BY DAVID OSLAND 17th JULY 2016
WHEN was the last time a mass social democratic party anywhere in the world was formally forbidden to meet? The best answer I can come up with is 1973, in the wake of the military takeover in Chile.
Yet such is the surreal situation in which the Labour Party now finds itself. This, not as a result of some draconian decision of the British state, but by unilateral decree by its own National Executive Committee.
Some 130,000 dues paying members have been disenfranchised via retrospective change to the rulebook. If there is any precedent for this step from any major institution in civil society, I am completely unaware of it.
Imagine the fuss if a trade union, or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, or the National Trust tried to pull off a stunt of that nature. It would be judged nothing short of a scandal, and correctly so.
Come to that, what labour movement organisation in history has ever set a level of dues with the deliberate purpose of deterring the low paid, the unemployed, the disabled, the very people the labour movement purports to champion, from signing up? The righteous considereth the cause of the poor: but the wicked regardeth not to know it.
To top it all, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party, the largest individual Labour Party in the country, has been suspended. The reported reason is that one of its newly elected officials signed a petition in solidarity with trade unionists in Zimbabwe five years ago.
Those of us old enough and ugly enough to have been around 1980s and 1990s are in danger of being intensely relaxed about various exercises in low-level chicanery, mendacious underhand jiggery-pokery and general purpose clandestine string-pulling we are so used to seeing from Labour Party officialdom.
We’ve seen an infinite number of conference resolutions composited into meaningless pap, and watched helplessly as SpAds were parachuted into mining constituencies in much the manner of Operation Market Garden. Unfortunately, we have become inured to dirty tricks.
Many newcomers who have joined Labour over the last year, naively attached to commonsense notions of basic fairness, won’t be quite so blase. Some will actually be shocked, and hopefully minded to challenge such skulduggery.
What we are witnessing is, in a word, intimidation. Intimidation by a bureaucratic machine. Intimidation on a grand scale, with the express intent of ensuring the desired outcome of a challenge to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
What the NEC have done is only one step up from banana republic politics. A bit more subtle than bog standard ballot box stuffing, maybe. Not quite as crude as getting the payroll to vote early, vote often. But the intent is pretty much the same.
The irony here, of course, is that intimidation is frequently singled out as the original sin of the Labour left. From the Bennites through to the Corbynistas, our political progress has supposedly been built on strong arm tactics rather than rational suasion.
We are routinely attacked – often on scant evidence – as the throwers of bricks and the issuers of death threats. The more lurid the claim, the greater the likelihood it will be retailed as good coin, without even cursory efforts to establish whether or not it stacks up.
Where abuse is proven, perpetrators should face the consequences. Damage to property and hate speech are both criminal offences. If a Corbyn supporter is found guilty on either count – and to date, this hasn’t happened, not even once – no one will seek to exculpate them.
But in the meantime, let’s remember that there is a big difference between an intemperate Tweet and fixing a Labour leadership race through administrative duplicity. Morality is already on our side. If things come to a head, let’s hope the courts are, too.