Accusations of a McCarthyite purge have been levelled at Labour as many have been barred from voting in the leadership contest, or had their membership rejected. I joined the Labour party recently and voted for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. I subsequently received an email informing me that the party had “reason to believe” that either I “do not support the aims and values of the Labour party” or I am “a supporter of an organisation opposed to the Labour party”. Therefore, they had decided to reject my membership, in spite of the fact that I am not a member of any other political party, nor am I a supporter of an organisation opposed to Labour, and I believe in the principles of equality upon which the party was founded.
Unfortunately, others have had a similar experience. Have I Got News for You writer Pete Sinclair had his membership revoked. Sinclair tactically voted Green in the last General Election because he was in a safe seat, but he encouraged those living in marginals to vote Labour. He even donated £20 to the party in the final weeks before the election.
George Norman, LGBTQ officer, policy and campaigns officer, and former chair of University of York Labour Club, told Nouse: “I am concerned about some applications being rejected out of hand, and I have seen a couple of examples where I would like to see the party’s evidence for exclusion, especially considering that supporters have no right to appeal. Having said that, I’ve seen people rejected who have stood against the party and who I totally back the party decision on. We can’t blindly complain about rejections, and those who have been rejected for valid reasons should not complain, because this belittles and detracts from valid cases. We should also remember that the party can’t see your ballot and remove Corbyn votes, because the ERS handles the voting system. I’d encourage people to speak out where they have a genuine concern, but don’t complain when the party follows its rulebook.”
Norman is quite right to say that those who bear ill will towards the party should be removed. If someone joins to vote who is ideologically opposed to Labour, as the journalist Toby Young did, then of course it is right that they should be dismissed. The issue is really when people are removed who are involved with, but are not members, of other parties which possess many ideological sympathies with Labour, such as the Green Party. Many from such groups have previously been Labour members, but felt they no longer had a place in the party. However, with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn they now believe that the Labour party can accommodate them. Surely that is something to be welcomed by a party which is trying to win back lost voters?
Scrutiny is necessary, but it seems that the rhetoric of a few, such as John McTernan, former advisor to Tony Blair, talking about the “hard left” and “Trotskyites”, has created some ridiculous scenarios. Grace Coles, speaking to Channel 4 news a few days ago, explained that despite voting Labour in the last election she was rejected because she had apparently retweeted a comment either by Ken Loach or his party, Left Unity, despite the fact she “didn’t even know who Ken Loach was”. Such an approach risks rejecting people who associate with other groups because they believe in collaboration to achieve the aims and values of the Labour party.
The democratic voice of those who genuinely believe in the principles on which Labour was founded must be upheld. I identify as a socialist; surely the party founded by Keir Hardie has a place for me, and others like me. The Labour party was set up by the trade unions in order to represent working class people- it gave a voice to the disenfranchised. It will be a great insult to those founding members if the current hysteria is not resolved. One of the party’s most famous MPs, Tony Benn, often remarked that democracy “transferred power from the wallet to the ballot, from the market place to the polling station”. It is imperative that in the most democratic election in the party’s history, democracy must not be compromised.