The Labour Purge

As soon as the ballot papers began to arrive, it became clear that the Labour establishment was keen to reduce the number of people voting for Corbyn. On August 21, former Labour MP Andrew MacKinlay claimed that the “‘Labour Purge’ wouldn’t be happening if Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t the frontrunner”. He then “hit out at the system” further by asserting that “the architect of these daft [election] rules wasn’t Jeremy Corbyn”.[1] By ““purging” genuine supporters on spurious grounds”, he asserted, there seemed to be a ““ruse” to stop Mr Corbyn winning”. Criticising the way that local politicians were being given lists to check for local dissidents, he insisted that “every MP and councillor has somebody who irritates them”, and that this fact should ‘disqualify’ them “from deciding who should be members of the Labour Party”. Under the current system, however, there was a risk that “Labour politicians could use their power in the vetting process to kick out rivals from the party and settle scores”.[2]

The Left Futures blog also criticised the apparent purge within the Labour Party, asserting that “any other political party would be positively delighted to wake up one morning and find itself with 120,000 new registered supporters… but oh no, not Labour”. Although “Blairism [says it] ‘gets’ Middle England”, the blog stressed, the “#LabourPurge suggests it really, really doesn’t”. In fact, it added, there seemed to be “an element of untrammelled contempt” in the process.[3]

On August 23, The Scotsman reported on how “at least 25,000 people” were “expected to be disqualified from voting in the Labour leadership election on the grounds that they [did] not support the party”. Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman, however, insisted that the result would stand, stressing that the election had “been run with constant legal advice” to ensure “all Labour supporters [would] get a vote”. Responding to all of the negative press about a Labour Purge, she said she was “absolutely certain that no court would decide that we had done anything other than apply the rules in a rigorous, fair, robust and even-handed way” (the subjective nature of the aforementioned words, however, would no doubt leave the party very open to a significant amount of non-legal criticism).[4]

Two days later, it was revealed that Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, had “had his ballot retroactively revoked after having voted online” earlier in the month. Serwotka had left the party in the 1980s and had “not been a member of another political party since”, but had “voted for other parties and expressed support for other left-wing groups”. Although trade unions had “long been considered part of the core values of Labourism” and Serwotka had stressed he “would consider advocating affiliating Britain’s sixth biggest union to Labour” if Corbyn became leader, the party nonetheless claimed he did not share its “aims and values”. One source close to Serwotka insisted that he had “spent his life arguing and campaigning for workers’ rights, equality, a fairer distribution of wealth and an end to poverty and discrimination” and had recently “been at the forefront of the fight against austerity”, asking: “Which of these are not aims and values shared by the Labour party in 2015?”[5] Serwotka himself, meanwhile, stressed that he had voted in the leadership elections “precisely because I share the aims and values of Jeremy Corbyn on anti-austerity, equality, a fair society and strong trade unions”. Those messages, he said, were the ones he “wanted to positively vote for”.[6]

In response to the Labour Purge, which had seen “up to 100,000 now barred” from the contest, The Independent noted that “the purging process” seemed “far more concerned with preserving [Blairite] purity” than it did “with genuinely upholding the democratic process”. For Peter Taheri and Kapil Komireddi, Labour was “trying to accomplish the impossible: become electable while shunning voters”. Criticising in particular Neil Kinnock’s remarks that “even the broadest church has walls”, Taheri and Komireddi asserted that “at the rate at which Labour is closing its doors to supporters, the party is at risk of appearing less a broad church and more a secret society”.[7]

In spite of the scandal surrounding the purge, the non-Corbyn candidates in the leadership race were nonetheless demanding “extra checks on voters”, having attended a “‘secret’ Stevenage meeting with Harriet Harman” at which they were thought to have asked for the “voting history of new members and supporters to be cross-checked”. According to The Guardian, meanwhile, “almost 60,000 people” had been “weeded out… for being duplicates, not on the electoral roll, or in arrears with their membership”. Only around 3,000, though, had been “excluded for being supporters of other parties, including 1,900 Greens and 400 Tories”.[8] The paper then reminded readers that, although Harman had told the party in May that “anyone – providing they are on the electoral register” could “become a registered supporter… and have a vote”, the party had “tightened the rules because of fears that Tories and members of other parties were trying to sign up with the intention of influencing the result”.

This hypocrisy soon culminated in Labour giving “examples of voters barred from its leadership election”, explaining that it was excluding people who had been members, supporters, or “candidates from other parties” (as “identified by local Labour parties”), who had “nominated candidates”, or who had expressed “in the public eye” that they did “not share Labour’s aims and values” (though the latter were seldom given evidence as to why their views were incompatible with those of the Labour Party).[9]

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/08/21/labour-purge-jeremy-corbyn-mackinlay_n_8019562.html

[2] http://www.yourthurrock.com/Labour-attempting-rig-election-says-Thurrock-MP/story-27665503-detail/story.html

[3] http://www.leftfutures.org/2015/08/labourpurge-just-who-are-the-three-pounders/

[4] http://www.scotsman.com/news/uk/25-000-rogue-voters-in-labour-poll-chaos-1-3866045

[5] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/trade-union-leader-mark-serwotka-banned-from-voting-in-labour-leadership-election-10471851.html

[6] http://nr.news-republic.com/Web/ArticleWeb.aspx?regionid=4&articleid=47002056

[7] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/with-up-to-100000-now-barred-labour-has-become-less-a-broad-church-and-more-a-secret-society-10471163.html

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/25/labour-leadership-andy-burnham-yvette-cooper-liz-kendall-want-extra-voter-checks

[9] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/25/labour-gives-examples-voters-barred-from-leadership-election

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