Oppose Labour's new wave of purges! Defend due process!

Submitted by martin on 31 August, 2021 - 5:49 Author: Martin Thomas

On 13 August the Labour Party started sending out letters threatening people with "Automatic Exclusion from Membership of the Labour Party" under the terms of the "ban" on four groups decided by Labour's National Executive (NEC) on 20 July.

The recipients were given seven days to show they weren't associated with any of the four groups. The well-known film director Ken Loach refused to attempt to show that, and has been expelled.

Labour HQ responded that it would "not comment on individual cases". In other words, there is no due process. Imagine a legal system under which you could be jailed, or even fined, and protests or queries would be met with only "no comment on individual cases".

Actions like "contributing written material to the website" of one of the groups (which, it turns out, can include being interviewed), "participating in an event" (a public, open, one), or "repeatedly [how often?] liking or sharing content on social media" are being cited as grounds for exclusion with no hearing or right of appeal. Those sent letters on 13 August are asked for "evidence" that they are not supporters of such-and-such group, i.e. told they will be considered guilty until they can "prove" themselves innocent.

We have no brief for three of the groups banned, and many criticisms of the fourth, Socialist Appeal. But the bans negate all due process. They are a hardening of the current catch-all rule, used against hundreds or thousands of members in 2015 and 2016 and a number in 2020-2, which says that people can be auto-excluded for "support" (interpreted widely) for any political association other than an "official Labour group".

Ken Loach refused to deny association with the "Labour Against the Witch-hunt" group (LAW).

Loach directed the play Perdition in the 1980s, which we criticised for antisemitism. The (small) "Labour Against the Witch-hunt" group we have also criticised for antisemitism

Certainly Labour needs a thorough re-education against antisemitism, a surge of which came into the Party after 2015 with the more addled "returners" from the 1980s; and in some cases people should indeed be expelled from Labour for antisemitism.

But expulsions should be on the basis of due process, with a hearing on evidence of actual antisemitic actions or speeches by the actual person charged. And Loach is 85, with a long record of socialist film-making, including the film The Navigators written by one of own people, the late Rob Dawber. There'd have to be a high bar for expelling him. Ian Hodson has a long and good record as a labour-movement activist, and we know of no charge against him on antisemitism.

Meanwhile, the Labour leadership has obstructed local Labour Parties' efforts to conduct educationals on antisemitism, and has done only token work itself to promote education and discussion on the issue.

Ian Hodson, president of the Bakers' Union, also faces expulsion for refusing to dissociate from LAW. Hodson has a long and good record as a labour-movement activist, and we know of no charge against him on antisemitism. The Bakers' Union has declared that it will call an emergency conference to debate disaffiliation from Labour.

Pamela Fitzpatrick, Labour candidate for Harrow East in 2019, a local councillor and longstanding activist, faces a demand to prove herself "innocent" of supporting Socialist Appeal because she did an interview with that paper way back. Local Labour activists are gaining many signatures for a petition defending her.

Others reportedly excluded in the current wave include Pete Firmin, once a supporter of our political tendency, and someone we have worked with often since he parted ways from us in 1984. Pete had already been suspended in late 2020, in a wave of suspensions of local Labour Party officers for allowing debate on motions about the disciplinary action against Jeremy Corbyn.

Many of the local Labour Party officers suspended back then are still suspended, as far as we know. Dozens of others have been suspended in recent months. We don't know how many because Labour HQ is operating a "rule" (written nowhere in the rulebook, but promulgated by the previous, "Corbynite", general secretary, Jennie Formby) that a public outcry about being suspended makes you subject to disciplinary action for that outcry, regardless of whether there was good cause for the original suspension.

Ann Black, a member of the NEC who voted for three of the bans and abstained on the fourth, reports “nearly 100 members still suspended after more than 18 months... more than 1000 complaints... unresolved”.

One of the chief aims of these purges must be to push left-wingers in the Labour Party to withdraw in disgust, or left unions like the Bakers to disaffiliate, leaving the party easier for the leadership to control. On the contrary, left-wingers should stick in there, and fight both for a democratic, due-process regime in the party.

See also

• How to get a democratic, due-process Labour Party
• New Labour procedures are stitch-ups

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