In recent months, Starmer and the right-wing bureaucracy have stepped up their attacks on Labour’s left-wing membership, as they aim to cement their rule.
This has seen battles waged within – and against – CLPs across the country, with the right wing deploying a variety of manoeuvres in order to clampdown on democracy and shift the balance of power in their favour going into the party’s annual conference in September.
One favourite method of the right has been to shut down CLP AGMs (annual general meetings). There have been numerous reports of this pernicious practice, with regional offices either preventing AGMs altogether, or overseeing them in order to ensure the ‘right results’.
This is almost always to prevent left-wing members from winning executive committee (EC) positions or electing delegates to Labour conference. In short, the right wing wants to snuff out party democracy at the grassroots.
Dulwich and West Norwood CLP is one of many victims of this shutdown scourge. Their AGM was thwarted at the last minute, following weeks of shenanigans and gerrymandering so that the right could assure their victory.
Following resistance to further interference by London region, the CLP’s AGM has now been postponed indefinitely; and when it does take place, it will be overseen entirely by regional officials.
Elsewhere, Poplar and Limehouse CLP has seen both branch and CLP AGMs forcibly cancelled at whim by London Region, in order to allow the right wing more time to build support. As a result, when the AGM was eventually held, the right managed to take all the key positions by a slim margin.
#Labour’s civil war is currently playing out at a local level, with the right wing maneuvering in order to seize control of CLPs. The scene is set for a sharp struggle at annual conference. The left must organise and go on the offensive. #StarmerOuthttps://t.co/IlZil9QaFh— Socialist Appeal (@socialist_app) July 13, 2021
In Nottingham East, rather than stop the AGM entirely, a whole branch was suspended for alleged antisemitism, exactly one week before CLP elections were due to take place. This branch just happened to be the most left-wing in the local party, and included the left candidate for CLP Chair.
Truro & Falmouth CLP has also seen meddling from regional party officials. Disgracefully, once the left had clearly secured enough registrations for the scheduled online AGM, the regional office cancelled it at the last minute.
Expulsions – a common weapon of the right – are another method that has been used against the left recently.
Again in Truro & Falmouth, Alex Falconer, the former vice-chair of the CLP, was expelled for being a supporter of Socialist Appeal. He received his expulsion letter a day before he was due to run to be a conference delegate.
Under Starmer, dozens of Labour members have been expelled, often solely for the crime of being socialists.— Starmer Out! (@starmer_out) July 3, 2021
Instead of attacking the Tories, Starmer has attacked grassroots members. This cannot continue!
Watch expelled members Alex and Josh explain why they support #StarmerOut pic.twitter.com/ZFIoO5Mzam
Alex’s CLP was also planning to debate a motion of solidarity against his expulsion at the AGM that was cancelled.
Similarly, Josh Cole-Hossain in Norwich South CLP was also expelled a day before he was set to run in the elections to decide the local party’s delegates to conference. Again, his only ‘crime’ was that of being a Socialist Appeal supporter.
The situation is even worse elsewhere. In both West and East Ham CLPs, the entire local parties have actually been suspended (pending investigation) since February.
This outrageous move was allegedly due to concerns around electoral fraud, membership recruitment practices, and accusations of antisemitism. The police, however, have stated that there is no substance to the claim of electoral fraud.
Such draconian treatment is likely a case of the right wing wanting to exact revenge. West Ham CLP was one of the many places that passed a vote of no confidence (VONC) in Keir Starmer earlier this year.
Recent news suggests that these suspensions will continue to last for some time, with both CLPs being placed in ‘special measures’.
In practice, this means “enhanced membership checks will be required for members joining”, alongside a full membership audit to confirm the ‘validity’ of members. It also means selection procedures for council candidates will be ‘NEC-led’.
For those that don’t speak fluent bureaucratese, these euphemistic phrases effectively give right-wing party officials carte blanche to clear out the left-wing rank-and-file, and to impose right-wing council candidates.
Out for blood
Overall, it is clear that the right is out for blood, especially in the lead up to conference. With the leadership and bureaucracy in their hands, they are mopping up any potential signs of resistance as they seek to return the party to Blairism.
Starmer and the right will not stop until the party is completely under their control. Their mission, despite what they say, is not to win elections, but to ensure that the party is a safe pair of hands for capitalism.
They would happily drive the party into the ground, if it means that socialists are driven out and ‘sensible moderates’ are in charge.
Calling for ‘unity’ with the right – and for a ‘change of direction’ from Starmer – will only increase the despondency and demoralisation that has led many good left activists to leave the party.
Furthermore, such compromise and naivety will ensure further expulsions of grassroots members and bureaucratic clampdowns of local parties. After all, weakness invites aggression.
Which way forward?
The right wing’s domination is not a foregone conclusion, however. As agents of big business and the capitalist establishment, the right were always going to act ruthlessly to reclaim the party, by any and all means necessary.
It is up to the left to act with the same determination; to get organised and lead an inspiring fightback.
The spearhead of this struggle must be the call for Starmer to go, and for a socialist challenge for the leadership.
Demands for mandatory reselection and the election of party officials should also be put back on the agenda, in order to clear the careerists and saboteurs out of the party.
And this campaign for party democracy must be augmented by a bold socialist programme to combat the pandemic and the crisis of capitalism, and to win back workers and youth.
Only on this basis can we fight Starmer’s rightward turn, and instead transform Labour into a vehicle for clear socialist policies.