This is a hard thing to write because I generally try to stay away from discussing individual disciplinary matters in the Labour Party. It’s difficult to know for sure what the real circumstances are in such cases, because after everything, details are still selectively leaked and briefed about anonymously. Often the individuals concerned will make a big public complaint about some areas of the concerns raised about them, but leave out important details, or whole areas of the complaint. In some respects, we will never know if the cat is in the box.

That said, we seem to be going through a particularly dark time for natural justice in the party. The most openly Machiavellian voices on the Labour right will simply resort to Lenin-style nonsense about eggs and omelettes to defend this stuff. These are the sort of people who would have looked at the Dreyfus affair and said “you know what, I think this is good for the military”.

Concern about this stuff is entirely justified. The factual gap is an obstacle for sure, but the moral argument for basic principles of justice should not be something which is up for grabs in any political party that supports democracy.

The opportunism that takes place inside our internal culture is really pretty stunning, and it’s amazing it doesn’t end up in much more press attention, or indeed legal challenge.

Factions in the Labour Party will all tell you they are the torch bearers for fairness and democracy, as long as they aren’t in control. The past couple of days have seen the NEC imposing its own members as candidates, and all sorts of anti-democractic chicanery involving disciplinary processes, which we are told are meant to be independent and above board.

Here is the reminder what their mirror characters are like in the upper echelons of the Labour right: the same in a lot of ways, and if anything, far more happy to be brazen about it.

There were many critics of similar (but it has to be said, less blatant) behaviour from the elite of the traditional left under Corbyn. This was justified, but a blind spot now is not. I can forgive where there is willingness to learn, and many members who joined the party during the Corbyn years could have been forgiven that the Corbynites were the only dodgy faction, or the only one that mattered.

The truth is that the Labour left between Militant and the Corbyn years was a lot less like this. For one thing, even with control of the Labour Party, the left still supports democracy and transparency in the party as a matter of principle. As simple evidence of this, look how the least democratic bits of the Labour left ended up tying many of them in knots when they wanted to silence the membership on Brexit.

Part of the reflex towards authoritarianism and stitch-ups in those parts has its roots in Stalinism, but the reason that this kind of politics received any license in the first place was in reaction to the right’s flogging of the same methods during the New Labour years.

Instead of the party ever learning these lessons and a new position emerging from the seemingly endless dialectic of Labour’s intolerant edges, we simply repeat the same cycle of recrimination and counter-recrimination, until it makes us unable to function, or represent a broad slice of the electorate from left to centre.

But the roots of this behaviour, in my opinion, rest with the faction who are usually in charge, and seem inherently much more comfortable with politics being decided by a backroom elite. Small and influential bits of the left are like this, but it sums up the bulk of Labour’s right.

We would all do well to remember this, and for those relatively new to the party, learn it.

This is not us.

The bulk of Labour’s membership is not like this.

Yes, it wants proper wrong’uns out and gaffes minimised. Along with his impressive leadership manifesto (!), that’s part of the reason Starmer is in office, and that his self-proclaimed allies run the NEC.

But our members are heavily motivated by their sense of fairness and justice. They want it done fairly and transparently, and this applies whoever is in charge.

Generally, our members do not believe in ‘ending’ people for minor transgressions, in purges of dissenters, or a vision of a narrow party where people can’t debate or disagree.

The same goes for the trade union movement, which often seems far politically broader than Labour, and is far stronger for it.

Labour seems to be heading for an election win. That’s great, but as someone on the centre left of the party spectrum, it should not leave me feeling so ambivalent and miserable about things.

Frankly, I am now very sick of posh people in suits conducting dick-waving contests and targetting their “opponents” as a means of governance, whilst the rest of us knock on doors and help our austerity-ravaged communities. It’s insulting.

Learning the wrong lessons

I’ve no doubt that MPs make mistakes that are worth an apology, and so forth. In some cases it goes far further (Chris Williamson!), and it’s indisputable by anybody with any understanding of human behaviour and emotions that this person should be expelled.

But the debate is now far bigger than this kind of stuff. When action is deliberately delayed and obfuscated over until members can be denied their choice at a selection meeting, that’s a systematic moral and democratic failing.

When NEC members are directly parachuted by their own colleagues and faction-mates into safe seats, that’s very much the same. When the way to get a seat is without a vote and because of working for the right person in politics, that’s also a problem, albeit a less serious one.

Basically, the political situation is bigger than individual cases.

Faced with a choice between a party that is narrow and brittle, versus one which is broad and pluralist, there is no contest. Faced with a choice between a party that hides behind locked doors, and one which honestly faces the people who pay its subs and deliver its leaflets, there is no contest.

Usually the faction in charge has been responsible for forcing these choices, and at the moment, that’s the Labour right. Their lesson from the Corbyn years has been that they need to be less tolerant of others and less tolerant of arguments for fair due process.

The underlying analysis is that there’s nothing wrong with stitch-ups or performative cruelty, and that adding these elements does not damage the areas of our disciplinary process that are actually proportionate and necessary. Everything is fine.

This is false, and dangerous.

But to the extent that anything ever went wrong (such as the election of Corbyn), everything is everyone else’s fault.

As well as being false and dangerous, this is also boring and shortsighted.

Still… thoughts need applying

Frankly speaking, arguments for intolerance should ring alarm bells about anyone who seeks power. Like the Corbynites before them, the Labour right’s “lessons learned” may well work for personal advantage, but they are exactly the wrong ones for the Labour Party, and in turn, the country.

The directive is “do what we want with our power and positions” and the cost, so long as they keep the media on side, is nil. As members, we need this to change.

So what do we do? In my view, alliances need to be formed against anyone who wants to run the Labour Party as a lawless back yard of their own. But first, there is a question to ask: does this describe you?

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