“This is an incredibly draconian proposal and an extremely odd battle to pick when the Party is struggling to cut through to voters.”
By Mish Rahman, Labour NEC and Momentum NCG.
Labour needs leadership. Instead we have a Party hierarchy looking inwards, forever finding bogeymen to distract from the vacuum at the heart of their political project.
First it was the needless and petty suspension of Jeremy Corbyn in October 2020 and the attacks on members that followed. Starmer and those around him appear to believe that by flexing their muscles and attacking the left they could carry favour with the establishment. But all it did was divide the party and tank his poll ratings. Nine months later the Party’s standing amongst the electorate has only got worse. We are on course for a disastrous general election defeat.
Now there is a proposal from the Party leadership to proscribe four organisations, each made up primarily of Labour members. Anyone found to be a member or ‘supporter’ of these groups will be expelled. In some instances, to qualify as a supporter and to be auto-excluded from membership of Labour one only has to attend an event. This is an incredibly draconian proposal and an extremely odd battle to pick when the Party is struggling to cut through to voters.
Labour should be the home of all those that are committed to delivering a Labour Government and share our Party’s values. Our Party has always been home to a wide range of political traditions and we have a responsibility to work with each other to build support for socialist ideas and policies. We must collaborate with each other in the spirit of tolerance and respect, and with the values of socialism and anti-racism.
When members fall short of the standards – whatever group they belong to – they should be held to account through the Party’s disciplinary processes, with respect to natural justice. When members meet these standards, they should not expect to face automatic expulsion.
The formal justification for some of the proposed proscriptions is on the grounds of anti-racism (though in Socialist Appeal’s case the grounds are ‘Trotskyism’) and anti-racism must be at the centre of our mission as a Party, from top to bottom. Yet as well as making proper use of the Party’s disciplinary processes to achieve this, it also requires those with power in the Party to lead by example.
On this front, Starmer has been bitterly disappointing. The Forde report – the remit of which includes investigation into racist cultures in Labour Party workplaces – appears to have been buried. Meanwhile, there has been a deafening silence from the leadership on the anti-Muslim prejudice coming from within the Party during and after the Batley & Spen by-election.
How can we trust them as arbiters of anti-racism when there is a clear and obvious double standard?
Which brings us to what looks like the real reason for this petty manoeuvring. Floundering in the polls after failing to articulate a transformative vision, the leadership are looking for someone else to blame. But the Labour Party’s current malaise isn’t down to a few hundred members, or ex members, but the failure of those at the top.
One by-election defeat in Hartlepool, and another won by the skin of our teeth in Batley & Spen is a sign of a Party going backwards. In 2017, we proved that Labour could defy the dramatic decline of social democratic parties across Europe with a transformative socialist agenda. But the further Starmer has moved away from this, the worse he has performed. Not only is he failing to win over former Labour voters in the Red Wall – a constituency he staked his leadership bid on winning over – but he is also now losing our core supporters, undermining our existing voting coalition.
We all know that there isn’t one simple trick to defeating the Tories. Our 2019 election defeat is a reminder of just how difficult it will be to defeat the hard right. But by reaching for the Blairite playbook, and igniting totally unnecessary factional battles over marginal groups, Starmer only reveals how empty his political offer is.
Building a winning coalition that has the energy and ideas to defeat the Tory Party does not begin with obsessing over tiny groups, and we won’t create an anti-racist Party by the clumsy auto-expulsion of members, without proper process.
We need a new, democratic and bold politics that is fitting of the post-pandemic, climate crisis era – one that genuinely unites all anti-racists within our Party around a transformative agenda and an exciting vision of what Britain could be. This isn’t it.
Mish Rahman is an elected Members’ Representative on Labour’s National Executive Committee and serves on Momentum’s National Coordinating Group.