Lush 4 Labour – The true story

In 2017 much was written on social media about the Labour Party fundraising event which spawned the term ‘Lushgate’. The subject still crops up, often raised by those who wish myself and my party ill, and often with a lot of mistruths amongst the posts and comments. I have yet to see a full and factual account of what actually happened. I’m sure most people aren’t really interested, but for the sake of accuracy, here it is.

The 2017 Kent County Council Election Campaign

The election campaign for the two Ramsgate division seats started in 2016, primarily with a series of fundraising events. The candidates, myself and Raushan Ara, needed a good war chest to fight an effective campaign and the local party coffers were depleted.

Our agent, Kaz Peet was approached by a long-standing friend of hers with an offer of a donation which she had been told could be used by the local Labour Party to raise funds. The donor, Jenny Matthias, a famous female singer also know as Jenny Bellstar  (iko iko fame) and a vocal pro-Corbyn supporter, ran a charity called Food For All which had a warehouse containing a considerable quantity of Lush products which were either classed as damaged, out of date or discontinued.

Food For All had received the goods from another charity, The Kindness Offensive, who had originally got them from Lush.

After discussing the donation and hearing from Jenny Matthias that she was allowed to give the products “to good causes and Labour is one of those good causes”, Kaz Peet, Raushan Ara and myself agreed that we should hold a sale event and call it ‘Lush4Labour’. We needed to arrange collection from the London warehouse and transport back down to Ramsgate, a venue for the sale and publicity.

Raushan couldn’t make the trip to the warehouse but was on hand to unload Kaz’s car on our return. On that day we filmed Jenny as part of our event publicity and posted her on Facebook. She clearly stated that the sale would be to raise funds for Labour. News of the impending sale was shared on social media with a date set for Saturday 18th February 2017 at The Churchill Tavern in Ramsgate.

The Lush4Labour Sale

On the Saturday morning we set up the sale at Churchill’s with the help of pub staff, one of whom created a hand painted sign on a chalkboard which was placed on the pavement outside. Kaz, Raushan and I took some pictures during the event which were posted on Facebook. As a result, many people who were unable to attend sent messages requesting that we put aside some Lush items for them to purchase later.

By mid afternoon most of the stock was gone and we packed up to leave. The Churchill’s staff member offered to put the few remaining bits of product on sale behind the bar which we agreed to.

At that stage we had raised close to £450 for Labour Part campaign funds.

Press interest

On Monday 20th February, I was alerted by Jenny Matthias that she “had The Sun reporters all over the warehouse”. She told me that Charity Commission regulations don’t allow a political party to sell these products for political gain.

My immediate response was to tell her not to worry and that we would offer to donate the monies raised to local charities. I then called two local charities and emailed another, explained the situation and made the offers.

At 5pm a reporter from The Sun called me saying that they had a story, would run it, but wanted to get my side of things. I said that the money was not now going to Labour but was being donated to local charities.

I also contacted Labour Party officials and the GMB, my trade union who were assisting my campaign at the time. The GMB press team advised me that the actions I had taken should be enough to satisfy any original complaints and that any further press enquiries should be referred to them.

Later I learnt that the story had come from a local freelance writer, Chris Smee, who had attempted to sell it to The Sun. The newspaper were interested in a smear story to use against Labour and Jeremy Corbyn in the run up to the high profile by-elections in Stoke and Copeland. In the end they decided it was a non-story and didn’t run it. However, Mr Smee, who is known to ‘write for the right’, decided to donate it to a well known local blogger and rival candidate in the KCC election, Ian Driver.

Driver does his worst

I don’t know how I have managed to become such a target for Ian Driver. I can only assume his poor results in the TDC election in 2016 have damaged his ego and reputation. The fact is Ian Driver invents stories about me on a frequent basis. His online pieces often verge on the libellous and letters to the local paper are personally insulting to say the least. 

Mr Driver took Chris Smee’s material, which included mobile phone video footage someone had recorded for him at the sale and went to town with a personal attack.

BBC SouthEast takes Driver’s line

Ian Driver was once the go-to councillor for local BBC news reporters. He appeared to be ever available to provide on-camera comment on the stories of the day. BBC SouthEast fell for the Lush story and sent down a reporter to ‘ask the man in the street’ what they thought about the incident. Common sense prevailed and most of the vox-pops aired were people merely perplexed by the issue. 

BBC News ran the story without on-camera comment from Raushan, Kaz or myself. We three, were under strict instructions not to comment and a statement was provided by the GMB.

However, we had not predicted the appearance in the film of the Churchill Tavern member of staff telling the reporter that I had specifically asked her to create a sign with ‘All proceeds to charity’ written across it. This individual blatantly lied to camera, but had produced an image of the sign with her writing on it.

Let me be clear, we accepted the Lush products to sell for the Labour Party. The event called Lush4Labour and was advertised as fundraising for our campaign. 

Checking the Pub CCTV

The BBC News report aired during their 6.30pm bulletin. A short while after, my husband was called by the deputy manager of the pub. He and the manager had seen the news in disbelief and had decided to check the pub’s CCTV footage from the day of the event. My husband went across to take a look. The recording showed the member of staff working on creating her sign and then carrying it outside. The design that the board carried at that time did not contain the words ‘All proceeds to charity’.

Other members of Churchill’s staff recalled their colleague coming into the pub earlier in the week and asking where the Lush4Labour sign had gone. It was being stored in the cellar area. At the time they did not question her interest or why she disappeared behind the bar to find it.

You can decide for yourself what happened, but soon after, the BBC had a picture of the doctored sign.

Incidentally, since this episode I have been accused of getting this woman sacked from Churchill Tavern. Those too are lies. She still works there and, strangely enough, still serves me drinks with a smile.

Subsequent enquiries

I was then asked to account for my actions, Raushan’s and Kaz Peet’s actions. I spoke at the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) meeting who voted that my explanation was satisfactory and the matter was resolved. 

As a Justice of the Peace, I contacted those who manage magistrates in Kent and provided details of the events. They looked into the affair and decided that there was nothing that upset my position on The Bench.

The story was reported to Thanet District Council. Their compliance and standards people looked at it and also decided that I had not breached any rules.

Jenny Matthias was reported to The Charities Commission. She issued a statement which showed that she took full blame for what had happened.

A few months back Food For All were fortunate enough to receive a donation of LUSH products, LUSH are a fabulous organisation that give to charities every year, they gave them to The Kindness Offensive who in turn gave them to us. Over the months we have given freely to many local and regional charities, good causes, service users, volunteers and such like, we are known for sharing what we are given, however, our reputation came into disrepute recently due to my ignorance on who we can a cannot give to and as a result I have been hounded by the media for a story. I had not realized when giving this out that there would be a prejudice to some groups and in deed that we are not allowed to do that as a charity, this was my mistake and mine only. I am saddened that my actions of giving to a group of people from the local Thanet Labour party have resulted in so much bad press for both them and us as they have not spent a penny of the proceeds on their campaign, every penny went to three charities within the Thanet area, which cannot be a bad thing, or can it? I apologize to TKO for this genuine mistake and also to LUSH both outstanding organisations that do an equal amount for charities throughout the nation.
So this is to put the record straight and to say that I am fully to blame for giving to a group of people that happen to be Labour political who in turn gave the proceeds to charities in need. If you wish to judge me on this then do so with a loving heart. THANK YOU
Jennie Matthias x
27th February 2017

KCC Election Victory

I went on to win the Kent County Council Election. Despite the best efforts of those involved in the smear campaign, I came first. Raushan was unsuccessful, beaten into third place by a Conservative. My win was at a time when Labour were being hammered in the polls. I was the only Labour gain in the country. We lost lots of seats that night but I won Ramsgate.

The battle continues

It appears Lush will never go away. Those who choose to use it will continue to do so. I, however, have risen above it and actually believe it has strengthened my resolve. I work tirelessly as a District and County Councillor and use every opportunity I have to put the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour vision across. I’m doing this with success and, perhaps ironically, have now become the go-to political voice in Thanet for the BBC and other news outlets.

The report

Mick Lees, the South Thanet CLP secretary at the time, was asked to compile a full report. This is reproduced below with my subsequent comments added shortly afterwards inline.

From STCLP Secretary Mick Lee’s. 

Report to Kent Labour Forum regarding donation to STCLP

This report will briefly deal with recent adverse publicity connected to a donation given to aid the Labourcandidates standing in Ramsgate in the forthcoming Kent County Council (KCC) elections. The executive (EC) of the STCLP believe the facts of the case to be as laid out below:

  • 7th September: One of the KCC candidates for Ramsgate, Karen Constantine (KC) and her agent Kaz Peet (KP) picked up a large amount of LUSH products. The EC believed this to be a donation from an individual who was a personal friend of KP.
    The donation was offered by Jenny Matthias aka Jenny Belle Star. She runs food for all  – Brent. The donation to us was a tiny part of a several ton donation to the third sector by Lush. The stock was all, unsellable via their shops, It was unpackaged, damaged, seconds, near sell by & discontinued. Lush are the manufacturers so the value is low. 90% of retail at best. It was made in good faith and received as such. Jenny said we could sell it to raise money for our good cause. Labour. That was explicit. 
  • Over the next few days several advertisements on internal Labour Face Book and other mediums stated there would be a sale of these products at a local pub, with the proceeds going entirely to the KCC campaign to assist in the election of the two candidates.
    I sent an email to the EC, including the chair and secretary on the 7th Feb and several more thereafter. I offered the products very widely for use by all KCC candidates in Thanet and to the  South Thanet fund raising officer and women’s officer for fund raising. 
    Only Facebook was used to promote the sale. A request was made to put the info into our South Thanet web page.
    The EC knew fully what was occurring.
  • It should be stressed that to the knowledge of the EC, the other Ramsgate candidate, Raushan Aratook no part at any stage in this process.
    This is disputed. RA was unable to come to London to collect. She ‘covered’ my pre planned canvas round. She came to assist us unpack the products. She came to the sale. She posted in support on various Facebook pages. At no point did she indicate any issue or concern. The money was destined for the joint campaign fund. She went on to invite Jenny as the doner to come to her restaurant to sing. 
  • On the 16th September some of these products were used as a raffle prize at a quiz night with the proceeds of the night going towards Labour party funds.
    I prepared a small basket. Which was raffled. The actual value would have been very low. A few pounds. The basket, wrapping and packaging were bought by myself. 
  • On the 18th September the sale took place where a sizeable amount of money was generated for the KCC campaign, believed to be in the region of £500.
    We raised around £480, we anticipated more money as people wanted me to ‘put by’ product for them. I quietly declined to sell these once the problem came to light. The remaining product has been sent to the local women’s refuge to be used by women and Volenteers.
  • In the afternoon of Monday 20th September I became aware of a possible problem when KP put on the South Thanet Labour Face Book page that the monies raised from the sale was now going to be donated to three local charities.
    Jenny contacted me out of the blue. See my statement at the end of this for the full detail. She said we couldn’t sell the products and keep the profits as SHE would be in breach of charity commission guidelines. She said the Sun newspaper was all over her premises. I took immediate action and called two local charities to offer them the cash.
    The Sun called me and I told them that the money was going to charities. I then escalated the press interest to Steve Pryle GMB who dealt with media from then on.  
  • At the Ramsgate BLP meeting on the evening of 20thSeptember five members of the EC at the conclusion of the meeting discussed the implications of this post. KP had attended this meeting but left half way through the meeting and was therefore not spoken to at his time. The discussion confirmed that no member of the EC had been spoken to about any possible problems.
    These meetings start at 7.30 – I do not know if Kaz Peet was asked to stay on after the meeting closed. I did not attend. I was not invited to discuss the issues with the EC, nor has anyone contacted me. No amended agenda was supplied. No indication of a discussion. 
  • The next day, Tuesday 21st September, the CLP Treasurer sent an invitation to KP to attend a meeting on 23rd September to discuss the issue but KP responded she was unavailable on that evening.
    That’s fair enough isn’t it? 
  • Due to the urgent nature of the EC concerns the Treasurer send an e-mail to KP asking six specific questions. In was in response to these questions that the EC first became aware that the donation may not in fact been from an individual, but from an unsuitable source.
    The EC were fully aware. My agent kept the EC up to date. It must be remembered that people have ‘lives’ and responsibilities outside of the party and that currently the agent is canvassing with the candidates 6 times per week. All the questions put were answered. I believe the tone of some of our EC communications leaves something to be desired. I myself have complained twice.  (Please note in my 36 years of membership I have only complained on one other occasion). I would also state that their is a frustration that the EC do not seem to support the campaign, and with the exception of delivery of small amount of leaflets by Del Goddard it is safe to say they have played no part at all. The KCC election would seem to be a side line and as a very long term activist I find that regrettable. Indeed our EC members have asked ‘why campaign ‘ for KCC and ‘just need to be seeing doing it’. 
  • The blog by a local activist, who is very anti Labourparty, gave details and made allegations about the legality and morality of what KC and KP had done.
    Yes this is true. The Sun didn’t use the story. A relief in the run up to the two by elections and fresh news on election expense question on both Farage and Mackinlay. It would appear that a local right wing free lance journalist Chris Smee actually set up the story. I have been a target for both before and it’s not the first time the blogger has blogged on me. He fails to mention his own candidacy for KCC and that he stood against me in my ward election.
    Being new to the area and / or the party some of our EC wouldn’t have the previous knowledge of these frequently used local smear tactics.
    The ‘story’ continues as he then claimed I had forced a member of staff at Churchills pub, the sale venue to write ‘for charity’ on publicity boards. The landlord has complained to the BBC and alerted them to his CCTV footage that shows this to be a lie. 
  • The EC immediately tried to establish what had happened by e-mailing KP with several specific questions. Within these e-mails was the very strong recommendation that if the money had not yet been given to a charity, to hold back on giving it to anyone. It subsequently transpired that although promised to the two local charities it was not actually given until the 27th February.
    What date? We had already confirmed the money was going, was promised to charity on the 20th Feb. My STCLP treasure never contacted me. He did however contact the two charities without asking me to ‘check’ to see if the money had been given to them. They confirmed my contact with them on Monday 20th that is an established fact.
  • It was established that although the person donating the products may have broken charity rules, KC and KP had not broken any such rules by accepting the donation. This was communicated to the BBC and other media by South East Labour. However the EC were aware of the possibility that Labour party rules may have been broken, together with the political implications of what had happened.
    Jenny avoided breaking charity rules. Not raised with us – more media spin. I took advice from both GMB & Region. Regional Chair has confirmed to me no rules were broken. No law has been broken. No breach of election law. I have reported the matter as a potential issue if disrupt to my magistrates bench chair and they too are content to do nothing.  I have been reported to standards and as I wasn’t acting as a councillor this is out of jurisdiction. 
  • The money raised has been donated to two local charities, and both the person donating the goods and KC and KP have apologised for the mistake.
    I apologised unreservedly on 20th  Feb. And again at the CLP meeting. At this meeting KP also apologised. The media has been consistent on this – this is the only message going out. 
  • The EC were concerned that the allegation was that both KC and KP had been aware there may be a problem on the 20th September, but they made no attempt to update the EC so they could be involved in subsequent decisions, or involve the EC in any way.
    The media calls were relentless. That kept me busy. To be frank there is no contact between the EC and the campaign so that’s not unusual. Events moved very fast. There was a lot of media noise. At the same time I had three positive and important media stories going out. I would not be blown off course nor would I let it interfere with canvassing. No one picked up the telephone. There is no contact between the EC and the campaign. No relationship.  
  • The Treasurer has sent several e-mail to KP to establish the facts, and although the information was supplied, there was a feeling from the responses of both animosity towards the EC and an obvious failure to comprehend the seriousness of the situation, together with a feeling of lack of support towards KP by the EC.
    I can’t comment on what others may have been feeling. 
  • The EC met, although the Chair was not present, and decided that the facts would be put to the General Meeting this Friday 3rd March as part of the normal secretaries report. However at this time as there has been no written complaint to myself, there is no requirement to put a motion to such a meeting. If such a complaint is subsequently received due to the next meeting being the AGM, it will not be dealt with till after the KCC elections, so KC will not risk suspension or being under investigation during the election.
    Who on the EC? What facts? Anticipating a complaint? The local KCF also meet and this was discussed there too.  
  • The story has been covered by both the BBC South East today programme and at least two local papers, who have largely been critical of the candidates and the agent. It has also been spoken about on several blogs and other social media sites, with again the majority of comments being negative.
    The story has been properly referred upwards and professionally well managed and I have followed formal media guidance at every step. It’s a great pity that our Secretary filmed and published the story on the South Thanet Facebook page. It was thoughtless to publicise it to those who did not know about it. There have been no wishes of support and no offer of assistance from my EC colleagues. That the media is hostile to Labour and a well know Trade union officer is no surprise. Surely?
    Am I not know locally as a thorn in Mackinlays side?
    It should be noted that on the doorstep it’s not news. That in fact there has been quite a discussion on Facebook and the well know blogger has had his ‘fingers burned’. The keenest to ‘have a go’ are other KCC candidates and UKIP supporters. 
  • In summary, despite much effort being put in by the agent, the EC has concerns about her ability to perform the role due to her apparent failure to comprehend the importance of rules and procedures. However she was and remains the strong choice of KC, although the other candidate shares the reservations of the EC. The EC hopes the campaign team will co-operate with and involve more the EC in order to ensure the most effective campaign and the return of the two candidates.
    The other candidate should be consulted by yourselves. If the members of the EC wish to deliver an effective campaign then I would urge them to simply join it instead of discussing it.
    The other candidate confirms to me that she has had no contact with Mick Lee’s on the topic of her confidence in the agent. 

Dr Mick Lees

Secretary STCLP