Sunday, 6 September 2015

Purged! part two

When, in 2014, the Labour Party changed its rules to allow registered supporters, Andrew Rawnsley reported in The Observer: 'Mr Miliband has an ambition to get the number up to 100,000.' The idea of allowing people a vote in future leadership elections was to involve more people in the party, Rawnsley added:
What Mr Miliband is essentially proposing is what Americans call a "closed primary". You can't just walk in off the street to take part. You have to show some level of commitment to Labour. But you don't have to be a full-blown member to have a vote.
The proposal was passed by Labour's National Executive Committee in February last year by a vote of 28 votes to two. The dissenters were Dennis Skinner and Christine Shawcroft, probably the two most left-wing members of the NEC. Ed Miliband professed himself delighted with the result:
These changes will help bridge the gap between Westminster and the rest of Britain. They are about opening up the Labour Party so that more people from every walk of life can have more say on the issues which matter to them most.
At one point, in October, it seemed as though the price for being a registered supporter might be as high as £10, but that came in for a lot of criticism. Tessa Jowell - not then declared as a London mayoral candidate, but with that contest clearly in mind - said: '£10 sounds very high. In my view the charge should be set at the lowest level possible consistent with the proper administering of the primary.' So it came down to £3. And there it still is.

Which is why I signed up to it. I think a £10 charge would have deterred me, but I always liked the idea of primaries (of voting in anything, really) and I thought that seemed a reasonable level.

I also thought that I'm maybe sort of among the kind of people that they might want to participate: someone who's voted Labour in the past, but not consistently, i.e. a floating voter who could be won over, and therefore someone whose opinion on the leadership might be worth taking into consideration. And being a single, childless man with a natural inclination towards sloth, I thought I might offer a different perspective to all those hard-working families so beloved of politicians.

Evidently I was wrong, since I've been rejected. (No word yet, incidentally, on the return of my three quid.) Somewhere there is someone in the Holborn & St Pancras Labour Party who has checked up on me, taken against me, and put my name on a blacklist, so that as soon as I tried to cast a vote, I received a rejection email.

This doesn't leave me feeling bitter, in the way that some longstanding members and activists clearly - and justifiably - feel when they've been excluded. But it does tend to reinforce the impression that it's all a bit risible (hence the cheap sarcasm yesterday). And it does irritate me enough that I don't particularly wish the party well; surely it's a normal human reaction to respond, 'Well, if that's how you feel about it...'

Mostly, though, it leaves me genuinely baffled. If the 'opening up' of Labour doesn't include me, who does it include? Perhaps I misunderstood from the outset, and the intention was to attract solid Labour voters who'd never joined the party. In which case, Miliband was even more useless than I thought: they're not the ones you need to win over.

But maybe in writing that last sentence, I've answered my own question. I have been writing on this blog for several years that Miliband was useless and would never win a general election. I've also been very critical of Labour's policy and direction. That doesn't mean I don't support the 'aims and values' of the party - which is all I signed up to - but maybe they're feeling a bit sensitive right now.

I do like the bit in the rejection email that says I can appeal but only if I apply 'to join Labour as a full member'. Which obviously costs a lot more money. You'd have to be very cynical, however, to conclude that this was all a fund-raising exercise. I'm not sure the party's capable of thinking that far ahead.


  1. Sorry to hear that you've been purged -- it is indeed risible, but sadly not surprising. I've only been in the Party for four years (first as member and more recently as paid organiser) but it's always struck me that the Party is terrified of political currents that it can't fully control, a fear which has been hardwired into the Party since its inception; Corbyn-mania has therefore been an utterly traumatic experience for the Party machine, which is now under severe pressure from the PLP to maintain order and probably to purge as many new members as possible. Your expulsion would suggest that they're now lashing out with neither rhyme nor reason, which is typical of party-political power structures which feel under threat.

    Nevertheless, to a traditionally "floating" socialist campaigner like me, there are some absolutely delicious ironies in the current situation, just as your above blog post suggests. The Collins Review which ushered in these changes was a bone of huge contention in the labour movement, its main purpose being to weaken the Left by reducing the influence of trade unions in the Party as a whole, particularly in leadership elections. There were howls of anguish from the unions and from the remaining fragments of the revolutionary left (SWP, SPEW, AWL etc.), all of whom seemed to forget that the union power bloc has traditionally been used to shore up centrist/right-wing Party leaderships rather than challenge them, as they are now doing. From the other side, arch-Blairite Luke Akehurst is at least honest enough to admit the following in a recent Labour List blog:

    The system agreed by the Collins Review was deliberately set up to allow this kind of mass recruitment of registered supporters. Ironically, it was a sop to the Blairite right, who wanted primaries. I think that is called being hoist by your own petard. If Labour moderates haven’t recruited as many people as Corbyn we only have ourselves to blame.

    He is spot on.

    1. Thanks for your comments, with which I agree entirely. Particularly worth remembering is your point that the unions have traditionally supported centrist leaders. The anti-union rhetoric that's been so strong since the 1970s (at least) has always suggested that union leaders are inherently left-wing - the truth is that their job is virtually defined by the search for compromise.

      One further irony. I wasn't out to cause trouble. As I made explicit on this blog, my vote was going to Liz Kendall, not because I agree with her politics, but because I think she represents the best hope for the Labour Party succeeding at the ballot box: