This Labour leadership election, hailed by Jeremy Corbyn as the most democratic party leadership election ever, is being stained by the purge of left-wing members and supporters from the Party. Last week saw a Kafka-esque wave of letters sent out by Party bureaucrats informing thousands of people that they would not be allowed to vote in the leadership election because they did not support the “aims and values of the Party” or because they support an organisation opposed to Labour.
[This article was first published on 25 August 2015 by Socialist Appeal
Latest estimates suggest that over 3,000 have been denied a vote by the Labour bureaucracy. But with Party staff still vetting supporter application requests up until the 10th September deadline, reports also suggest that there could yet be thousands more to face the chop. Whilst full members will be allowed to protest the decision (perhaps not in time for their vote to count), thousands of supporters who are looking to become politically active for the first time could find themselves barred from voting without ever being able to know why.
In what looks like an orchestrated policy, almost every person to whom these letters have been sent is a Corbyn supporter. Affiliated trade union supporters - a major pillar of Corbyn’s support - also seem to be primary targets for this attempted purge. Even long standing members have been sent letters informing them that they have been blacklisted from the vote.
The icing on this sinister cake is that in a lot of cases these letters were sent after the recipients had cast their votes, presumably meaning that the long arm of the bureaucracy will be reaching into the ballot box and throwing away certain votes as it sees fit. It seems that under Labour’s new leadership election rules, anyone can vote, as long as it’s a vote for the status quo.
May the real infiltrators please stand up?
Everyone can see that the Labour Party is, unfortunately, riddled with people who do not support the aims and values of this democratic socialist party that was founded to defend the working class: the Blairites, who are Tories in disguise. The unholy trinity of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson, along with their hordes of New Labour creatures, led Britain into an illegal war in Iraq which has killed hundreds of thousands. They enthusiastically helped the rich get richer, championed privatisation, and now advocate cutting public services and making the working class pay for the crisis of capitalism.
Even worse, these people who have infected our party have their own organisation, complete with its own events and publications, with which to promote their poisonous ideas. It is called (presumably ironically) ‘Progress’ and it is officially backing Liz Kendall for leadership of the Labour Party. Indeed, the fact that Kendall - who agrees far more with the Tories’ policies of austerity than with Labour’s founding socialist principles - is even allowed in the Labour Party is astounding.
And yet these people still have a right to vote in the leadership election. According to the shadowy Labour bureaucracy, those who want to attack benefit claimants and bomb Iraqis are entitled to have a say, but someone who may have once voted for the Green Party in order to fight austerity deserves to have the door slammed in their face.
Right-wing Labour MPs Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna have openly talked about organising a group of "moderates" to sabotage a Corbyn-led cabinet. Simon Danczuk, another Blairite MP has made open calls for a potential future coup against a democratically elected leader. And yet these people are not expelled from the party.
It is these careerists who should be banned from voting and thrown out of the party, not the left-wingers who have come back from the wilderness to Labour as a result of Jeremy's inspiring anti-austerity programme.
"Letting the public in"...and chucking the left-wing out
Back in May of this year Harriet Harman, interim leader of the Labour Party, made a speech in which she talked about the coming process of electing a new Labour leader. She insisted that “as we conduct this debate....we must have the public in the forefront of our minds. We must let the public in.” Clearly this speech was given before Harman, comfortably ensconced at the top of the Party, was aware that the public mood is one of growing anger at the political establishment and its austerity politics. Now that the Party has “let the public in” it is finding that this exercise in democracy threatens the cushy careers that the Blairites have built for themselves.
In the same speech she went on to say: “I want to see leadership hustings where members bring non-members. Where someone who voted Labour brings along someone who voted Tory or SNP or didn’t vote at all.”
It seems that when the Labour leaders changed the rules on who can vote in this election, they were hoping to entice Tory voters to cross the tracks and get involved in the Labour Party - such a rightward shift would have suited certain current or aspiring members of the Parliamentary Party very well. Now that reality has played out very differently, these careerists are throwing their toys out of the pram...and Corbyn supporters out of the Party.
The trigger-happy bureaucracy is, however, at risk of going too far with its “defence” of the Party against the Corbyn-voting masses, even by its own standards. One particularly scandalous case, in Corbyn’s own constituency, involved a young voter being denied the right to vote in the election (after having already cast a vote for Corbyn) for nothing more than that she had once written a book review which had been published on a socialist website. Another case, again in the same constituency, involved a young person who has been a subs-paying member of the Labour Party for two years. He received a letter informing him that his “recent application” to join the Party had been rejected. After notifying the Party of what he assumed to be a mistake, he was told that he had indeed been written to in error - the letter should have said that he was expelled from the Party!
Fight the purge! Defend democracy!
Clamping down on Labour supporters who exercise their right to freedom of expression by writing book reviews, and expelling members who have attended local, regional and national meetings without providing any evidence is extreme to say the least. Such actions guarantee the rage of ordinary people and risk a legal challenge from the Corbyn campaign.
Social media has witnessed an outcry against the purge. Even those who are not on the Left (or even politically active at all) are outraged by these clear attacks on democracy by the right-wing Labour bureaucracy. It is very welcome that the Corbyn campaign team is investigating as many cases as it can, and hopes to intervene where possible to stop it happening. But this is a serious matter and if we are intent on stopping it then we have to take serious action. Hashtagging and sharing articles is not enough to stop maneuvering of this kind.
We should not put our faith in behind the scenes dealing, or right-wing dominated internal party structures to defend Corbyn and those who support him. Nor should we be afraid of legal challenges, sabotages, splits, and other bureaucratic attempts to prevent a Corbyn victory. No amount of compromise, concessions, and conciliation will be enough to please the Blairites, who will stop at nothing to halt the Labour Party on this path of transformation into being a mass, anti-austerity movement. They will use any and every excuse to try and undermine a Corbyn victory.
But, as we have seen so far, the Blairite attacks do not work. Indeed, they only serve to strengthen the Corbyn movement, highlighting the massive divide between the contempt for democracy that the careerists have and the inspiring message of hope that Jeremy Corbyn offers.
Our strength is in mass united action. The Corbyn campaign, with the full backing of the trade unions, should call an immediate demonstration demanding that supporters and members have their right to vote reinstated. It may be the case that Jeremy will win the election regardless of this purge of thousands of his supporters. But such a call to protest the purge would resonate widely amongst those looking to get active and involved in politics for the first time as a result of Corbyn’s leadership bid, and who will otherwise be turned off from political activity by this latest bureaucratic spectacle. Furthermore, it would set a precedent in how to fight back against all the maneuvering, mud-slinging, and attempts at sabotage that will come Corbyn's way from the Blairites, the Tories, and the ruling class after the election, if he wins.
Above all, such a protest would demonstrate the real power behind Corbyn’s campaign: the organisation and involvement of thousands of workers and youth. It will be using methods such as this that we can mobilise, defend Corbyn, hurl the ideas of Blairism out of the Labour Party and into the dustbin of history, and fight for socialism.