Former Tom Watson adviser accuses Labour of racial discrimination

A former political adviser to Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, is taking the party to an employment tribunal alleging racial discrimination, saying she was treated less favourably as the only “black person on the team”.

Sarah Goulbourne had a complaint accepted at the Central London employment tribunal, in which she accuses Alicia Kennedy, a member of the deputy Labour leader’s office, of racial discrimination, harassment and bullying.

Goulbourne lost her job in Watson’s office in 2018 when Labour party headquarters cut funding for his staff, with seven employees leaving in total. Six other employees who were white either took voluntary redundancy or were not replaced, and Goulbourne was made redundant.

It is understood this happened after Labour asked Goulbourne, who is of African-Caribbean origin, and another staff member from a minority ethnic background to re-interview for their jobs. A decision was then made on who was to be made redundant.

In the complaint, Goulbourne claims she was forced out of her job due to her ethnicity and argues there was a “history of being treated less favourably”.

The legal documents – seen and first published by the Independent – allege that she was warned by another staff member that Lady Kennedy might be racist.

The documents allege that Kennedy had spoken to Goulbourne in an “aggressive” manner that contrasted with the “jovial way” in which she apparently interacted with other colleagues – something the Goulbourne attributed to her race.

Other allegations include claims that Goulbourne was prevented from walking through the Labour party conference hall with Watson one year and was not permitted to be present for his main conference speech in another.

The complaint says that Goulbourne approached Watson directly about the issue and he told her that he believed there was “no good reason” for the treatment.

A source close to Kennedy said she “completely refutes the allegations, which are untrue and highly damaging”.

“She is very upset and alarmed that the first she heard of them was via a leak to the media, rather than being informed by party HQ who apparently knew of them for many months. This is clearly a targeted leak aimed at damaging Tom Watson’s office,” the source said.

“Sarah was an important member of Tom’s team and everyone was very upset when Labour HQ cut the office funding and insisted that Sarah, and another BAME member of Tom’s staff, had to re-interview for their jobs. Alicia and Tom did everything they could to try and change HQ’s minds, but despite their protestations, the party made Sarah redundant.”

Labour declined to comment and Goulbourne could not be reached for comment.


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