Like most ordinary citizens in the UK, I haven’t always agreed with everything the Labour Party has ever done. But that’s okay, because diversity of opinions and ideas is usually something we value in a democratic political organisation.
Given this, I was surprised yesterday morning to read an e-mail from the Labour Party stating that I had been denied membership because they “had reason to believe that I do not support the aims and values” of the party. I was not the first person this had happened to, and hundreds of others would meet the same fate throughout the day.
Until about March this year, I had been a long-standing Labour Party supporter. I had faith in Ed. Armed with the conviction that what Labour offered was probably better than another five years under Cameron, I’d even promised to go canvassing for my local Labour MP in the run-up to the General Election.
As May 7th drew closer, however, I became less convinced that things would be different under Labour, a sentiment shared by the thousands who also decided in the end to vote for the Green Party. Of course, the election didn’t end particularly well for either Labour or Green Party supporters. Disillusionment was at an all time high, which was impressive after five years of Tory austerity.
I did not decide to rejoin the Labour Party after the election defeat because I wanted to “infiltrate” it with the newfound “radical” ideas that I had apparently developed without its steady guidance. In June, I chose to pledge my support again because I saw an opportunity for progress and change. It grew in the powerful grassroots of the movement, and in Corbyn when he announced his candidacy for leadership. Finally, the party seemed open to debate, and thus change, which is what it needed and what I felt we needed as a country. It makes no sense that I am no longer allowed to help the party progress because of fears I represent something other than what Labour has been for the past five years.
If the recent election wasn’t evidence enough of how sorely Labour needs change, it is in the processes the party has adopted to “weed out” potential threats like me. The NEC has so far failed to clarify how it reached the decision to withdraw my membership. What we do know is that party members have circulated messages calling on young Labour members to report “anyone they suspect to be ineligible” providing evidence of “Facebook posts, photos or messages” and other social media.
I should not have had to spend yesterday worrying if someone I knew who also happened to be a Labour member had abused my privacy and our friendship and sent screenshots of my Tweets or Facebook posts to the Labour Compliance Unit (even if it means they would become a “Star” of compliance.) This is not 1984, or, to invoke a lesser-used analogy, this is not Hogwarts in Book 5. The Labour party does not exist to purge its members and eliminate swing voters.
Labour will undoubtedly suffer the consequences of its purge; it serves to further disengage so many people from the party and from the political system. Furthermore, if the results of the leadership contest are changed by this systematic “weeding out” – for instance, if Corbyn does not win the leadership contest, as all polls suggest he should inevitably have done – then that will mean the end of faith in the Labour Party as an entity. Democracy within the party will be completely undermined. The message will be: we don’t care what party members want; we MPs know best. No wonder people are turned off by Westminster elitist politics. Perhaps the real problem here is not entryism, but denial.
“Weeding out” members who haven’t swallowed the Labour Party manifesto whole is a foolproof way to ensure that what happened in 2015 is what will happen in 2020. For that reason, I am going to fight to be a member of this party (even though that is not something I should have to do in a democratic society.) I am going to appeal the decision, because it is evidence of the fact that what Labour needs now more than ever is people who want to see and commit to change - no matter when they joined.
Labour leadership: The Contenders
Labour leadership: The Contenders
1/2 Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn started off as the rank outsider in the race to replace Ed Miliband and admitted he was only standing to ensure the left of the party was given a voice in the contest. But the Islington North MP, who first entered Parliament in 1983, is now the firm favourite to be elected Labour leader on September 12 after a surge in left-wing supporters signing up for a vote.
2/2 Andy Burnham
Andy Burnham started out as the front-runner in the leadership election, seen as the candidate of the left until Jeremy Corbyn entered the race. The former Cabinet minister has found himself squeezed between the growing populism of Corbyn’s radical agenda and the moderate, centre-left Yvette Cooper, not knowing which way to turn. It has attracted damaging labels such as ‘flip-flop Andy’, most notably over his response to the Government’s Welfare Bill. He remains hopeful he can win enough second preference votes to take him over the 50 per cent threshold ahead of Corbyn.