“Overwhelmingly, the loss of left wingers is from members becoming disgusted with the Party’s behaviour and walking away rather than from mass expulsions – with something like 200 resignations or lapses for every expulsion.”
By John Stewart
The shameful expulsion of Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi from the Labour Party shortly before she took up her seat on the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) has rightly got members talking about the purge of Labour’s left. Along with other recent expulsions of prominent left wingers, like longstanding NEC representative Peter Willsman and former NCC member Stephen Marks, there seems to be an explosion of left wingers falling victim to the factional abuse of the party’s disciplinary processes.
Left wing Jewish members appear to have been particularly targeted, with almost the entire leadership of Jewish Voice for Labour facing some sort of disciplinary process. Briefing’s editorial in the last issue referred to ‘the largest wave of expulsions in Labour history’ and social media and WhatsApp groups are full of stories of unjustified exclusions.
While there is clearly an upsurge of exclusions and expulsions from the party for unjustifiable and sometimes laughable reasons, it is important to keep a sense of perspective, to study the figures that are available to us and to make an assessment based on facts. Too many comrades are beginning to lose heart and say it’s all over for socialists in the Labour Party.
Until recently, it was fairly straightforward to assess the level of expulsions from the party as the NEC published a list in their annual report to Conference. It is now harder to follow the figures as there are different ways members can be excluded and no longer, it appears, one definitive list.
Labour does publish what appear to be quarterly reports on Complaints and Disciplinary statistics. There are seven of these documents on the Party website, at time of writing, going back to March 2021. https://labour.org.uk/complaints/
The latest report, dated November 2022, says that, since May 2020 (when David Evans took over as General Secretary), 1,068 disciplinary cases have been determined by NEC Panels. Of these, 65% were on anti-semitism, 6.3% were on bullying or harassment, 5.4% were for online misconduct and 5.3% involved what the party calls ‘constitutional matters’. Just 3.4% involved Islamophobia, 3.2% anti-Black racism and 3.3% sexism or sexual harassment.
The report says:
– 17.79% of these cases (which appears to be 190 individuals) have been expelled.
– 9.08% (97 individuals) received a punitive suspension.
– 20.6% (220 individuals) got a NEC formal warning.
– 19.01% (203 individuals) were issued with a Reminder of Conduct.
– 11.7% (125 individuals) were issued with a Reminder of Values.
– 7.58% (81 individuals) were referred to the National Constitutional Committee.
– 0.84% (9 individuals) were referred to the Independent Complaints Board.
– 13.39% (143 individuals) had no further action taken.
The new system of ‘Exclusion Panels’ began in October 2021 after the Rule Changes pushed through Conference in September 2021. By November 2022, these Panels had determined 408 cases, with 92% of allegations upheld (which would be 375 and a third individuals) and 8% not upheld (32 and two thirds individuals). 95.35% of these cases involved alleged support for another political party or organisation and the rest related to members convicted of a serious criminal offence, safeguarding concerns or harassment of party staff.
The January 2022 report on Exclusions is the only one to break down the cases heard by these panels on allegations of support for proscribed organisations. By January 2022, of 86 cases then determined, 58% of exclusions were for alleged support for Labour Against the Witch Hunt, 43% were for support for Socialist Appeal, 33% were for Labour in Exile and 10% were for Resist (which suggests Labour sees a considerable overlap between these organisations). The Party doesn’t appear to have published a breakdown of these figures since then.
Since the July 2021 imposition of a list of proscribed organisations and the retrospective application of this rule without any sort of due process, the potential for misuse of this procedure is alarmingly high.
In addition to these figures, 81 individuals had their Party membership ‘terminated’ under new powers taken from the 2021 Rule Book amendments. The report supplies no further details on these cases.
The National Constitutional Committee (NCC), which has a directly elected membership and on which, until recently, the left had a majority, is being wound down and partly replaced by newer, faster ways of expelling members. The NCC has determined 122 cases since March 2020. The wording used in the reports is extraordinarily unclear: 60% of accused individuals appear to have resigned or lapsed before their hearing (perhaps because it takes so long for a hearing to be scheduled?), 30% went to a hearing (but the reports don’t give the outcome) and 9% were expelled for other offences. There are 65 cases pending before the NCC.
The Independent Review Board (the much vaunted ‘independent’ in the Party’s new so-called independent complaints procedure) began operating in April 2022 and has reviewed 90 cases that the NEC has determined. It upheld 87 decisions and vetoed 3 decisions of the NEC.
The Party has also established an Independent Complaints Board although it doesn’t appear to do very much. It has 7 cases awaiting a hearing before it and the latest report says that 6 cases were heard since the previous report in July 2022 but says nothing about outcomes.
Therefore, based on what the Party has published, we can deduce that between May 2020 and November 2022, just under 1,700 Labour Party members have been investigated under the various forms of the Party’s disciplinary processes at national level. Less than 700 of these resulted in the member being expelled, just under 100 resulted in a suspension, at least 176 resulted in the member facing no further action and a further 600 or so were issued with a warning of some sort.
While things are undoubtedly difficult in the Party at the moment, it is important not to overstate the situation. There have been purges in the past, individual members have been unjustly expelled, branches and whole CLPs have been suspended and refused the right to meet, in some cases for years at a time. There never was a golden age of democratic freedom in the Labour Party.
In many countries, a movement of the sort we saw in Britain between 2015-19 would’ve faced repression from the state, individuals would’ve been targeted for arrest or worse. Being falsely accused and expelled from the Party is undoubtedly unpleasant but socialists face far worse outcomes in other places.
As many comrades as possible should read the documents produced by the Labour Party to have a more informed view of what is happening with the abuse of the disciplinary procedures. The main aim of the witch hunt has been to behead the left by removing CLP officers and other key activists and thereby encourage others to resign as a result.
Overwhelmingly, the loss of left wingers is from members becoming disgusted with the Party’s behaviour and walking away rather than from mass expulsions – with something like 200 resignations or lapses for every expulsion. The left must hold its nerve and stay and fight.
- This article originally appeared in Labour Briefing (Co-operative) magazine and is reproduced with permission. Subscribe by sending a £20 cheque with your address to ‘Labour Briefing Co-op, PO Box 78639, London N16 1LA.