Exasperated socialist Simon Vessey explains how the Labour right repeatedly exploit and embolden right wing narratives to achieve their internal party goals
Labour are driving out socialists who oppose cuts, social cleansing and apartheid. Democracy is being subverted to protect corrupt council fiefdoms whilst upholding white supremacy at a local and national level. If this is the alternative to the Tories just how much danger are we in?
The triumph of Thatcherite politics represented by the New Labour governments heralded an unprecedented era of political apathy. New Labour’s arrogance is best summed up by Lord Mandelson’s dismissal of the working class as having “nowhere else to go”. We are led to believe voting is the most important act in politics though turnout in elections post 1997 have seen an unprecedented slump from which they are yet to recover. In reality electoral politics is only one form of political participation and voting is only one, limited aspect of it. If you restrict yourself to a polling day decision, what influence do you have in the choices available to the electorate? What power do you have until the next election? This is where New Labour would prefer you stayed, an “apolitical” consumer looking for the most competent steward to guide the country on its current and irreversible trajectory; where the private sector prevails at the public expense and dissent is not tolerated. Where there is no alternative.
Growing frustration at the paucity of this political settlement was emphatically expressed in the surge of participation that swept Corbyn to the Labour leadership in 2015 and 16. It had the potential to represent a major shift but those who most benefited from a small, exclusive type of political organising have been fighting back ferociously against the threat represented by people of all stripes getting involved in local and national politics under a socialist banner. The toxic environment that was created by those seeking to drive people back out of politics in the Corbyn years has only worsened since the Blairites conned their way back into power with Keir Starmer in 2020.
The grave revelations exposed in the leaked report on the Labour Party’s governance and legal unit laid bare a political culture built on nepotism, institutional corruption and bigotry on a scale that shocked even the most cynical of observers. It showed how far the Labour right were prepared to go to oust the left and retake total control of the party, including coup plots and fraudulent factional campaigns during general elections, the wrecking of an already dysfunctional complaints process at the expense of people of all protected characteristics and the persistent subversion of party democracy. The Forde inquiry subsequently commissioned by the party was narrow in remit and is nearly 2 years overdue. There should be little hope it will provide any justice. Most media outlets have chosen to give the scandal little or no coverage. As a result, the Labour right are free to pursue a strategy of authoritarianism and abuse which has escalated with a vengeance now that they hold every lever of power. Rules are enforced selectively and flouted at the convenience of those who control the party.
Worse still, the Labour right will repeatedly exploit and embolden right wing narratives to achieve their internal party goals. They are not only eroding the basics of democracy in a party-political system, they are engaging with and stoking powerful, dangerous forces to do so. We saw that recently when the Labour leadership brought down death threats on left wing MPs by smearing anti-war and anti-imperialist stances as collaboration with official enemies. They intend to achieve their goal of driving the left from the party and politics entirely by any means necessary.
The way in which selections for candidates in local and national elections are now conducted provides further proof of the insidious anti-democratic tendencies compounded by the New Labour resurgence. Via a concerted, top-down driven strategy staffers and right-wing organisers have colluded to subvert processes and suspend local parties in order to take control of the bodies responsible for overseeing local government selections. You can read an account of how this happened in London last year. It has been repeated across the country. This cuts off any reasonable avenue of recourse for left wing members and ensures they can be excluded as candidates at the whim of right wingers who control every Labour council in London.
For context an elected councillor is already very limited in what they can do in defiance of the “Labour group” that they fall under. You are not allowed to defy the whip like a backbench MP, you must commit to setting a legal budget and you will be forced to sign contracts drawn up by local grandees that have no oversight and can contain ludicrously onerous conditions such as not being able to go against any past Labour group decisions. Still, one socialist is one too many and so people are being blocked from contesting selections and even removed once democratically selected by local members. This makes a complete sham of local democracy. If people have no say in who their candidates are, what choice do they really have electorally?
Not only is the democratic process undermined by these factional abuses, but the accusations used to mask them represent a suppression of basic political freedoms, like opposing cuts or war. Criticism of Labour councils is not tolerated. This is a recurring theme amongst those targeted and blocked. They have been penalised, and in some cases accused of libel, for acting on their socialist principles by opposing cuts to local services and social cleansing, both of which are as rampant in Labour councils as they are in Tory ones. “Acceptable” political activity is restricted to electoralism, as General Secretary David Evans has long made clear.
It is no surprise that the community organising initiative under Corbyn, which aimed to grow grassroots power, was vehemently hated by Labour councillors because it threatened their patronage model which allows them to be gatekeepers at the expense of local people. There are also widespread reports of racist discrimination in selection decisions such as in Walthamstow and sitting councillors being removed for not being “yes men” like in Starmer’s own borough Camden. In Croydon there have been heavy interventions to protect Blairites with links to the top of the Labour party who have brought the council to the brink of a second bankruptcy in a huge corruption scandal whilst also sparking a national campaign because of the squalor they left tenants in.
Anti-Palestinian racism has loomed large over the attacks on the left and democracy within Labour, again exploiting government driven, authoritarian efforts to suppress and criminalise Palestinian solidarity in schools, universities, investment decisions and public life. People have been subjected to rushed, unjust processes where they find themselves accused of antisemitism for showing solidarity with Palestinians and calling for councils to divest from Israeli arms firms like Elbit. There have even been candidates accused of blood libel for talking about children dying, a disgusting exploitation of an antisemitic trope for factional and racist ends; the median age in Gaza is 18 and 44% of the population are under 14. This is again endorsed from the very top of the party down. One of the most senior right wing organisers is NEC member Luke Akehurst, a professional lobbyist for Apartheid via We Believe In Israel and spearheading the drive to get Lowkey banned from Spotify for pro-Palestinian activism. Keir Starmer joined in criticism of students protesting genocidal fascist and apartheid representative Tzipi Hotovely late last year shortly before sharing a platform with her and repeating racist colonial myths in a speech to the LFI. These are clear signals sent through the party about how factional opponents can be targeted and removed.
The only consistencies with these processes are who gets targeted and who benefits. Right wing racists, bigots and abusers are almost always assured of protection. There have been recent reports of mass, improper closing of complaints against right wingers to ensure they can contest elections. Just last year there was uproar when Apsana Begum’s ex-husband, a councillor accused of domestic abuse against her, had his suspension lifted so he could contest councillor selections. It was only reversed when the Women’s PLP intervened. None of this is meant to be possible in the complaints process but then neither should it be possible for a Labour council to try and get an elected representative sent to prison in order to free up her seat in Parliament. New Labour has a long history of such racist targeting of elected representatives and stoking of harmful tropes in the process – the idea that Asians and Muslims engage in housing benefit and electoral fraud have been repeatedly exploited. There has been no condemnation of this from the top of the party, the silence sending another message loud and clear – go for it.
An especially worrying development in the purge of socialists from the Labour Party is the retrospective application of proscriptions. Yesterday the NEC voted to proscribe a further 3 groups in addition to the ones banned last summer. The application is frighteningly authoritarian for an organisation that intends to form a government and control state power. The first round of proscriptions has led to mass retrospective application for as little as liking an FB post by one of those groups. One person was expelled for liking a picture on Facebook that had “Socialist Appeal” written on it. Cllr Pamela Fitzpatrick was expelled for giving an interview to a proscribed organisation when she was running to become the party’s General Secretary – a full year before the proscription decision was taken.
What would the Blairites controlling Labour do with state power if they run a political party like this? What will you be punished for following bans and retrospective applications? Which activities have you taken part in that will see you prevented from political participation or worse? We’ve seen this week that police have already tried to ban people from attending party conferences as elected delegates and put them on watchlists because they were involved in direct action. The authoritarian tendencies of the Labour right are well documented and there are long lists of their abuses of power in the New Labour years. This iteration of New Labour is an even greater threat.
Simon Vessey: exasperated socialist
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