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Editorial: Labour’s planned purge is an act of self-sabotage

A FUNCTIONARY in Labour’s reconstituted media team has briefed journalists with the charmless line that under Jeremy Corbyn people from the far-left fringes “with poisonous beliefs and warped world views” were welcomed into the party.

“Keir is right,” they briefed, “to stamp out anti-semitism and toxic extremism and get the party back into the decent mainstream of Labour values.”

This is in advance of a Labour Party national executive council meeting in which several groups are reported to face proscription.

Exclude the possibility that this crass manoeuvre is merely a “dead-cat” gambit to divert attention from the party’s dispiriting collapse in popularity and we must take seriously the idea that the leadership is wielding a sledgehammer to fragment a very small bag of nuts.

In aggregate, the combined membership and political reach of the groups rumoured to be under the cosh amount to a tiny fraction of the numbers who have flooded out of party membership over the past year. This is the political problem which should exercise the NEC.

The debilitating drain on Labour’s effectiveness as a vote-winning operation — let alone its potential as a government — lies not in these formations which, however well-founded its aims, remain marginal to the main class issues.

It is in its failure to present policies which appeal to working people.

You have to wonder at the political judgement of a leadership that sees the way out of a catastrophic decline in the party’s popularity with an entirely profitless purge which will serve only to reinforce — in the minds of electors unfamiliar with Labour as it actually exists — the mainstream media narrative that the party is in the grip of dangerous extremists.

The main outlet for the purge story is the Daily Mirror, which is usually a reliable guide to what animates Labour’s right wing.

Proscription is the cold war mechanism which right-wing Labour developed to discipline MPs and members who backed friendship with the Soviet Union and socialist countries or advocated peace, international trade union unity and solidarity. 

This became an archaic hangover as far back as 1973 when the Labour Party abandoned the list of banned organisations and the party’s general secretary said he had burned the files kept on leftwingers.

Among the groups threatened today are new organisations that contain people already expelled or suspended and who seek reinstatement of their rights as members. 

Reviving these proscriptive practices is designed to intimidate them and discourage others and to divert and distract.

There are 20 “socialist societies” formally affiliated to Labour, from the Fabians to Christians on the Left, and uncounted numbers of pressure groups pulling in all directions and each with their own programme.

The most influential of these are the right-wing groups with a programme that included repeated sabotage of Labour’s campaigning and repeated bids to force Corbyn’s resignation. Under Labour’s previous leadership no sanctions were placed on these people.

If it were not so counterproductive this self-mutilating move by Labour’s lackadaisical leadership would invite ridicule.

It demonstrates that elements in the party’s right-wing place factional advantage over real-life politics and the interests of the people.

The affiliated trade unions remain the sheet anchor which ties the party to the organised working-class movement and it is with their alliance with the broad anti-austerity, peace and campaigning movements that Labour must turn outwards.

If it is to once again to form a government, Labour needs to make itself indispensable to the daily struggles of working people and win support for progressive policies which would make a change to the lives of millions.

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