Labour’s blind panic over a surge in membership is unedifying

21 Aug 2015

To say that the Labour party machine is terrified by the surge of support for Jeremy Corbyn would be an understatement. So it has allowed itself to be influenced by hysterical Labour MPs claiming that support for Corbyn can only be the result of “entryism”. Hence the current cack-handed attempts to purge the voting lists of new members whom officials suspect of the thought crime of intending to vote for Corbyn.

My office has been flooded with complaints. People are being called by the Labour party and asked straight out if they have registered to vote for Corbyn. In particular, people want to know what the Labour party values are that people are being vetted against. War on Iraq? Tuition fees? Abstaining on the benefits cap? Nobody knows.

One woman was rejected because she criticised the immigration mug, and said the Green party mug was better. Another individual was a student Respect party organiser seven years ago. Another individual, who had lived at the same address for 30 years and had been on the electoral register, was rejected for not being on the electoral register.

Many other cases have been documented by news outlets. And on top of everything else, if those who paid £3 in order to have a vote are rejected, there is no indication that their money will be refunded.

The first thing to say about the new system of paying to register to vote for the party leader is that this was not imposed on the Labour party by Harriet Harman or any other individual. It was introduced as a result of the 2013 Collins review. This resulted in a national conference in 2014, where the whole Labour party debated and then adopted the new procedures.

So the people who are now squealing to high heaven that the process is fatally flawed had two whole years to point this out. The suspicion must be that they are complaining now only because they are panicking that their side will lose in the current elections.

It is also worth pointing out that the idea that previous membership of another party automatically debars you from joining the Labour party is a novel one. A stream of Tory MPs defected to Labour in the Blair years. Not only is there no evidence that they were vetted as to whether they now subscribed to Labour party aims and values, but some – such as Shaun Woodward – were parachuted into safe Labour seats. Woodward was a former director of communications for the Tory party, a Tory MP for four years and a member of the Conservative party for over a decade. None of this stood in the way of his joining the Labour party straightaway.

Finally, it is simply not true that the support for Corbyn is all about “entryism”. My former constituent Luke Akehurst is a fierce opponent of Corbynism and the causes of Corbynism. But he has demolished the argument that the problem with the leadership contest is mass “entryism”.

Many of the new members either joining or registering to vote are enthusiastic young people and older people who left the Labour party disillusioned in the Iraq years. The idea that the party’s response to large numbers of new members is to go into a blind panic is sad. If we are to build a mass party, whoever the leader, we will need a more constructive approach than that.

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