On Saturday 20 February I returned home from canvassing for Sadiq Khan on a nearby estate in Lewisham to find a letter from the “Compliance Unit” expelling me from the Labour Party.
As I began to read, I thought the letter would cite the fact that in May 2010 I stood as a socialist candidate against Labour (against Harriet Harman, in the very safe seat of Camberwell and Peckham – while also calling for the return of a Labour government). That would have been grossly unfair, because since then, almost six years ago, I have not only not supported any non-Labour candidates, but actively supported Labour.
But the letter didn’t say anything about that. Instead it cited my socialist “principles and policies” and the fact I work with Workers’ Liberty.
The Labour Party was founded in part by socialists and by distinct socialist organisations. Right up until his death, Keir Hardie was a member of one of them, the ILP. What’s the problem with socialist groups being active in the party, as long as they genuinely support it?
Many of my friends in the Lewisham Labour Party and labour movement are shocked by my expulsion, because I’m known as someone who for years has argued vocally and consistently for people to support the Labour Party, even when it’s not universally popular – for instance, in our Save Lewisham Hospital campaign. Despite my views being a minority in the local party, I have worked amicably and productively in and for it since I rejoined in July last year.
Excluding socialists who support and work hard for the party is not the way to a Labour victory. It is particularly galling when right wingers are welcomed in. And I do mean right wingers – the week before I was expelled, Richard Barrett, Hull’s only UKIP councillor, elected in 2014, defected to Labour. The same Richard Barrett stood for UKIP against Labour in the 2015 general election! In the event the local party’s members rejected him – but not the Compliance Unit! And clearly he had been encouraged to come over.
It reminded me of Shaun Woodward, the Tory MP who defected, was imposed on a safe seat and immediately made a minister – at the same time that many constituencies were being blocked from selecting the longstanding Labour activists they wanted as candidates.
This is not the only glaring inconsistency going on. One of the many bad things about the way the Compliance Unit works is its arbitrariness. Many socialists with similar politics to mine have been allowed to join or remain in the Labour Party, and several who were expelled appealed and have been reinstated (obviously I will be appealing too). There had been few expulsions since August and none since November. In that content, I’m not sure why the Unit suddenly decided to target me and others expelled in February. It seems very much like factional bad behaviour.
The party’s membership processes need serious democratic reform. Meanwhile, we need an end to this kind of disruptive, unprincipled factionalism, and to rededicate ourselves to a united fight against the Tories. As chair of Lewisham Momentum and a member of Momentum’s national steering group, I will continue working to recruit new Labour members and support, and for Labour victories in the upcoming elections.
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