The paranoia of Labour’s apparatchiks, both at HQ and in local Labour Parties, seems to be growing by the day in the face of what looks like an almost certain Corbyn victory. The party has announced that it has purged, among a long list of others, whose crime seems primarily that they are believed to have voted Green in May, a ‘Jeremy’ of London on the grounds that he had written articles in 2001 and 2002, indicating his support for the Socialist Alliance – an organisation that folded in 2003 for God’s sake! However, the Erich Honecker Prize for Stazi-like behaviour must go to Guardian journalist Tim Dowling’s local Labour Party, which asked his 17 year old son to inform on a couple of his friends who were suspected of being ‘infiltrators’ (they weren’t, as it happens).
Other people have been excluded for ridiculous reasons, like the person who a local councillor wanted to bar for not attending a fund raising barbecue, or for no discernible reason, like Win Francis, who is 90. Win joined the Labour Party in the 1940s and spent the next fifty years until she was in her eighties working for the Labour Party. The local MP, who did not live in the constituency, stayed at her house when not in London and she was the mainstay in her local ward in Sheffield. She left the Labour Party in recent years but never joined any other party and has just been informed she has been barred from voting.
While such negative behaviour isn’t entirely unexpected – the default position of bureaucracies is a negatively defensive one, so suspicion of enthusiastic newcomers, particularly when they appear in uncontrollable numbers, is unsurprising if depressing. However, Labour’s officials seem to be unaware of the damage that they are doing to the party’s reputation. Barrister and Labour Party member Peter Taheri has asked in an excellent article in the Independent ‘Does it not occur to Labour grandees that this exercise is reminiscent of the McCarthyite “Have you ever supported” question? Are they simply ignoring the fact that sane human beings do occasionally change their minds (hence the existence of swing voters)? Or has it escaped their notice altogether that so many people are – at last – once more excited, inspired and enthused by our brand of politics?’ He points out that perception matters in democracy and that if the results give off the stench of a stitch-up the damage to Labour could be irreparable. As he says, ‘so much harm could be avoided if the party grasps a simple principle: you simply cannot have a democratic election where votes are fished out of a ballot box once they have been cast.’
It wouldn’t be (quite) so bad if Labour’s apparatchiks applied the rules they appear to have mainly made up on the fly equally to all applicants for party membership.
In the red corner, I give you Jason Cobb, a Labour-supporting blogger (and former Labour party member) who has been banned from voting in the leadership race, apparently for criticising his local council. He was informed on by a local councillor who objected to some tweets in which Cobb accused some Labour councils of “social cleansing” in London as well as an article he wrote for the Guardian – in 2010 – in which he criticised Lambeth Council.
In the blue corner, I present journalist Dan Hodges. Hodges describes himself as a ‘tribal neo-Blairite’. In May 2012, although he was then a long-standing member of the Labour Party, Hodges announced that he was voting for Boris Johnson in the London Mayoral elections. Following the House of Commons vote on 29 August 2013 against possible military involvement in the Syrian civil war, and objecting to Ed Miliband’s conduct, Hodges wrote an article publicly resigning from the Labour Party. In 2014, Hodges declared his support for the Lib Dems in the European elections. He rejoined the Labour Party in July 2015, apparently without any questions being asked about his very public support for Tories and Lib Dems standing against Labour candidates in the recent past.
Equally, while criticising Lambeth Council in the Guardian in 2010 was enough to get Jason Cobb banned from voting in the current leadership election, Dan Hodges has encountered no problems as a result of his increasingly spittle flecked abuse of Jeremy Corbyn and anyone who supports him in his column in the Daily Telegraph. On 17 August he wrote (of fellow party members who have publicly supported the Corbyn campaign) ‘What amazes me isn’t that the Corbyn cultists are peddling this rubbish. The hard-Left have always spouted this morally superior effluent. What astonishes me is that ordinary Labour Party members are putting up with this crap. Why are people who have dedicated their lives to Labour letting a bunch of three-quid-dog-on-a-rope-rent-a-Trots lecture them on their own party? The genuine heirs of the Suffragettes and the Chartists and the Tolpuddle Martyrs shouldn’t be cowed by people who view a bar of soap as a tool of capitalist oppression.’
And three days later, assuming that Corbyn will win the election, rather than accept the result of what will be the largest exercise in popular democracy ever undertaken by a British political party, our Dan is considering – once more in the Telegraph – how best to undermine the result and purge the party of those with whom he disagrees. ‘How does Labour recover from this? How does Labour erase that image from the eyes and the minds of the electorate? Yes, Jeremy Corbyn could be deposed. But then what? Is he going to be expelled? Are his supporters going to be expelled? And if they’re not, then when the Tories say “they are still there. They are just watching, and waiting” what can Labour say?
Labour will be able to say nothing. Because the Tories will be right. People are right to prepare for the resistance. It’s right that Labour’s moderates ready themselves to take up arms in defence of their party.’
Unlike Dan it appears, I believe in free speech (even if it is as hysterically abusive as Dan’s columns) and the right of party members to be publicly critical of party policies. And, unlike him again I suspect, I don’t think that previous political associations, or even having previously voted for another party (or in Dan’s case, two other parties) should disqualify someone from joining or rejoining the party. So I think that he has every right to join the Labour Party and every right to vote in the current election. But so have virtually all the new would-be members and supporters who have been excluded by Labour’s thought police on suspicion of having voted Green in the last election or having previously been in another socialist organisation. As Peter Taheri says: ‘Registered supporters have declared that they subscribe to the aims and values of the party. Unless there is conclusive evidence to prove otherwise – such as someone serving as an MP or councillor for another party – supporters must be taken at their word. For the party to sift through social media profiles in pursuit of incriminating evidence is sinister. A week is a long time in politics; floating voters drawn to Corbyn’s message of hope must not be punished for past views. We should welcome voters with an embrace, not a presumption of guilt.’