Labour must end the purges, cast aside McCarthyism & move on – Jon Trickett


“We have a party management process which is focussed on breaking our democratic norms, rupturing with our historic objectives of social justice, & driving members out of the party.”

Jon Trickett MP

By Jon Trickett MP

When the Guardian’s view on Labour’s crackdown on freethinkers is that it’s bad for the party and politics, and that it’s part of a wider strategy to move the party ever rightwards, then we know the mood is shifting against the infighting and inquisitions which are distracting us from the task in hand – removing the Tories from office. 

For it is curious that in place of a single-minded attack on Toryism we have a small group of people at the top whose main task appears to be spending resources on trawling through every past public utterance by members in order to discover reasons to expel them.

Clause Four of the Labour Party constitution says that we are a ‘democratic socialist’ party. But there is nothing democratic about top-down, command-and-control politics and nothing socialist about driving socialists out of the party, with tens of thousands expelled, suspended or left feeling Labour is no longer a place for them.

Our primary duty in opposition must be to get the Tories out of office. We must spend every moment pointing out the sleaze, corruption and incompetence of the Conservatives and the profoundly unjust system which they exist to maintain.

But that isn’t happening. Instead, we have a party management process which is focussed on breaking our democratic norms, rupturing with our historic objectives of social justice, and driving members out of the party.

It will not serve the country well for the main party of opposition, soon to be in government we hope, to continue down this track.

Take, for example, the way in which our candidates are chosen. Manipulation, purges and unfathomable methods are used to remove excellent potential candidates, who often have deep local roots.

This not only disempowers local members, but it is a breach of faith with voters who express an overwhelming desire to be able to vote for people from the area.

And without an engaged, enthusiastic and active mass membership out in the community the party will find it difficult to sustain itself in times which are less beneficial than they are now.

In their hearts, everyone with a sense of what Labour stood for historically knows that we need to end the purges, cast aside McCarthyism and move on.

Words without actions mean nothing. That is why I will be organising a rally ahead of the Labour conference to resist the direction of travel.

Can any union or party activist, any councillor or MP be certain they are not on someone’s hit list?

They may have thought themselves safe because the cabal only took out Corbyn, and then because they only seemed to be attacking the socialists, and then because it was just a few relatively unknown left-of-centre candidates.

But now we have seen a serving mayor, Jamie Driscoll, arbitrarily barred from a selection contest. Then there were organised efforts to deselect sitting MPs Beth Winter and Mick Whitley. And now, lifelong centre-left Labour activist and campaigner Neal Lawson is at risk of expulsion for a two-year old retweet.

When you can be barred for sitting on the same platform as a great filmmaker, or expelled for sharing articles by a newspaper which was only proscribed afterwards by the party, we should refer to the following words taken from The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s play about the Salem witch trials:

No man may longer doubt the powers of the dark are gathered in monstrous attack up on this village. There is too much evidence now to deny it”.

Great cultural icons like Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and Brecht were subject to a witch hunt and accused of un-American activities. Seeger was sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Robeson confronted the witch hunter Joe McCarthy and said the following, which we might adapt for our case:

“Because my father was a slave and my people died to build this country, I am going to stay here and have a part of it just like you, and no fascist-minded people will drive me from it.”

Of course, we can never compare our own experience to that of the slaves and their successors, and the McCarthyite purges were of a different scale to what is happening in the Labour Party.

Nevertheless, earlier generations, our parents and grandparents, built Labour from the bottom up, not the top down like the Conservative Party. Labour leaders come and go. Their task is never easy. They have difficult calls to make. And there must be boundaries which party members may not cross.

But at the end of the day, it is our movement, not theirs. Democracy, tolerance, plurality, diversity should be our watchwords. 

We need to see off the Tories at the by-election, but then I and others will press our case. Let’s gather together to insist on this, because silence is no longer an option. 

I’ll be announcing the details of our rally soon. I call all those who share our concerns to support it and get behind the core principle of Labour Democracy.

Featured image: Jon Trickett MP. Photo credit: The Office of Jon Trickett MP.

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