BYM clerk meets Jeremy Corbyn

‘This work may be put at critical risk.’ YMAC on BYM programmes in Israel/Palestine, if Jeremy Corbyn were to speak at Friends House during YM.

Quakers met with Jeremy Corbyn last month to discuss the differing opinions of Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) trustees and the Quaker Socialist Society (QSS) on his invitation to deliver the Salter Lecture.

The meeting, at Portcullis House on 14 March, followed BYM trustees’ recommendation that a Salter Lecture by Jeremy Corbyn should not be given at Friends House at the time of Yearly Meeting (YM). According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the former Labour Party leader had presided over ‘unlawful’ anti-Semitic harassment within the party. When he claimed this finding was ‘dramatically overstated’, he was suspended. In the light of these events, BYM trustees deemed that his appearance at YM would put BYM programmes and staff at reputational risk.

The meeting, with Marisa Johnson, clerk to BYM trustees, and Sheila Taylor, from QSS, was ’warm and friendly’, said QSS. But Jeremy Corbyn was ‘sad and disappointed with the Quaker position. He had spent five years combating the lies told about him by the Labour Party and the media’, said Sheila Taylor. She had told BYM that she could not disinvite the former Labour leader, who had been asked to co-deliver the lecture with Quaker Paul Ingram, an expert on global nuclear disarmament. Marisa Johnson said she would ask him to withdraw.

On the QSS website, Sheila Taylor said, ‘Jeremy said he would do whatever QSS wants – speak or not speak… if July were not possible, he would do another event for us some other time.’

Two days later, Yearly Meeting Agenda Committee (YMAC) accepted the trustees’ recommendation. Its minute noted that BYM’s work in Israel and Palestine ‘is particularly vulnerable at this time, and that this work may be put at critical risk by the conversations that we would expect to arise around a lecture… including Jeremy Corbyn as a speaker’.

The minute asked QSS to arrange for the Salter Lecture to be given by Paul Ingram alone, or to ‘make alternative arrangements… that may include Jeremy Corbyn as a speaker. This could be at the time of Yearly Meeting [at another venue] or at another time’.

Sheila Taylor called the outcome ‘disappointing though hardly surprising’. QSS had picked up on ‘much resentment from members and other Friends about the power of trustees, interfering in the Salter Lecture’, she wrote, saying it had received thirty-one disgruntled responses.

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