Labour losing members hand over fist under Starmer, warns John McDonnell

John McDonnell, shadow chancellor under Jeremy Corbyn, former Labour leader

JVL Introduction

 

John McDonnell says the unintended consequence of the disciplinary process is really dangerous and queries the extraordinary targeting of us JVL members.
John McDonnell was interviewed on the BBC’s flagship Today programme on 17th September and he is quoted more extensively in this article on the BBC’s website.  He said that he was concerned about an unintended consequence of the disciplinary process.
“From the evidence Jewish Voice for Labour have produced, key members of their executive committee are having disciplinary action taken against them,” he said.

“I found it ironic to say the least that in our campaign against anti-Semitism we are taking action against Jewish people. What I am saying to the Labour party is you have to be very careful about this. I think it’s really dangerous.”

This article was originally published by BBC News online on Fri 17 Sep 2021. Read the original here.

Labour losing members hand over fist under Starmer, warns John McDonnell

The former shadow chancellor John McDonnell has claimed Labour is losing members “hand over fist”.

In a BBC interview, he suggested that disciplinary action against some members on the Left of the party had made many others feel “unwelcome”, and in some cases “intimidated”.

He is calling for the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to call a summit with his critics next week, as Labour prepares for its in-person annual conference, to address their ‘grievances”.

Otherwise, he said, an internal party row could dominate the first day of the Labour conference in Brighton.

And he was critical of the way Labour’s disciplinary process is being applied.

In July, Labour’s ruling body – the National Executive – declared that membership of four groupings would be incompatible with party membership.

In other words, these groups were banned, or, in the jargon, proscribed.

Three of the groups – Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour in Exile network, and Resist – had been criticised by party officials for downplaying the toxic anti-Semitism issue.

Labour is duty-bound to follow an action plan agreed with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to tackle anti-Semitism, following a report published in 2020.

Pre-Crime

But Mr McDonnell argued that far more left-wing members of the party were now facing disciplinary action through guilt by association.

Labour and the trade unions have an “obligation to unite and work together” Sir Keir Starmer told the TUC recently

He said that the action being taken against them is being applied retrospectively.

He told the BBC: “What’s happened is a number of groups have been proscribed and we are now receiving reports of large numbers of members of the party being excluded from the party on the basis of statements or retweeting something from one of these groups before they were proscribed.

“This flies in the face of natural justice… It is like being guilty of pre-crime.”

He said he believed that this had consequences far beyond those who are directly affected.

“This sends a message throughout the party to some members that they are not welcome.

“My understanding is we have lost at least 100,000 members so far. If you start losing that mass membership, we are undermining our ability to fight elections – which is appalling.”

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Easier to promise unity than to deliver it

Analysis

At last year’s Labour leadership contest Sir Keir Starmer promised party unity. On election, he pledged to tear out the poison of anti-Semitism.

It is proving difficult in practice to do both.

He was always expected to act against small groups who saw the anti-Semitism accusations as somehow exaggerated or as a smear against the former leadership.

But some on the pro-Corbyn left, already sore over the suspension of the former leader from the Parliamentary party, believe the net of expulsions is being cast too wide and catching some of the wrong people.

This could culminate in a challenge on Day One of Labour’s conference to the party’s general secretary David Evans – an unprecedented move.

Unions get half the votes at Labour conference and the giant Unite union is trying to oust him.

So it’s likely Sir Keir’s allies will be going in to what are now smoke-free rather than smoked-filled rooms with other unions to negotiate their support for Mr Evans.

If they are confident he can get the votes, then some of Starmer’s allies think a public showdown with his critics would strengthen him.

As the Labour leader is discovering, unity is a commodity in politics that’s easier to promise than to deliver.

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A member of Labour’s ruling NEC, Luke Akehurst, who voted to ban groups which he said had been “whitewashing” anti-Semitism, said the principle of acting retrospectively had long been established:

“Proscription of a group has to apply to people who are already supporters of it otherwise there is no point doing it,” he said.

Militant

“I can’t imagine a situation where Neil Kinnock had decided Militant was incompatible with Labour membership but then that said everyone who was in it until that decision was taken was just allowed to carry on.”

Neil Kinnock expelled members of the left-wing group Militant – such as Derek Hatton, the controversial deputy leader of Liverpool Council – from the Labour party in the 1980s when he was party leader.

Mr Akehurst justified a trawl of social media to explore whether people had supported the now banned groups.

“We have to be wide ranging,” he said.

“You might not be able to access their list of members so you have to be able to work out who might be members from the ways they publicly express support.”

Dangerous

Mr McDonnell said he was concerned about an unintended consequence of the disciplinary process.

“From the evidence Jewish Voice for Labour have produced, key members of their executive committee are having disciplinary action taken against them,” he said.

“I found it ironic to say the least that in our campaign against anti-Semitism we are taking action against Jewish people.

“What I am saying to the Labour party is you have to be very careful about this. I think it’s really dangerous.”

The main grouping representing Jewish members of the party is the Jewish Labour Movement – which had complained to Equality and Human Rights Commission about the previous party leadership’s handling of anti-Semitism complaints.

Jewish Voice for Labour is a much smaller grouping, which has generally been more critical of Israel and supportive of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

It has not been banned by Labour, but some of its members who are facing disciplinary action have been accused of supporting groups which have now been proscribed.

Mr Akehurst insisted that any action that may be taken would be based not on their background but their actions.

“People need to get real. We are trying to get rid of anti-Semites or people who apologise for or cover up for anti-Semitism,” he said.

“The Labour party’s disciplinary process isn’t looking at people’s identity, it is looking at their behaviour, and the damage they are causing to the party’s relations with the wider Jewish community and to its reputation.”

Grievances

The row over expulsions and exclusions has largely remained under the political radar, but it could come into full public view at Labour’s conference, which takes place in Brighton next week.

The Unite union and some other left wing delegates say they will force a vote on the first day of the gathering, challenging the appointment of the party’s most senior official, the general secretary, and ally of Sir Keir, David Evans.

He oversees the party’s disciplinary system.

Mr McDonnell said he wanted the Labour leader to convene a summit with his critics to try to defuse the row.

He said: “The best thing that Keir and David Evans can do is get people round the table, accept there are grievances that have to be addressed.

“To be frank he [Keir Starmer] lacks an element of political experience. He hasn’t been in politics that long. He needs to talk to people across the political spectrum in the party and engage more.”

But Mr Akehurst believes Sir Keir should engage his internal critics in a rather different way – and said he should not be afraid of a public confrontation.

“An extraordinary demonisation of David Evans is going on,” he said. “I am sure [the leadership’s opponents] will force a vote and I will welcome that.

“It will only expose the rather low level of support that they have.”

The Labour party has been contacted for comment.

Comments (23)

  • Steve McKenzie says:

    ‘Unintended’ really
    John McDonnell needs to start getting real

  • Eddie Dougall says:

    “John McDonnell says the unintended consequence of the disciplinary process is really dangerous and queries the extraordinary targeting of us JVL members.” Is everyone certain that they are unintended consequences?
    It has always seemed to me that the aim of the leadership was to rid the party of the troublesome lefties.

  • “People need to get real. We are trying to get rid of anti-Semites or people who apologise for or cover up for anti-Semitism,”

    So said Luke Akehurst. We certainly do need to get real. The campaign about ‘antisemitism’ was never about anti-semitism or any other form of racism. That is why Akehurst has no objection to the quiet readmision of Trevor Philips.

    If it was genuinely about removing racists from the Labour Party then the first to go would be Luke Akehurst, who justified snipers shooting unarmed demonstrators, including children, at the Gaza Fence. Imagine if this had been Jewish children being killed by Palestinians, what his reaction would be.

  • Paul Smith says:

    Re Watson’s comment on the relative size of the JLM and JVL, can we have the real (i.e. Jewish members) please?

    In the vote as to whom to support as Labour leader, the JLM only gave percentage figures. This hid the number of those voting.

  • Bernard Grant says:

    Reading what Luke Akehurst is saying, is more than a bit frustrating and annoying, him and his Progress group, did nothing but undermine Jeremy Cornyn because he supports the Palestinians, and he’s a supporter of Israel and allows that to stop him thinking straight and fairly, the majority on the Left abhor the behaviour of Israel towards the Palestinians and that’s why Akehurst has always undermined and criticised them, including Corbyn.
    Akehurst, Starmer and Evans, in my opinion and I believe the evidence is overwhelming, are not interested in a Labour Party winning an election, their priority is to make sure a Left dominated Party that condemns Israel doesn’t exist.
    My next objection to Akehurst’s statement that, these groups (which are mainly made up of Left Socialists) are whitewashing antisemitism, they are not but what they do say is, the antisemitism in the Party was massively exaggerated, previous analysis has shown it to be less than 1%, which is totally ignored by Akehurst, Starmer and those MPs that also support Israel.
    These groups have come together to counter the lie that it is a massive problem in the Party and is being weaponised by those Israel supporting MPs and others like the BoD and the BBC.
    Every suspension since Starmer became leader that I have heard about, including friends involves those that criticised Israel or Supported Palestine why, because that is what the truth is all about.
    Akehurst’s next statement, is frankly ridiculous and is a cover for his support of Israel, “People need to get real, we are trying to get rid of anti-Semites or those that apologise for or cover up for anti-Semitism”. What’s his proof for accusing JVL Jewish members of apologising or covering up anti-Semitism?
    He needs to be challenged on these accusations, I hope that he is challenged and brought to book on them.

    [This comment has been cut to approximate our 300 word limit – JVL web]

  • Linda says:

    “A member of Labour’s ruling NEC, Luke Akehurst … said the principle of acting retrospectively had long been established”…

    Gobsmacked by what Akehurst has said. Any lawyer, police officer or professional worker should know such behaviour is legally untenable and wholly unfair and unreasonable. Come to think of it, any child over the age of 7 would realise Akehurst’s view is unethical and contrary to the way decent human beings conduct themselves.

  • Dr. Steven Cowan says:

    I fear this is one aspect of a gradual decline of the Labour Party as a functioning campaigning and electoral force. In some local ward branches, we are reduced to a handful of active members and most of these are over 60 years old. We have always had distinctive groups and interests working in an uneasy alliance with each other, but the present centrally organised witchhunt of members who identify themselves as socialists seems likely to compromise our ability to campaign free from being involved in factional infighting. The few hard right MP’s who deserted the Party seem to now have ex-colleagues still in the Party, who are continuing their factional activity. This completely drains my enthusiasm and energy.

  • Peter Johnson says:

    A less than agile ceremony

  • Mat Anderson says:

    Unintended? It’s entirely intended. IMO the right of the party think their plan is going swimmingly.

  • Dave Bradney says:

    Nice to see Philip K Dick making a dramatic intervention in Labour Party politics!

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-crime

    A prophet much unappreciated in his own time. He was always on the side of the little guy, he would have been proud that his concept had been useful

    Pace Orwell of course, who would also have been pleased to be of assistance

  • Rosemary Bechler says:

    I am not apologising for or covering up anti-Semitism. I am saying that Jewish and non-Jewish critiques of Israel as a Zionist state are not anti-Semitic. This continues to be a dispute over what anti-Semitism is in which the last word is far from being said, and the chaos that takes place of proper debate on this is used as a disciplinarian fiasco by any rightwing Labourite, including the general Secretary it would seem, who wants to see progressive members leave the party – preferably in droves.

  • David Hawkins says:

    If that’s what you think John, can you please explain your silence when that inspiring black Jewish woman Jacky Walker was being unjustly expelled?
    Your inaction when you were in power lead directly to the flood of expulsions today. You could and should have nipped the witch hunt in the bud when you had the chance but you chose not to.
    Some of us are waiting for your apology.

  • James Simpson says:

    It is virtually a stated purpose of Starmer et al to greatly reduce the membership of the Labour party. After all, it was members who elected and supported Mr Corbyn as leader. Ordinary people are just too unpredictable and uncontrollable for the Right to bother having around.

  • Stephen Richards says:

    4 ‘anti-Semitism’ read ‘Socialism’…….true picture.

  • Doug says:

    Linda
    Decent human beans conduct themselves
    The AS Scam is not a weapon used by decent people, this is an existential fight for the Labour party and democracy
    Does anyone think we can keep Red Tories in the party after the internal report, the witch hunt and the Fascism

  • Ian Kemp says:

    Luke Akehurst is a particularly nasty person. There are quite a few like him in the present Labour Party.
    John McDonnell and others need to start to urgently start to address what is going on in LP before it is finely destroyed as a electoral force. Maybe its to late and another proper Labour party should be considered.
    I fail to understand the logic of Starmer and Evans. What is the point of suspending alienating so many supporters members on to say the least dubious grounds.? Destroying Labour as a electoral force when we have the worst government in living memory.
    What hope is there?

  • John Spencer says:

    Is Watson right to say that JVL is “much smaller” than JLM?

  • Brian Burden says:

    Hasn’t Labour already lost over 100,000 members since Starmer became leader? Plus didn’t Angela Rayner say Starmer wanted to expel 100,000 anti-Semites?

  • Johnnie BYRNE says:

    Who is Luke Akehurst to tell practising Jews that they are antisemitic?

    And he should remember that Labour was never elected to Government under Neil Kinnock.

  • Linda says:

    I’ve just been reading a “Guardian” piece in which John Curtice has advised Starmer of the absolute necessity of winning over the soft Tory vote if he’s to win the next general election. Contained within the article is the explanation that soft Tories would rather stick with the Tories and don’t like or trust Starmer. So Starmer and Curtice OUGHT to realise Curtice’s recommended strategy won’t produce the results Starmer and Labour want.

    John McDonnell assessment of Starmer seems to hit the nail on the head:-
    “To be frank he [Keir Starmer] lacks an element of political experience. He hasn’t been in politics that long. He needs to talk to people across the political spectrum in the party and engage more.”

  • Jimmy Cooper says:

    How long can John McDonnell and left Labour MPs sit and watch the rotten racist, anti-semitic, anti-democratic, right wing “leadership” and their acolytes destroy the party? “Unintended” ! Really?! Open your eyes John – get out of your office and lead the fight against the right. We need leadership, not apologies.

  • Rory O'Kelly says:

    Akehurst’s comparison with the proscription of Militant is disingenuous but interesting.
    Militant was proscribed because it was decided (probably rightly) that it was in effect a party in its own right, with its own policies, leadership structure, disciplinary system etc. For this reason a person could not be a member of both Militant and the Labour Party.
    Labour members were, however free to agree with aspects of Militant’s economic policies, just as they can now agree with aspects of Green Party policies or even aspects of Conservatism. Several prominent members of the PLP have said that the public were right to return a Conservative government in 2019 which presumably indicates such agreement. Even this rather extreme statement was not taken as a ground for expulsion, though one would think that the same sentiment expressed before the election would have been.
    LAW is obviously not a political party and expelling people for ‘membership’ is not an option. They have therefore to be expelled for expressing opinions; in practice, ones which differ from those of the Party leadership.
    The result is that Labour Party members are far more likely to be expelled for agreeing with opinions expressed by LAW or similar groups than for agreeing with opinions expressed by other political parties in direct competition with Labour.
    This confirms the general impression that the present Labour Party leadership sees other political parties as opponents but the left wing of its own party as enemies.

  • Doug says:

    John Curtice
    Between 97 and 2010 New Labour lost 5 million votes and came within a whisker of bankrupting the party
    No one wants to vote for a Red Tory party

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