‘We must organise to stop the purges and fight the real enemy – the Tories’
Clause Four of the Labour Party constitution says that we are a ‘democratic socialist’ party. Our primary duty in opposition is to remove the Tories from office.
But there is nothing socialist about driving socialists out of the party, with tens of thousands expelled, suspended or left feeling Labour is no place for them.
There is nothing democratic about top-down, command-and-control politics.
It is curious that in place of a single-minded attack on Toryism we have a small group of people at the top whose main task appears to be spending resources on trawling through every past public utterance by members in order to discover reasons to expel them.
Internally oriented navel-gazing, in-fighting and inquisitions all distract us from the task at hand. We have a solemn duty to spend every moment pointing out the sleaze, corruption and incompetence of the Conservatives and the profoundly unjust system which they exist to maintain.
But that isn’t happening. Instead we have a party management process which is focussed on breaking our democratic norms, rupturing with our historic objectives of social justice, and driving members out of the party.
It will not serve the country well for the main party of opposition, soon to be in government we hope, to continue down this track.
Look, for example, at one single matter: The way in which our candidates are chosen. Manipulation, purges and unfathomable methods are used to remove excellent potential candidates, often with deep local roots.
This disempowers local members but is a breach of faith with voters who express an overwhelming desire to be able to vote for people from the area.
And without an engaged, enthusiastic and active mass membership out in the community the party will find it difficult to sustain itself in times which are less beneficial than they are now.
But I don’t need to spend time making the case. In their hearts, everyone with a sense of what Labour stood for historically knows that we need to end the purges, cast aside McCarthyism and move on.
If you are an activist in a union or the party, a councillor, or an MP, can you be certain that you are not on someone’s hit list?
Maybe you thought you were safe because they only took out Corbyn, and then because they only seemed to be attacking the socialists, and then because it was just a few relatively unknown left-of-centre candidates.
But we have seen a serving mayor, Jamie Driscoll, arbitrarily barred from a selection contest. There have been organised efforts to deselect sitting MPs Beth Winter and Mick Whitley. And most recently, lifelong Labour activist and campaigner Neal Lawson, is at risk of expulsion.
Silence is no longer an option. I call on those who share these concerns to come to our rally behind the core principle of Labour Democracy.
When you can be barred for sitting on the same platform as a great filmmaker, or expelled for sharing articles by a newspaper which was only proscribed afterwards by the party, we should refer to the following words taken from The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials: “No man may longer doubt the powers of the dark are gathered in monstrous attack up on this village. There is too much evidence now to deny it”.
Great cultural icons like Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and Brecht were subject to a witch hunt and accused of un-American activities. Seeger was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Robeson confronted the witch hunter Joe McCarthy and said the following which we might adapt to fit our case:
“Because my father was a slave and my people died to build this country, I am going to stay here and have a part of it just like you, and no fascist-minded people will drive me from it.”
Of course, we can never compare our own experience to that of the slaves and their successors, and the McCarthyite purges were of a different scale to what is happening in the Labour Party.
Nevertheless, earlier generations, our parents and grandparents, built Labour from the bottom up, not the top down like the Conservative Party. Labour leaders come and go. Their task is never easy. They have difficult calls to make. And there must be boundaries which Party members may not cross.
But at the end of the day, it is our movement, not theirs. Democracy, tolerance, plurality, diversity should be our watchwords. Let’s gather together to insist on this.
We need to see off the Tories at the by-election, but then I and others will press our case.
This article was first published in Labour List