Labour’s activist base is being gutted from within

JVL Introduction

Across the country, Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) are suffering from what appears to be deliberate, anti-democratic action by the party’s national and regional bureaucracy.

In addition to dozens of suspensions directed from the office of the general secretary over recent months, paid regional officers are intervening arbitrarily to undermine rank and file organisation: meetings are being cancelled, communications shut down, agendas censored, selection processes interfered with, elected post holders sacked.

The effect is disenfranchisement of thousands of members deprived of the chance to choose delegates for conferences, make nominations for important national posts or vote for policy motions or rule changes.

What follows is a JVL compilation of reports received from a number of Party activists alarmed at developments in their own branches, CLPs and regions.

STOP PRESS: As this report was being finalised, news emerged of the postponement of the Annual General Meeting of Dulwich and West Norwood CLP, scheduled for June 17, and suspension of Sherwood branch of Nottingham East CLP, preventing recently reinstated chair Louise Regan from standing for re-election at the Annual General Meeting on Friday June 25. (See Appendix 1 & Appendix 2)

‘The “Freedom to Debate” motion is not in order and should be removed from the agenda’

This quote is taken directly from an email received by a Labour Party branch secretary in Chingford and Woodford Green in January 2021 (Appendix 3). Three branch members, including the CLP chair and vice chair, had been administratively suspended – that is, they had been excluded from party activities pending investigation of unspecified charges. A hostile media report based on leaks from within an internal CLP meeting suggested that remarks the three had allegedly made were either antisemitic or in defiance of instructions from the party general secretary, who had banned discussion of certain subjects on the basis that they might offend some Jewish party members. Hence the “Freedom to Debate” motion submitted by branch members wanting to discuss this situation, only to have it ruled out of order by a paid functionary in London Region office.

Six months on, the CLP chair has been reinstated but the other two remain suspended; the CLP secretary of 20 years’ standing has been summarily deposed without reference to any party rules or procedures and therefore no right of appeal; the party organisation is effectively being run by unelected regional staff who have suspended elected officers’ access to the membership data platform; as a result, important general meetings have been cancelled and plans are in chaos for a much delayed AGM now set for June 28. These undemocratic measures are being taken in the absence of any disciplinary action pending against the officers concerned or, indeed, against the CLP or any of its branches.

Activists have protested forcefully and repeatedly as this situation has unfolded. They have been either ignored or their protests brushed aside. The broad membership – in this case around 1000 local people loyally paying their subs month after month – are either left in the dark about what is going on or they are deliberately misinformed.

The removal on May 27, on spurious data protection grounds, of 76-year-old CLP secretary Aktar Beg, caused consternation among members. Beg is one of a tiny number of Muslim CLP secretaries around the country, leading members to consider a complaint of Islamophobia against London Region.

Thirteen officers and 17 other active members have already outlined the destructive interference C&WG CLP was facing in a letter (Appendix 4) protesting Beg’s treatment.

They said:

“Chingford & Woodford Green executive has had no access to the party’s membership system since December. We have had no access to Organise, the party’s communication platform, either.

“This means that every CLP communication has to be sent by region – if we want to organise EC or GC meetings, canvassing sessions, contact members in arrears with their subs or welcome new members.

“In effect, although we have never been given a valid reason as to why this has happened, our party has, to all intents and purposes, been in administrative suspension for six months.”

The letter concluded:

“…the way the London region of our party has disenfranchised our CLP is nothing short of outrageous.”

A highly irregular AGM 

Bristol North West and Bristol West CLPs were taken over by South West Regional Office last November, following the suspensions of a number of key post-holders.

Bristol West had its Annual General Meeting cancelled by regional office in November 2020, around the time that its co-chairs and secretary were suspended for allowing members to discuss the party leadership’s treatment of Jeremy Corbyn – one of the subjects ruled out of order by general secretary David Evans. South West Region took control and ran an AGM on February 11. Five hundred members attended a meeting marked by serious procedural irregularities, resulting in a takeover by supporters of the Starmer leadership.

A fortnight later, the two appointed ballot observers sent members a diplomatically worded report (Appendix 5). It said:

“At no point during the meeting or afterwards were we, the independent observers, engaged and we were unable to play any role whatsoever in the meeting, the ballot, the issuing of the results, or any subsequent discussions.

“We were asked to act as ballot observers but, given the above points, are unable to say we observed the ballot. We have now exhausted the options available to us to fulfil our responsibilities: we have not been afforded the opportunity to confirm the integrity of the ballot or not and, as such, are unable pass any independent opinion on the matter.”

A full, hostile takeover

Bristol North West’s chair and secretary were both suspended, like their Bristol West counterparts, in November 2020. Other executive committee members were prevented from holding meetings.

Attempts by members of the executive committee to restore effective democratic control were ignored or rebuffed, including with threats of disciplinary action, as shown in a tabulated summary of approaches made to individuals at different levels of the Party hierarchy to request a return to normal management of Bristol North West CLP (Appendix 6).

One executive committee member described Regional Office’s interference as “a full hostile takeover. They have behaved like an occupying force, ruthlessly stamping on any attempt to keep the CLP alive.”

An appointed Acting Chair has taken no action other than to cancel a previously arranged meeting. Individual members have received virtually no information from the Labour Party since November. Only the MP Darren Jones and his agent have access to communications.

EC member Tom Loeffler said in a letter to Regional Director Phil Gaskin on March 7 (Appendix 7) that as a result of the regional office takeover, “…the political effectiveness of the Labour Party in Bristol North West has been reduced to virtually zero, to the serious detriment of Labour’s chances in the vital local elections in May.”

Loeffler continued, describing a situation very similar to Chingford and Woodford Green’s:

“I am not aware of the reasons why the Regional Office has opposed all attempts by the elected Executive Committee of Bristol North West CLP to take charge of the CLP’s affairs, as laid down by the Party’s rules. The remaining eleven members of the EC are representative of the wide spectrum of political tendency within the CLP, and, to my knowledge, none of them have been accused of any misdemeanours.”

An AGM called by Region eventually took place on June 11, resulting, predictably, in executive positions previously held by left-wingers who supported the Corbyn project being taken over by an official “slate” backed by the MP, Regional Office, the City Mayor and the Combined Authority Mayor. Most were elected unopposed after five members standing in opposition to the official slate decided to withdraw in protest at tampering with their candidates’ statements.

An email sent to members from MP Darren Jones’s personal account the day before the AGM (Appendix 8), listed his favoured candidates and directed recipients (twice!) to a set of candidates’ statements with a note inserted above some of them alleging that they made “unfounded allegations about members of Labour Party staff who act on the instruction of the NEC and have no public right of reply.”

This had the effect of discrediting those candidates the MP did not favour, all of whom had evidence to support the content of their statements.

When it came to choosing who should represent the CLP at Labour Party conference in September, this came up at the very end of the meeting without members having been invited to put themselves forward.  The ruling faction had made up their minds who to send and those they nominated were duly selected.

Gutted from within

These are far from isolated cases.  Much of Labour’s volunteer activist base is being gutted from within by apparently deliberate, anti-democratic action of the party bureaucracy.

Aside from dozens of suspensions directed from the office of the general secretary over recent months, paid regional officers are intervening arbitrarily to undermine rank and file organisation – preventing meetings, shutting down communications, censoring agendas, interfering in selection processes and sacking elected post holders. The effect is disenfranchisement of thousands of members deprived of the chance to choose delegates for conferences, make nominations for important national posts or vote for policy motions or rule changes.

A worrying aspect of the interference in branches and CLPs is that there is no obvious place in the rule book which covers such actions. This renders them even more  impotent than individual members disciplined by the Governance and Legal Unit.

The anti-left campaign emanating from the party leadership has accelerated apace since last November, but we should not forget the previous victimisation of members and local party organisations, largely on the basis of unfounded antisemitism allegations, such as Liverpool Wavertree where four senior CLP officers were suspended in June 2020. Two of them have since been expelled.

In the May edition of Labour Briefing, Pete Firmin, who was chair of Hampstead and Kilburn CLP until his suspension last November, described how constituency parties are being undermined, “including their right to select candidates for public office.”

Left-wing film maker Ken Loach wrote to David Evans last month about the systematic sabotaging of the work of his CLP in Bath.

He described a “hostile campaign from the regional officers of non-co-operation, harassment and intimidation.”

Loach said, “I have watched good people coming into politics with enthusiasm and commitment, worn down and broken by this malicious undermining of their work.”

Three such activists were interviewed by Labour Grassroots on June 20, outlining their experiences in South West Region.

In Peterborough, where 19 officers, councillors and council candidates have been suspended over the last few months, many publicly denounced without foundation as antisemites, a number of them outlined their situation in a letter to general secretary David Evans (Appendix 9).

They said:

“In total 19 suspensions have been imposed on Peterborough CLP and NW Cambs members through the run up to this year’s local elections.

“14 of these suspensions occurred less than 2 weeks before May polling day. It is apparent that our two CLPs were being targeted. The damaging effect this likely had on local campaigning and results is hard to calculate precisely. Local press coverage was extensive and damning. We were a ‘Stain on the City” according to the local Peterborough Telegraph.

“In an election where there was considerable expectation of gains this must have played a part in thwarting that aim. Our part of the region was described as ‘ramshackle’ by Party sources quoted in these media reports, adding that these suspensions were ‘no surprise at all’. We reject that description and feel instead that two successful CLPs’ with many active members have been effectively undermined. The consequence for future membership and electoral success is incalculable.”

Peterborough activists have received no response from the party either to their letter or to data protection complaints that they submitted.

Party’s survival at stake

The list of constituency parties afflicted by the authoritarian blight is longer than this report can accommodate. We have not mentioned the London constituencies of Newham or Streatham, nor the interference in mayoral elections in Liverpool, to name but a few other instances.

Many socialist LP members are baffled by the actions of the leadership which are rendering their CLPs, in the words of one, “utterly inactive”.

Some activists are drawing their own conclusions, fearing that the leadership regards CLPs as expendable and intends to take up ideas favoured by David Evans earlier in his career – to do away with members altogether and have “supporters” paying a much lower fee, with no political rights.

Blairite grandees such as Peter Mandelson have made no secret of their determination to see Labour wrested out of the hands of the legions who joined to support Jeremy Corbyn.

Our party is in crisis. Members are under attack, our freedom to debate and organise are under the greatest threat since the party was created. With our allies in the trade union movement, we have to fight back – and now. This is not the time to leave. The very survival of our party is at stake.


Appendices

Appendix 1 Dulwich and West Norwood (DAWN) AGM postponed

Appendix 2 Nottingham East Sherwood Branch suspended

Appendix 3 Hale End, Highams Park and Hatch Branch secretary report (Chingford & Woodford Green CLP) 

Appendix 4 Chingford & Woodford Green CLP letter, redacted

Appendix 5 Bristol West (BW) CLP AGM observers report to members 

Appendix 6 Summary of efforts  Bristol North West

Appendix 7 – T Loeffler to P Gaskin (re Bristol North West CLP), 07-Mar-2021

Appendix 8 Redacted MP Darren Jones email to members

Appendix 9 Peterborough and NW Cambridgeshire letter to disputes.

 

 

 

 

Comments (25)

  • Jan Brooker says:

    Liverpool Mayoral election. The tactics of the right know no bounds. The Starmer-imposed new shortlist candidate, who was successful, sent the Police round to my house. Their complaints: 1. I had published the public details of their last bankrupcy [they are in The Gazette, the official organ of Government in which such announcements are made, and available online]. 2. I had, apparently, called her a *token* in an online post about the removal and barring of the, then, Lord Mayor, from standing for the election: Liverpool’s first Black Mayor ~ who had been publicly supported by Jeremy Corbyn. PC Plod had no idea, [a]. what The Gazette is; [b]. who the current Lord Mayor was [and couldn’t find any reference in his notes about the supposed use of the word *token*]. THIS, form the successful candidate that had been, for less than a full term, the Councillor for the main ward in Toxteth [scene of the 1981 Uprising ~ as it’s known locally]. No depths to which the right-wing will not sink.

  • Peter johnson says:

    Expelled on April 13 this year – to no one’s great alarm after forwarding 2 posts of Palestinian distress. I am/was literally a ‘nobody’ in New Ferry. I tried to raise money for Gaza. I was intensely worried about anti-semitism as a result of the Palestine situation. Literally, i was a nobody – whom Labour now seeks to isolate me in my own community – because the Labour Party has unjustly branded me a racist.

  • Liz Shephard says:

    I posted, over a year ago, that Starmer had betrayed the Labour Party, but Guardian reading friends didnt believe me. Observing his Zionism, Trojan Horse act and coup on the party has been a slomo car crash.

  • Linda says:

    I don’t understand.

    If there’s nothing in the Labour rule book that explicitly permits the actions being taken against the CLPs and individuals, why can’t the aggrieved groups / individuals tell the regional officials this and formally require them to specify the procedural / legal grounds on which they’re acting?

    If the regional officials can’t provide you with satisfactory answers then FORMALLY present an official grievance against them (at whatever level is appropriate -eg a complaint to NEC).

    In the meantime, is it impossible for aggrieved members (many of whom already know each other’s contact details and can set up an appropriate “chain letter” via the known contacts to reach the unknown ones) to cease paying their subs until matters are resolved?

    Each of them might put their subs into a personal special account, ready to be paid over as soon as the dispute is satisfactorily resolved.

    Labour is desperate for money so withholding subs until formal CLP / member grievances are addressed might well work. And if it doesn’t, how is members’ and CLPs’ situations any worse than they now are?

    A skilled trade union negotiator with a deep knowledge of Labour’s procedures wrote an article for JVL some time ago. Maybe he could advise on teh practicality of the above suggestions?

  • Dave says:

    The Labour party is already dead. I suggest all who are socialists at heart leave the party and not lift a finger to help these scumbags. Let them die on their own battlements as they realise no one will post their leaflets, knock on the doors or make the phone calls. And more important no one will vote for them.

    Let them join with the Lib Dems and the Greens as surely they will to form an “also ran” party.

  • Les Hartop says:

    It seems the cracks cannot be papered over for ever… I have a feeling that the latest dictats curtailing free speech, on sanctions against Israel, could lead to the final rupture.
    We need to be prepared for a showdown at conference.

    https://skwawkbox.org/2021/06/25/labour-members-banned-from-discussing-sanctions-against-israel-for-human-rights-violations-against-palestinians/

  • Philip Ward says:

    The article says this is not the time to leave the LP. This raises the question of when is the time to leave? The right (and the whole British establishment) will never allow the left to get anywhere near the leadership of the party again. This lesson is absolutely clear from the Corbyn experience.

    This week, an LP apparatchik basically accused all Muslim supporters of the Palestinians of antisemitism. This action will have deservedly sealed Labour’s fate in the Batley and Spen by-election. Then we get Thangam Debbonaire lying at a compositing meeting about the costs of free social care to get all mention of this (Labour) policy removed from a motion to Womens’ Conference. Her argument was basically that the LP couldn’t defend this policy against the Tories and the right wing press. What CAN they defend?

    What use is the Labour Party now? Even if it wins the next general election, it will be Blairite to the core. We also need a party that can FIGHT NOW against the Tories’ rampant embracing of the politics of the alt-right, as evidenced by their grossly dishonest campaign against anti-racist efforts in schools.

    This is a struggle that needs an immediate political response – and not just in parliament. Those on the left of the Labour Party and the unions – especially the most prominent ones with the largest base of support in the community at large – will be behaving in a grossly irresponsible manner if they do not ensure that moves are made in that direction as soon as possible.

  • I have been aware for some time that Starmer and co wanted to fundamentally alter the Labour Party for their own ends. It would seem now that they are not content just to alter the Party they seem dedicated to destroy the the whole structure. In his demented zeal to eradicate all who do not agree with him Starmer does not even seem to realize that he is destroying the ground on which he stands. Does he even want to be elected?? Or is his only ambition one of annihilation toward any who do not share his fanatical adherence to right wing ideology? Does he not realize that the very people he discards are those whom he needs if he wishes any electoral success for him or the Party.
    He may console himself with the thought that the next Labour disaster will be entirely of his own making

  • What is described above is unfortunately the consequences of electing Starmer as Leader. I warned in February 2020, before he was elected, that he was the candidate of the Deep State. This gutting of the Labour Party of its activists is the logical extension of the false anti-Semitism campaign. It is part of reassuring the British State that the Labour Party will no longer present a threat to the British State.

    That is why Starmer, as a pound shop jingoist has wrapped himself in the mantle of the Butcher’s Apron (Union Jack), the army and ‘patriotism’.

    The real question is how we fight back against this nationally. Unfortunately Momentum, which under Jon Lansman bought into the allegations of ‘antisemitism’ proved useless at resisting Starmer. Forward Momentum which replaced Lansman’s acolytes have proved little better.

    Some on the Left, including JVL, LRC, the LLA and Labour in Exile Network in particular have opposed what is happening but they haven’t come together and united. There is an urgent need to do so. Divisions can only weaken us. In addition a united opposition can press Momentum and its adjunct, the CLPD to take the situation seriously.

    Meanwhile the Labour Party is heading towards another car crash in Batley & Spen with an insipid imposed candidate who only joined the Labour Party 3 weeks before being anointed candidate.

  • Jimmy Cooper says:

    Its overt war on the Party, from the right.
    We have to be strong and support each other against these unparalleled attacks on democratic debate and party activists.
    We must`nt give up.

  • Sabine Ebert-Forbes says:

    I am really shocked about the extent of oppression of democracy within Labour Party you have found. In my CLP/branch we have also experienced that issues we aught to discuss because they concern us members, were sadly blocked on CLP level as well as on branch level. Specifically shocking was a comment made by a Councillor/member that ‘those at the top know what is best for us’ following me being rudly shouted down by the chair for suggesting to discuss a motion. I made a record of events in the minutes of the meeting.
    But there are other issues which have great bearing on the situation.
    Paid staff in my view are there to support members in their campaigns. I think we are their employers. And as far as is known Mr Evans’ position has not been made ‘permanent’ as such. Members are more than atms on legs, or doorknockers/cold callers. The financi g needs to reflect that a review on allocation of funds is long overdue. Should be 50:50. The PLP needs to be accountable to us, as our hard work got them there. There is no use there being a party inside the party.
    We have a rulebook that sets out rules and regs we are to follow. Strangely this does not seem to apply to some certain people, like length of time a member has to be a member before they can stand in elections. Example is the ‘selection of the candidate for the Batley and Spen By-Election next week.
    Add to that lack of opposition, lack of policies, fence-sitting, countless totally unjustified suspensions, selective attitude to who deserves human rights, willfully ignoring human rights violation, apartheid and oppression, considering all this, how can anyone sell the Labour
    brand to voters. I for one could not do that.

  • C.Buxton says:

    Disappointed that the 5500+ disenfranchised members of the two Newham CLPs only get a mention in this article. I hope there will be a follow up with a detailed report on why two neighbouring CLPs were suspended on the same day, given the same spurious reasons by the London region for suspension, and with one of those reasons being exposed as untrue by Henry Zeffman, Times journalist, within a few hours of the suspension being announced. As the Chair of West Ham CLP I look forward to an in-depth article from JVL on this matter. Happy to fill in any details.

    • Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi says:

      Replying to C.Buxton and others.
      Our report “Labour’s activist base is being gutted from within” has attracted comment from members with their own stories to tell. We have limited capacity to investigate these ourselves, but we welcome succinct summaries from trusted sources, accompanied by evidence in the form of documents, links, recordings etc, which we may be able to turn into publishable form. Email us at [email protected] with a subject header including the tagline “activist base”.

  • John Bowley says:

    A great fact-filled article. Thank you again, JVL, for putting out the truth.

  • Mat Anderson says:

    Given that there appears to be no contractual or legal basis to these actions why aren’t members ignoring them? Conversely, if there is a legal basis why aren’t they being legally challenged? The left seems helpless against this manoevering and personally I can’t work out why.

  • Ian Kemp says:

    Is it not time for the so called left wing MPs to start to challenge Starmer and Evans. They are destroying what’s left of LP

  • David Stretton says:

    My CLP just passed a Unite motion in support of the Palestinian people. We were informed before the vote that the motion had been referred and deemed not to be anti-Semitic by region/legal. Despite some “manoeuvring” who wanted the motion kicked back to Unite for something more “acceptable” it was passed

  • John Lipetz says:

    I am in Hampstead & Kilburn CLP. A few months ago the CLP passed a motion which I supported and the Chair and Vice-Chair or Secretary were suspended.
    The party disallowed discussion on certain issues. I plan to raise a motion to seek the removal of the suspensions. It would help if you would advise what items did the party not allow to be discussed. This is anti democratic. By the way, I’m critical of the Israeli govt which does not mean that I am anti-semitic.

  • Jenifer Devlin says:

    The only explanation can be that no-policies Starmer and destroy-party-democracy Evans are being supported by dark money to annihilate the Labour Party as a political force. The poor and oppressed can no longer look to Labour to give them a voice, so what is the point of the Labour Party under Starmer?

  • Bob Knowles says:

    This is beyond scary!
    LA4J seems to be just the beginning.

  • Patricia Barson says:

    I have been a labour party member for about 60 years,,,,through thick and thin but i no longer recognise it……the arbitary dismissal of any members who dare to question the people who have managed to gain control, is a disgrace and it is no longer a party which I feel that I can support .

  • Linda says:

    I wrote my first post on this article before I’d read the Appendices. Now I’ve read the many efforts of the suspended CLPs and members to call the party to account, I’m even more outraged by the action taken against them and the wilfully uncaring, unresponsive, inefficient and dictatorial approach taken by the party hierarchy. How on earth can today’s Labour expect voters to support the party when Starmer’s party treats its own supporters so badly???

  • Nicola Grove says:

    It is becoming obvious that dis-memberment is precisely the agenda of the NEC and LOTO, moving to a Democratic style of governance, which will attract corporate donors. So complaints and pleas about gutting the Pary’s activist base merely reinforce the belief that this is the right course of action to abolish socialism, and reform the party in the image of Social Democrats. We can fight comrades, and we should. But this is a dirty war.

  • Paul France says:

    We must organise to get another leader like JC. We must do a Blair inasmuch as we will need to get rid of all employees who have an allegiance to anything other than doing a proper job for the Labour Party. We must attempt to persuade folk that the behaviour shown in this is not acceptable. The employees of the Labour Party should not have any say in what goes on.

  • Amanda Preston says:

    Good work in giving a voice to disenfranchised activists.

    The question that occurs to me is how do we propose to make the serious changes needed in the economy to protect people and planet from the current crisis if we cannot find a way to organise ourselves and defend ourselves from a handful of paid beaurocrats?

    And if the game is rigged, is it time to stop playing by their rigged rules?
    How much socialist energy and hope is being diverted and dissipated by focusing on fighting this blatantly corrupt control from within whilst the wider community and the planet itself needs our energy?

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