Over the past few weeks, a series of local Labour council candidate selections have prompted various outcries of a Momentum-led ‘Labour purge’ in the mainstream media.
According to the accusers, Momentum has organised small bands of ‘hardened activists’ to infiltrate local Labour reselection meetings and oust Blairite councillors, as part of a wider ‘hard-left’ takeover against the ‘moderate’ wing of the party.
Such a move, critics argue, contravenes Labour’s values of inclusion and harms its image as a ‘broad church’. Furthermore, it is apparently evidence of Momentum’s anti-democratic tendencies.
Right-wing hypocrisy and slander
These slanderous comments against the Labour left and the Corbyn movement, however, are based on a complete misrepresentation of facts and omission of vital information.
Of course, in reality it is the Left who have largely been the victims of purges within the Labour Party historically - both in terms of the witch-hunts of Marxists in the 1980s and the more recent expulsion of socialists in the last couple of years.
Even if we look past this gross error, however, we see that there is utter hypocrisy from those who now cry about ‘purges’. Not one of these commentators spoke up when Corbyn-supporting members were expelled and suspended from the Labour Party on arbitrary grounds and with no right of appeal – members who had been involved in the party for many years and had never voted for any other party.
What has happened in these local selection meetings, rather, are the workings of the very same democratic process that these critics claim to defend against the so-called authoritarianism of the ‘hard-left’.
Opposing privatisation and social cleansing
In Haringey, in particular, which will now likely see the first pro-Corbyn council in the country after local elections next year, the change in council candidates has emerged out of a sustained local mobilisation against the hated Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV).
The HDV scheme would move £2b worth of public assets – including homes, schools and libraries – into a joint-partnership with a multinational called Lendlease, representing the biggest transfer of public assets in council history. And it would see mass demolition of homes without making any plans for replacement social housing.
Local opposition to the project has been forceful and widespread, with even the borough’s two MPs, David Lammy and Catherine West (both of Labour), labelling it a form of social cleansing. Moreover, there was minimal public consultation for the scheme and it was not brought to full council meetings for a vote. Freedom of Information Act requests were even required to learn about its full details. So much for respecting democratic processes!
The change in council candidates has been centred on the issue of HDV. All the challenges made were against pro-HDV councillors, including an unsuccessful attempt to replace council leader Claire Kober. In all, 10 existing councillors will not be candidates for next year, most of them stepping down after failing to gain enough votes to be reselected.
The nature of these reselections, and the selection of new anti-HDV candidates, then, has been far more democratic than the way the council has been acting. Those who accuse Momentum and Corbyn supporters of conducting a purge would seem to prefer that politics be conducted by the few, for the few, rather than be conducted by those representing and being accountable to the majority.
Not a purge, just democracy in action
It is clear that these developments are reflective of a wider political battle, however. The incoming change in Haringey council cannot be removed from the Corbyn movement and the change in the Labour Party more generally.
Haringey’s two CLPs have seen some of the largest growths in membership in the last two years, unquestionably largely based on Corbyn’s left-wing programme. Meanwhile, its council has continued to be dominated by Blairite councillors. This is undoubtedly a similar story to countless other councils across the country.
These latest developments, therefore, represent part of the battle against austerity, especially within the Labour Party. In fact, these councils represent the coalface of austerity, and the ruling class is clearly terrified of losing control of these formerly reliable handmaidens for implementing the cuts.
Calls of a ‘purge’ will no doubt continue and crescendo - and we must be prepared to combat them. First, we must call out these right-wingers for their hypocrisy of defending democracy in name yet ignoring it in practice. Second, we must point out that attempts to change the Labour Party from within represent a democratic politics of accountability; a process of ensuring that Labour’s elected representatives stand for the political programme of the majority of members.
Most importantly, we must raise the reasons why such a battle is necessary. These democratic processes are a means by which we can appeal for a socialist programme to change society. We must be open about the need to fight against austerity. By explaining the capitalist causes behind the cuts, we can link concrete local struggles to the wider tasks of transforming society at the national (and international) level.
In that sense, whilst the hysteria about a Momentum ‘purge’ is hypocritical and false, it is true that we are certainly seeing a takeover - and one that we should be unashamed of: a takeover of the Labour Party by the working class, in order to fight against the barbarism of austerity that capitalism and its defenders demand.