Abolishing the “purge rule” – what happened at Labour conference 2018?

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Since 2017, Stop the Labour Purge has campaigned to delete the highlighted part of Labour’s rule 2I4(b):

A member of the Party who joins and/ or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the Party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a Party member, subject to the provisions of Chapter 6.I.2 below of the disciplinary rules.”

(For explanation of why we regard this change as essential to winning a democratic, pluralist party in which members’ rights are respected, there is a flourishing culture of political debate and discussion, and the disciplinary system is not used as a weapon of factional persecution – see here. For the Labour Party’s 2018 rule book, see here.)

Four CLPs submitted this rule change last year, which before this year’s change to the rule change procedures meant it came up at this year’s conference.

A fifth CLP, Broxtowe, submitted a watered down version, in line with the position advocated by the Momentum office – in violation of its members’ vote. This changed the rule to ban membership or support of organisations whose principles are incompatible with the Labour Party’s. In theory that would be better than the current rule, as much less vague, but in practice it would put a new weapon to justify expulsions into the party bueaucracy’s hands. (Is that what Momentum wants? Possibly; god knows.)

In the run up to and at conference 2018, discussions took place in which anti-purge activists concluded that it would be best to withdraw the rule change as it would probably lose, shutting down future possibilities for campaigning.

At the conference, delegates from the supporting CLPs were told that the rule change was disqualified by the contents of the Democracy Review. Then, a day later and at the last moment, we were told it would be taken after all. There was not much chance for discussion or coordination, let alone campaigning. The STLP rule change was withdrawn, but the watered-down Broxtowe rule change went forward for debate and vote.

For all its flaws and limitations, the Broxtowe rule change was widely perceived as an anti-purge motion. It was overwhelming opposed by the unions (as were many democratic rule changes) but received 48pc of CLP votes. This despite the disarray and lack of campaigning – and the face that the leadership grotesquely misrepresented the rule change.

The rule change was given the title “Support for other parties” and this is how it was presented by the NEC speakers opposing it – even though of course it is about nothing of the sort. The change would have deleted only the first part of 214(b), leaving the ban on support for other parties against Labour fully intact.

Even with the rule still there, expulsions have slowed down dramatically. Some people have been reinstated. But we should maintain the goal of amending the absurd and unfair rule under which so many comrades have been excluded.

A thin layer of Stalinist-influenced Momentum hacks notwithstanding, the instincts of Labour’s members and activists are overwhelmingly anti-purge. We need to consolidate and organise that sentiment, while also taking up the argument in the unions.

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