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by Matt Trinder
AN EMERGENCY Labour conference must urgently be held online in light of attacks on party “democracy and free speech,” MPs, activists and trade unions demanded today.
The Reclaim Democracy, Recall Conference (RDRC) campaign said that anger over motions being suppressed and members being suspended had reached breaking point and that the “very soul of the party” is now at stake.
Since Sir Keir Starmer became leader, members have been banned from voicing solidarity with his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn after he was suspended and subsequently readmitted to the party without the whip.
Sir Keir has even been accused of hiring Assaf Kaplan, a former Israeli “cyber spy,” to monitor the Labour in Exile Network, recently formed to facilitate a fightback against attempts to silence supporters of Mr Corbyn.
The party is yet to comment on the allegations.
RDRC, which also has support from within Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) and from activist groups Momentum and Don’t Leave, Organise, pointed out that Clause VI of Labour’s constitutional rules gives the NEC the power to recall conference before its currently scheduled date in September.
The campaign asked members to table and support motions in their local Labour branches to help “reclaim party democracy” through a conference recall.
NEC member Nadia Jama warned that “members are leaving in droves and many more are expressing frustration and dissatisfaction.”
“Many members are saying it doesn’t feel like the Labour Party any more,” she said.
Labour’s Richard Burgon, chairman of the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, said: “This is a grassroots campaign we should all support.
“The Labour Party must be democractic, but members are not being treated with the respect they deserve.
“Many members feel that the Labour leadership is taking the fight to its own membership more than it is to the Tory government.
“Labour members are part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Labour MP Jon Trickett said the party “has only ever worked effectively as a partnership of leaders.”
“For this to happen the voices of the whole party need to be respected,” he said.
“In the 21st century, top-down autocratic styles of leadership do not work.
“We need democracy, not diktats. Consensus, not commands. And we must build a movement, not a monolith.”
Ian Hodson, national president of the BFAWU union – which last month launched a consultation on disaffiliating from the party – said that members have a “real battle” on their hands.
“We are fighting for the very soul of the party and are confident we have the bulk of the membership behind such a move,” he added.
The Fire Brigades Union said it supports an immediate conference to “address the party’s glaring crisis of policy, party democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of discussion.”
And former NEC member for Unite Martin Mayer said: “There’s huge disillusionment and anger across the party’s lay membership at the suppression of basic democracy and free speech. A recalled conference is the way out of this crisis.”
Momentum co-chairman Andrew Scattergood added: “Right now, hard-working Labour members are being unjustly suspended, while CLPs have had their rights and freedoms undermined.
“A conference will give us the opportunity to reassert the democratic principles on which our party was founded.”
Labour, which is already planning to hold its Women’s Conference online in June, did not respond to requests for comment.
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