If anything is bringing the Labour Party into disrepute it is this one sided political purge.
The LP General Secretary put out some figures on 8th September of Labour members excluded/suspended around the leadership election. A spokesperson for the party declared, “The speculation that huge numbers of applicants have been denied a vote has been wildly exaggerated.” They went on to claim that less than 0.5% of the electorate had been denied a vote.
This statement came after growing uproar from those arbitrarily excluded and the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s remark that there was a “rigged purge going on”.
It is worth drilling down into the figures released by Labour’s Compliance Unit. The 0.5% claim refers to the entire LP electorate of 650,000, not to new members where the purge has been targeted. After the failed parliamentary coup in June there was another wave of tens of thousands of people joining the party to defend Jeremy Corbyn. This produced the decision by the July NEC to deprive these members of a vote in the leadership election by setting the deadline at January 12th. Despite this around 180,000 members and supporters paid £25 to be able to vote. It this group that the purge has been primarily aimed at.
Who is being excluded?
So far, of this group, 21,000 were excluded because “they did not provide details that matched the electoral roll”. This has been interpreted extremely tightly; a slight variation in the persons name as it appears on the electoral roll, a Flat 1 down as Flat A etc. Many of these people will never know why they did not receive a ballot paper and will not chase it up and appeal. Another 3,107 have been ruled ineligible on grounds of party rules and a further 1,616 cases are awaiting a decision – that is 4,720 excluded up to 1st September. Another 3,791 people apparently failed to make the necessary £25 payment – maybe because the website process wasn’t that easy. Were they chased up – no chance!
So just taking the first two groups, nearly 26,000 people have been excluded from voting out of 180,000 who applied, that is 14.4% not 0.5%. And this figure is only up to September 1st, the purge is continuing apace up to conference. The Compliance Unit now seem to have turned their attention to Labour conference delegates with one Labour blogger learning of five Corbyn mandated delegates excluded in 24 hours!
Ian McNicol, the party’s General Secretary, has claimed all these suspensions/barrings have “been approved by the NEC” but of course the NEC has not met since July. They are in fact approved by an NEC sub-committee run by the right – the NEC Oversight Panel – the new left leaning NEC does not come into being till after conference.
How members are treated
It is worth giving some examples of the decisions being made to get a flavour of the members being excluded. One group involves people who, in one way or another, were sympathetic to the Green Party when the LP was lurching rightwards and who now are attracted back to Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Surely a group the LP should really be chasing if we want to win a majority over the Tories?
Take the case of Kristina Veasey, a Paralympian and a disability rights campaigner, which was reported prominently in the Huffington Post. She recounted what happened. “I am a community activist, an artist, a mother, an equalities consultant and until a few days ago I was a Labour Party member.” Two years ago she retweeted something that the Labour Party’s Compliance Unit found unacceptable. Not an abusive message, but an anti-fracking one by Green MP Caroline Lucas. “For those investigating me this was enough to expel me on the grounds that ‘you supported comments made on Twitter that evidenced your support for the Green Party’. The expulsion was carried out under Appendix 2.1.B.x of the Labour Party rules – an automatic exclusion clause which prevents her from reapplying for membership for two years unless there are exceptional circumstances.
In another case, Sophie McKeand was sent a letter from the General Secretary saying “You were asked to confirm ‘I support the aims and values of the LP and I am not a supporter of any organisation opposed to it”. A panel of the NEC has considered your application and has decided to reject it on the grounds that you tweeted in support of the Green Party on 8 May 2015”.
Clearly this rule, involving supporting another party within two years of applying to join, was designed for people who stood against Labour in elections or their agents, not against people who tweeted something. It is a scandalous abuse of the rules aimed at weeding out Corbyn supporters. Of course this rule has never been used against Tory or Lib Dem members who have applied to join Labour because they have generally strengthened the right
Then there are the trade union members who are known to support Corbyn. Steve Hedley, Senior Assistant General Secretary of the RMT, said recently that many RMT members had been excluded in the current purge. This included a 38 year long member of the Labour Party who put a “like” against a TUSC candidate on Facebook who was a friend of his. Even the Bakers’ Union General Secretary, Ronnie Draper was excluded on the grounds of past comments made on social media, but with no details provided about the precise nature of the offence. He appealed and was later re-instated, probably because he was so prominent a figure in the labour movement, others have not been so lucky.
An 82-year-old pensioner and lifelong Labour voter and member has been expelled by the party for supporting media democracy. A year ago on social media, she retweeted a post calling for the Green Party leaders to be included in TV debates. For the Compliance Unit that single retweet justified expelling her and barring her for five years, because it supposedly signified support for the Greens. She tweeted in reply: “Well this housebound carer/pensioner expelled today. Mr McNicol’s way of thanking me for 50 years of votes?? Stunned!”
Then there is the just plain ludricrous examples from this purge. The Labour member who was suspended for saying on Facebook that she ‘f*cking loves the Foo Fighters.’ One assumes this was probably a software error but who knows! The Foo Fighters later commented on social media that they’re surprised to be on the LP Compliance Unit blacklist.
Bringing the Labour Party into disrepute
If anything is bringing the Labour Party into disrepute it is this one sided political purge, using the most ridiculous of pretexts to exclude members/supporters and damage the Labour’s image across a range of social media. Of course the established press, the BBC, Channel 4 etc ignores these cases because they counter the media narrative that it is the Labour Left and Momentum that are the bullying, bad guys.
Why is the right-wing, ensconced in Labour’s apparatus, going to all this trouble when it looks like Jeremy Corbyn is the favourite to win? One reason is to reduce his majority, to be able to say “there you are, he is losing support even among the members after a year in office”. Another is to save face, both for Owen Smith and the Labour right in the PLP who forced another election so soon.
A more sinister reason is to try and rig the Labour Party conference by excluding left wing delegates and pusingh through Tom Watson’s electoral college idea, a structure that would restore the parliamentary and trade union dominance over the individual members of the party by depriving them of their votes.
These are the dying efforts of a right wing in retreat at all levels in the party; an attempt to fight to the last by gerrymandering elections. The lesson that Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters must learn from this is to make no compromises when it comes to taking control of the key NEC sub-committees, the full-time apparatus of the party and to deal with the coup mongers in the PLP itself. The current General Secretary must resign. The Compliance Unit must be abolished and replaced by something that welcomes new members and holds all members to collective discipline – left or right.
To do this we cannot rely on the PLP left alone, nor even the currently active Labour members. We need a sustained effort to involve the new members into an outwardly focused party, campaigning against austerity and against the Tories. If we do this, the right-wing will realize they have no future if they continue to obstruct the efforts to radically change the party. Things can and will change.
Stuart King is a member of Lambeth Momemtum.