A Guardian article of Friday 23 October, by the paper’s political editor Patrick Wintour, continued the recent trend of red-baiting smear stories in the national press.
It “revealed” that Jennie Formby, National Political Officer of Unite, had asked questions about the expulsion from the Labour Party of four members or co-thinkers of Workers’ Liberty — Vicki Morris, Liam McNulty, Daniel Randall, and Edward Maltby. Jennie asked why membership of Workers’ Liberty should be a barrier to Labour Party membership when Workers’ Liberty is no longer registered as a separate political party with the electoral commission.
Wintour’s clear purpose in writing the story (the details of which he was undoubtedly fed by a source in Labour’s top ranks) was to perpetuate a narrative that the new surge in the Labour Party is based on “infiltration” by the “hard left”, and to implicate Unite, the biggest union in the country and Labour’s largest affiliate, in that “infiltration”. In fact, it is to Jennie Formby and Unite’s credit that they will ask questions about the expulsion of socialists from Labour. It shows that they want their party, the party of the trade union movement, to be open, pluralistic, and democratic — and not to operate an internal regime of expulsions and proscriptions.
Why have Workers’ Liberty members and even just suspected associates been expelled from Labour without charge or hearing? Notionally, it is because of “Clause 2.I.4.B” of the Labour constitution, which prohibits membership of, or even “support for”, any “political organisation other than an official Labour Group or unit of the party.” But the rule is patently unenforceable if read literally, as it would prohibit support for any number of campaign groups, NGOs, and civil society organisations which are not “official Labour Groups”. The expulsions are clearly politically-motivated and ideologically driven. Is it because we are revolutionaries, and Labour has only ever been a reformist, social-democratic party?
Labour was founded to be the political expression of the industrial labour movement, and has always reflected the diversity of political opinion found within that movement. The new leadership wants to turn Labour outwards, and broaden the party; the party machine wants to narrow it down. That so many of the media commentators on the developments in the Labour Party are able to see the situation only in terms of the “hard left”, a political movement they obviously know almost nothing about, “infiltrating” Labour (a party that, in reality, many of them know only marginally more about), and not in terms of politically-motivated expulsions and exclusions, says much about them. The language of “infiltration” implies surreptitiousness and manipulation; behind-the-scenes attempts to control and pull strings. The faction in Labour which has operated most consistently in this way is not the hard left, but the hard right.
The Blairites never mobilised a grassroots activist movement, and never attempted to win over the mass of Labour Party members to their ideas in anything more than a superficial way, as the dismal showing of their candidate in the leadership election made abundantly clear. They relied on machine politics, scheming, backroom deals, and patronage from the powerful. We have no interest in such an approach. We believe in open, democratic debate and discussion. We have never concealed our ideas, or soft-peddled them. We want what Jeremy Corbyn said on the Andrew Marr Show before Labour Party conference that he is fighting to build: “a big, open, democratic party.” Labour must be a space where all those committed to electing a Labour government can work together towards that aim, while debating the policies, campaigns, and approaches necessary to achieve it, as well as how such a government should govern when elected.
In an appearance on BBC’s ‘Sunday Politics’ recently, right-wing Labour MP Frank Field said that if, when constituency boundaries are redrawn, any Labour MPs are de-selected as a result of left-wing insurgencies in their constituencies, they should stand as “Independent Labour” candidates. Field said that other moderate Labour MPs should campaign for them, and committed to do so himself: “I hope there will be a large group of MPs who, if their colleagues are unfairly treated, will encourage their colleagues to stand in by-elections as Independent Labour candidates. I know a large number of us, including myself, would go and campaign for them. It’s a capital offence to campaign for somebody standing against an official Labour candidate, but if enough of us go, they can’t pick all of us of and expel the lot.”
Here, then, we have the quite remarkable spectacle of a sitting Labour MP explicitly advocating, on national television, electoral challenges to Labour, and committing himself to supporting them.
Meanwhile, members or even suspected associates of socialist organisations which have explicitly ruled out such challenges, by de-registering with the Electoral Commission, are expelled from the party.
The expulsion of Workers’ Liberty members are part of a wider tranche of expulsions of actual or presumed left-wingers within Labour, many of which were justified on outrageously spurious bases (for example, comments made years ago on social media which were deemed by the shadowy, unelected, unaccountable “Compliance Unit” to be at odds with “the aims and values of the Labour Party”). The expulsions are symptoms of a party machine, largely as yet untransformed by the sweeping changes happening elsewhere in Labour, convulsively reacting in an attempt to preserve the status quo. It will not succeed