Is Labour a democracy or an autocracy?

Is the Labour apparatus really going to war against its members rather than the Tory government?

Article 10 (of the European Convention of Human Rights) will protect Labour Party members who, for example, make legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government, or express their opinions on internal Party matters, such as the scale of anti-Semitism within the Party, based on their own experience and within the law.” (EHRC Report on Labour Party)

If I have to suspend thousands and thousands of members, we will do that.” Angela Rayner

The easiest speech to make is one which you know your audience will agree with. Angela Rayner was onto a winner with the Jewish Labour Movement. She told them what they wanted to hear. She show-boated. It was however, as John McDonnell said, a provocative speech. It was a crass one as well, and a dishonest one.

The $64,000 dollar question is whether or not the “new Leadership” is prepared to go to war against the Labour Party membership. Hearing Angela Rayner’s speech to the JLM it sounds like she is happy to. Labourlist reported her as saying:

“Our members need to get real about this, our Labour members. If they don’t think anti-Semitism is within the Labour Party and that there’s problems now, then there’s really no place for them in the Labour Party…If I have to suspend thousands and thousands of members, we will do that. Because we cannot and we will not accept an injury to one, because an injury to one is an injury to all.”

Of course, she, as Deputy Leader, has not got the power to suspend anybody, never mind thousands and thousands of members. Has she not read the EHRC report about “political interference”? Let’s be clear what she is saying here. She is in favour of suspending thousands of members for what? For their thoughts! This would be a form of McCarthyism. Unless you admit that there is anti-Semitism in the Party “there’s really no place for them in the Labour Party”.

It would, of course, be stupid to say there was no anti-Semitism in the Labour Party (most people opposing the Leadership’s actions would not) just as it is stupid to say that there is “a tidal wave” of it. What Rayner appears to be saying is that there is some sort of loyalty test whereby you have to accept the leaderships’ view and the EHRC report without question or else you should not be a member. Ironically Peter Mandelson has just said he was not happy about the idea of an independent complaints procedure. He wants the NEC to control it. He will not be quaking in his boots at the danger of being suspended by the party even though we have been told that the report cannot be questioned.

Rayner and Starmer are applying double standards. They conveniently ignore the fact that the EHRC not only said that it was entirely legitimate to discuss the scale of anti-Semitism within the party but that right is protected under European law. To determine the scale of anti-Semitism you have to examine the evidence, on which it is possible to differ, or else you have just unproven assertions.

Meanwhile, unelected Labour Party General Secretary David Evans has sent another of his Orwellian letters to CLPs, banning discussion on the suspension of the whip from Jeremy Corbyn. It says:

“I am aware that other motions (including expressions of solidarity, and matters relating to the internal processes of the Parliamentary Labour Party) are providing a flashpoint for the expression of views that undermine the Labour Party’s ability to provide a safe and welcoming space for all members, in particular our Jewish members. Therefore, all motions which touch on these issues will also be ruled out of order.”

This is an extraordinary assertion. It implies that discussion of these issues would mean that zoom meetings are not a “safe and welcoming space” if anybody criticises the suspension of Corbyn, even though the NEC panel reinstated him, or any actions in the PLP. The mere possibility demands the suspension of freedom of discussion! It’s as if it is obligatory to agree with what the leadership did. It further says

“The Labour Party’s ‘Code of Conduct: Anti-Semitism and other forms of racism’ rightly states that “the Labour Party will ensure the party is a welcoming home to members of all communities, with no place for any prejudice or discrimination based on race, ethnicity or religion”.

Where is the prejudice in opposing the leadership suspending the whip from Corbyn? Where is the prejudice in objecting to Starmer’s “political interference” after the NEC panel decided on a verdict that he didn’t like? Where is the prejudice in having a different opinion from the leadership on the scale of anti-Semitism in the Party? How can anybody learn anything without looking at the evidence and discussing it?

It’s OK to hamper discussion

Since the NEC can delegate powers to the General Secretary he has the power to make a ruling, apparently. So if the General Secretary deems that discussion of Corbyn’s suspension is an expression of “prejudice or discrimination” it must be so!

Evans does admit that he is hampering discussion, but it seems it is only a temporary measure, “until we can improve our culture such restrictions may be required to stay in place”. And who will determine when the “culture” has changed sufficiently to allow the members freedom to discuss what they chose?

The Jewish Labour Movement made a ludicrous declaration that any discussion of the issue would create an “unsafe space” for Jewish members! They want political discussion barred. They want to silence Jewish members who disagree with them. The JLM, an affiliate of the Labour Party flagrantly broke the rules of the Party when it declared they would only support Labour candidates who passed their test. Moreover they opposed the election of a Labour government with Corbyn as Leader. They were treated with impunity by the Party apparatus, allowed to get away with these breaches scot-free.

It’s ironic that Evans judges Jewish members to be an homogenous mass who all would feel ‘threatened’ by a discussion on the action of the leadership. In reality this is a cynical attempt to make the leadership unaccountable. The reality is that Jewish members have different political views. The Leadership does not want to listen to those Jews who do not support the “mainstream”. Some of them have been witch-hunted for having different political views to supporters of the Israeli state.

An assault on democracy

This isn’t just an attack on the left of the Party. It is an assault on the democratic rights of all members and on CLPs. The instruction of the chief whip that Corbyn has to renounce his opinion and apologise for expressing it, is nothing more than a type of McCarthyism. It is an attempt to silence dissent and can only “hamper discussion” amongst the membership. It is only the latest example of the “new leadership” attempting to impose its will over the Party membership. The choice before Labour Party members is whether they want a democratic Party or an autocratic one which is tightly controlled by the Leader and the Party apparatus.

Having broken the Party’s own rules in handing over our money to the ex-staff, over the head of the “administrative authority” of the Party, the NEC, they are attempting to silence those members who have the audacity to oppose the methods of Starmer’s emerging autocracy. If this ban on discussion on this question is successful then make no mistake, the same method can be used on other issues.

It is politically criminal that at a time when this appalling government is responsible for tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, when it is handing over millions to its cronies, when local government is facing an unprecedented financial crisis, when we are looking at more than 2 million unemployed in the near future, the leadership focuses its energy not on building resistance to what the government is doing, but on showing they are being “tough” on their own members, for the crime of thinking differently. Thought police and democracy are incompatible.

Is this the same man who earlier in the year was going to unite the party? Unity can only be created by a shared purpose, confidence in being able to use the democratic processes to influence the Party (even in opposition to the views of the Leader), not by bureaucratic fiat and telling CLPs what they can and cannot discuss. Perhaps Evans should give some thought to a democratic culture. You cannot outlaw opinions and expect members to simply acquiesce to such autocratic methods.

At the time of writing Stats for Lefties reports that 61 CLPs have passed resolutions in support of Corbyn and/or against the diktats of the General Secretary and/or called for his sacking. There is no question that would have been a lot more but for the resolutions being ruled out of order.

Martin Wicks

November 29th 2020

Afterword. It is difficult to ignore the symbolism of the Leader and the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party choosing to attend the Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement on the very same day that the Labour Party appears to have ignored the UN Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people.


  1. This article has been reproduced by Socialist Fight on their website without asking my permission. I have asked them to take it off of their website.


  2. Mr Gerry Downing who runs that website has told me that he won’t take it down. I will “have to get a court order”. Sadly this is the sort of sectarianism which Mr Downing is renowned for.


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