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The Audrey White expulsion and the Starmer problem

LABOUR’S expulsion of Liverpool campaigner Audrey White is suspiciously timed.

Four days after she confronted Sir Keir Starmer for breaking the pledges he made to win the party leadership, White received a letter claiming she had actually been expelled in February but had not been notified.

Together with last week’s decision to sack shadow transport minister Sam Tarry, White’s expulsion raises important questions about Labour’s direction and our response.

Whether White was actually expelled for the pathetic reason given in the letter (having once given an interview to Socialist Appeal), or as revenge for embarrassing Starmer in a videoed exchange that has been viewed by millions, hardly matters.

White is no recent convert and cannot be dismissed as some “entryist.”

This is the TGWU activist whose 1983 picket line outside a clothes store in Liverpool, mounted after she was fired for challenging sexual harassment of young staff by an area manager, helped deliver the first legislation against sexual harassment. 

Her story was even turned into a film, Business as Usual, with White played by actor and later Labour MP Glenda Jackson.

The casual persecution of long-standing members so clear in the leaked and now the Forde reports evidently continues.

And this persecution is taking place on a significant scale. Thousands of Labour members have been targeted, many with records of trade union and party activity that stretch back decades.

Though any attempt to hold sitting MPs accountable when Jeremy Corbyn led Labour prompted headlines about bullying Corbynistas, the outright purging of Labour members by the current leadership attracts no comment in the mainstream media and not enough across our movement.

Documenting and opposing it has mainly been confined to small organisations treated with reserve by most unions, like the now proscribed Labour Against the Witch Hunt, and DIY online panel programmes like Crispin Flintoff’s Not the Andrew Marr Show.

But the issue is linked to the question posed by Tarry: what is Labour for?

A Labour leadership which supports real-terms pay cuts for workers is not just failing to oppose the Tories. It is part of the ruling-class offensive against our living standards.

A Labour leadership which says opposition to Nato has no place in British public life is not just failing to oppose imperialism, it is part of a wider assault on democracy.

And a Labour leadership which shrugs when one of its own founding organisations — the bakers’ union BFAWU — disaffiliates in disgust, which spies on its members to dredge up non-issues like once having spoken to an organisation which has subsequently been banned, is part of a broader ruling-class push to delegitimise the socialist left.

It could not be more important to oppose such a leadership. While socialist MPs have defied Starmer to stand on picket lines and have done some great work since 2019, there has not been the open opposition to the party’s current trajectory which is required.

A Labour leadership which treats due process with such contempt when it comes to members cannot be trusted to protect citizens’ rights in government. 

The Tories of course cannot be trusted to do so either and are directly attacking democratic rights across the board. But Starmer is not on this showing an alternative, but part of the same problem.

Even if elected, it is far from clear what such a government would do for working-class people. As Tony Benn wrote of the Blair government in his diary on August 2 1997, it was “very popular with the British Establishment because it is supporting the system; it is a good Conservative government.”

In the credit-driven boom of the 1990s such a government’s failings could perhaps be masked. At a time of plummeting living standards, it would confront the labour movement as an enemy.

Labour MPs, affiliated unions and local authorities keen to avoid that scenario should recognise how serious a problem the Starmer leadership has become.

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