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Editorial Labour’s war on the left is crippling the party. It mustn’t cripple the movement

LABOUR’S apparent need to slash a quarter of its staff because it is one payroll from bankruptcy is a consequence of the very contempt for its membership that motivates its desire to crack down on left-wing groups.

General secretary David Evans reportedly cites two causes of its financial crisis: loss of membership and legal cases linked to allegations of anti-semitism.

Unite — which has slammed plans to proscribe certain organisations and set up a “star chamber” to fast-track further bans — warned last year that the party should not take union money for granted after it decided, simply to discredit former leader Jeremy Corbyn, to settle for undisclosed sums with seven so-called “whistleblowers” who had contributed to a Panorama hatchet job on Corbyn’s Labour, even though lawyers held the party would win the case.

Nor would the party have had to battle individual members in the courts had it not taken to excluding people on the flimsiest grounds while slandering entire constituency parties as anti-semitic — claiming central bans on discussing topics like whether Corbyn should have the whip restored were required to protect Jewish members, a claim as absurd as it is insulting.

If union donations are down, perhaps this is because the party has ignored their members’ concerns and refused even to back a proper pay rise for NHS staff in the midst of a global pandemic.

And there’s the exodus of members.

The Guardian phrases this delicately: “Hopes of a membership bounce after [Keir] Starmer took over failed to materialise.” 

The truth is that tens of thousands have left. The liberal broadsheet’s language is designed to mislead readers into thinking that Corbyn presided over a decline which has not been reversed — when Labour more than doubled in size under his leadership.

Like Labour’s biggest vote increase in seven decades in 2017, the eruption of a mass socialist movement onto the political scene is being written out of history.

Members have not just left because of Starmer’s retreat from the bold policy agenda of the Corbyn years. They have been driven away by institutional bullying, witch hunts, bans on debate, all indicating that the party’s leaders regard its members as an embarrassment and a menace.

Plans to ban four left-wing groups will accelerate the haemorrhage way beyond their actual memberships.

They will be the tip of the iceberg. Right-wing troll Neil Coyle MP has called for Jewish Voice for Labour to be banned – a call for the expulsion of hundreds of Jews which has somehow failed to attract the media furore alleged anti-semitism did when Corbyn was leader.

It is easy to imagine the circumstances in which anti-imperialist solidarity organisations would be proscribed by the “star chamber.” The same applies to the peace and anti-racist movements.

The left is easily divided and the last few years have given us plenty of examples in which second-order considerations have prevented unity in defence of targeted individuals and groups. This time we must unite in resisting the anti-democratic drive that will continue regardless of the NEC’s decision, as well as in rejecting any pretension by Labour to define acceptable and unacceptable politics in the wider movement.

It is ironic that Labour spins this as about eliminating “toxic” groups and returning to the “mainstream,” underlining how out of touch it is.

It is politics as usual that has become “toxic,” with Labour’s surge under Corbyn, the Brexit vote and even the election victory of Boris Johnson posing as the champion of a democratic vote being obstructed by British institutionalism all symptoms of the sense that “mainstream” politics has nothing to offer.

That will be reinforced by Labour’s current focus on attacking its own, even as the end of lockdown and a new wave of coronavirus pose tremendous challenges we might expect to focus its mind.

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