In March, the Tory government imposed unelected commissioners on the city of Liverpool, to wrest control from the democratically elected city council.
Now the national executive committee (NEC) of the Labour Party have mirrored this move, in order to impose an undemocratic regime on the Liverpool Labour Party, using a report into allegations of a ‘toxic culture’ in the party as their justification.
As a result of the recent NEC’s ruling, all candidate selections in Liverpool will come under the control of the national party.
This is just the latest scandalous attack on party democracy by Starmer’s right-wing leadership. This is part of a concerted campaign to drive the left out of the party, in order to make it a safe pair of hands for big business.
Over the past months we have witnessed a wave of suspension of left-wing members, bans on democratic discussion, and the shutting down of CLP AGMs.
And now, with the banning of four left-wing groups – including Socialist Appeal – thousands of members are set to be ‘auto-excluded’ from the party.
Labour members in Liverpool were given less than 24 hours’ notice of these plans being presented to the NEC, only finding out about them from an article in Labour List.
Allegations of bullying, misogyny, and lack of tolerance were reported to an enquiry led by former Blairite minister David Hanson, who then reported to the NEC.
But as of yet, Liverpool Labour Party members have not seen the report. This means that nobody was allowed to answer or refute the allegations before action by the NEC was taken.
The right-wing bureaucracy could not miss this chance to take tight control of the party, in an area where they would meet resistance. It is no coincidence that this has taken place in Liverpool, which has been a key bastion of the grassroots left in recent years.
This is just at the time when members are increasingly asking questions as to why a Labour council is continuing to make Tory cuts.
The council is being challenged by a vigorous campaign by the Merseyside Pensioners Association and Liverpool Against the Cuts, who are fighting against cuts to the One Stop Shops where residents can get advice and access to services. The service has been cut twice during the pandemic. In 2020 it was cut by £1.5m; however, the campaign has reduced this year's cut from £1.1m to £768,000. But this is obviously not good enough.
Insult was added to injury when it was reported that the Tory commissioners would cost Liverpool £2.5m over three years, to be paid from council reserves. This amount would be enough to restore this year's cut, and more. Of course, this must be linked to a real fight against the cuts by the Labour council.
The lead commissioner receives a whopping £800 a day, and others £700. The new Mayor, Joanne Anderson, agreed to pay this with no complaint. She didn't even demand the government foot the bill!
There is no doubt that Labour Party members in Liverpool have been subjected to toxic behaviour and bullying.
But such behaviour has come from the right of the party, including abuse on social media from councillors who have been deselected; the ex-mayor reacting angrily to any criticism of himself; and members being shouted down at meetings for moving motions critical of the council leadership or of Starmer.
However, the most toxic behaviour has come from those Labour officials who have denied the membership the right to vote on motions in solidarity with Jeremy Corbyn. For months, members have been denied their basic democratic rights.
Now the NEC has agreed to stamp down on members' rights even further. This will probably mean the local panel of candidates will be chosen by the national or regional party – of course with the purpose of excluding the left.
When a national / regional panel with no Liverpool representative chose the shortlist for the city’s Mayor, it resulted in chaos. It was widely – and correctly – seen as a stitch-up by the right.
Furthermore, any candidates will be required to undertake anti-Semitism training, run by the right-wing Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). Given the known views of JLM and the party leadership, those councillors who have reflected local outrage towards the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli state will be targeted and prevented from standing.
Labour members must fight back against this latest undemocratic coup by the party bureaucracy. They must not be cowered into accepting council cuts, and must continue to actively campaign against austerity.
They must also continue to oppose the attack on democracy in Liverpool started by the Tories, but now joined by the Labour leadership. An injury to one is an injury to all. If the Starmer regime gets away with this in Liverpool, no doubt other cities will be next.
The right wing has thrown down the gauntlet to the left. Now is the time to fight back. At stake is the very soul of the party: whether it is a tool of the capitalist establishment, or a vehicle for the socialist transformation of society.
It is vital to continue to raise the democratic demands for the election of all party officials and representatives by the membership, including the mandatory reselection of all MPs, in order to clear out the right-wing saboteurs from the party.
But linked to this must be the campaign for bold socialist policies, to combat the pandemic and crisis of capitalism. Only on the basis of an inspiring programme to transform workers’ lives can we mobilise the forces to turn the tables on Starmer, and clear out the Tory agents from the party.