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Editorial: When is Labour’s democracy lockdown going to end?

THE new regime at Labour Party Central chose its most reliable conduit — the Guardian newspaper — to give advance notice that the party Establishment is keen to pay off the so-called “whistleblowers” among headquarters staff who participated in last year’s Panorama programme on alleged anti-semitism in the party.

The Guardian, which itself played a central, organising and disreputable role in the onslaught on Labour’s reputation, tells us that “no final settlement has been reached but sources said an agreement was imminent.”

Recollect that at the time the Panorama programme was broadcast Labour’s spokesman reportedly described them as “disaffected officials who have always opposed Corbyn’s leadership, wanted to actively undermine it and have both personal and political axes to grind.”

The widely held view among Labour’s membership, in the trade unions and in more critical minds is that an element in the party apparatus was so opposed to the policy agenda of the party leadership, conference policies, the election manifesto and the views of the vast bulk of the party membership that it was willing to undermine the party for factional purposes.

That the party apparatus was and is infested with a factional atmosphere at variance with the dominant sentiments among party members is hardly contested. 

The evidence revealed in the leaked report on the internal correspondence and social-media exchanges among senior party officials, which suggested a climate of misogyny, racist language and personal vindictiveness coupled with serial disloyalty to the elected leadership and party policy, is now in danger of being kicked into the long grass.

There will be no party conference this year and so far there has been a complete ban on meetings, thus there will be no opportunity to discuss the matter, scrutinise the evidence or hold the leadership to account. 

The whole thing will die a death, ground into irrelevance by the remorseless timetable of routine politics, while the central protagonists enjoy whatever “compensation” their attack-dog lawyers have screwed out of a party Establishment now revealing itself to be as complicit in the continuation of this unsavoury business as any of the original actors.

One argument being advanced is that it is worth forking out a big wedge of party funds in order to make this whole affair go away. 

But this ignores the well-grounded suspicion that where instances of anti-semitic speech, social-media posting and actions were apparent, those responsible for dealing with them were negligent to the point of systematic inefficiency. 

That a more energetic approach to dealing with these issues was taken only after a new general secretary was in charge of the party apparatus is probably the most telling feature of the whole story.

The way the leadership is handling this affair will cement the idea that Sir Keir Starmer’s electoral platform of policy continuity and party unity was a pretence. 

It will hinder Labour’s ability to operate effectively in the workaday world where real problems assume critical importance in the lives of working people. 

The lesson of the last three years is that Labour is best when its active membership is in unity with its leadership.

In the early days of the lockdown Starmer was quite determined in his pursuit of Boris Johnson, demanding to know what the government’s plans were for ending the lockdown. 

So, now, what’s his plan for ending the lockdown of Labour Party democracy? 

When and how are meetings going to be allowed, with or without masks, with one or two metres’ social distancing? 

All those questions he asked of government can equally be addressed to him: when is lockdown on democracy in the party going to end? What’s his plan?

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