why, in the autumn of 2002, we were reluctant to make any of this public. We were worried about various potential repercussions and especially about the damage that such publicity might have had on the anti-war movement at a crucial stage in its development (during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq). However, at this stage, there seems no reason not to provide Ben with a straight reply to a straight question.  

 

It is vital that Ben and other members of the SWP realise that this was not a dispute over procedures. The forging of the cheques was not an administrative error or a blunder by an inexperienced individual. It was a sustained course of deception and financial impropriety engaged in by experienced individuals occupying major positions of trust and responsibility. It was an offence not only against the SA officers, but the SA as a whole, all those who had paid dues to it and all those who had offered it support. It betrayed a shockingly cynical contempt for essential democratic procedures and rudimentary principles of accountability.  

 

We therefore stand by Mike's statement in his reply to Ben: “In the Socialist Alliance, flagrant financial dishonesty was practised by SWP full-timers over a period of months. When this was uncovered, accidentally, the SWP leadership (with help from others) blocked all efforts to bring those responsible to account.”

 

This whole matter is very much about politics and political principles. Those who have claimed otherwise are either protecting themselves or living in denial.

 

Sometimes the truth is unpalatable, but it is, nonetheless, the truth.

 

 

September 2004

Socialist Unity editorial comment

Declan O’Neill


The events that led up to Liz Davies’s resignation were some of the most traumatic in the history of the Socialist Alliance.   For myself, personally, they were the closest I had come to despair during my decade long involvement in first the Network of Socialist Alliance and then the SA itself.  As treasurer of the SA during the 2001 general election I was aware that the correct procedures had not always been followed.  I had myself on occasion written personal cheques to cover urgent debts, and later claimed the money back simply because funds were not immediately available.  While clearly this was not a procedure any auditor would approve of, nobody would ever have considered forging a signature.  Certainly none of the officers at the time would have tolerated this.

Luckily, my successor as treasurer, Tess McMahon, was both more efficient and more professional than myself.   Hence my total surprise when the revelations about the forgery of Liz’s signature emerged.   My first reaction was disbelief, my second outrage when the truth emerged.  On calmer reflection, I was totally amazed by the stupidity of the people involved.  How could they have possibly have imagined that this would go undiscovered?  The treasurer was bound to notice the cheques given the amount involved, and certain to raise the issue with Liz.

Why raise all this now?   One reason is that it marked an important turning point in the history of the Alliance, and its members have a right to know the truth of what occurred.  Secondly the SUN website has from the beginning had a policy of opening its pages to the Left. Hence material has appeared in “Voices”  which some or all of us have disagreed with, and I hope this continues.

The immediate reason was the direct question from Ben Drake to Mike Marqusee reproduced below:

“On a heavier note, can I ask that you clarify your comments on finances in the Socialist Alliance?  I don't think you meant to imply fraud or dodgy dealings, rather what you felt were formally incorrect procedures.  But people might mistakenly read in darker implications, especially as this is a public access website.”   

Once we had published this on the website, Liz and Mike clearly had a right to reply, and in their own terms.   That reply was bound to offend some who take a very different view of what happened, people I continue to regard as comrades and friends.

On the substance of Liz and Mike’s piece the problem for me is that it is open to different interpretations.    I regret that some of it is ambiguously worded.   Crucially, and I think this is what Ben is asking, I do  believe, and as far as I am aware nobody has ever alleged otherwise , that all the cheques were written to pay legitimate debts.  This is not to excuse the inexcusable.   The forgery of Liz’s signature remains both an indefensible and incredibly stupid act.

 

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Previously in this thread

Mike Marqusee's Signs of the Times article

Ben Drake's original article in reply

Mike Marqusee's response

Ben Drake's reply I, Robot

 

 

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