PROTECTING democracy requires that the general public be educated on how people can be manipulated by the Establishment and media into forfeiting their civil liberties.
After the insidious assault on democracy over the past year by forces within the Labour Party Establishment we certainly need protecting.
Or in the words of the late US satirist and political agitator Lenny Bruce we must “shine a light in their beds”.
On the eve of the Labour leadership election declaration, the time has come to shine a light onto some of the most hideous examples of the gerrymandering of democracy ever seen in modern times.
- It started on 12 September 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party with a majority of almost 60% of the vote on the first ballot alone, and huge mandate for change.
He received 121,751 votes from Labour Party members, 88,449 votes from Registered Supporters and a further 41,928 votes from Trade Union Affiliated Supporters.
But within minutes of his election Progress backed Labour MPs were briefing journalists in the print media and the BBC on their plans to unseat him.
By 11pm on 12 September 2015, the normally Labour friendly Daily Mirror reported on plans to bring Blair acolyte David Miliband back as leader, the moment Jeremy Corbyn could be seen to fail:
Labour MPs are already plotting to bring back David Miliband after Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, reported the Mirror:
The triumph of left-winger Jeremy Corbyn has spurred on the Labour MPs who are secretly working for a dramatic Miliband comeback ahead of the 2020 general election.
His allies at Westminster believe Mr Miliband could be persuaded to make a sensational return to the Commons by 2018 at a by-election for a safe Labour seat.
A senior Labour MP said: “If Corbyn is not up to the job as leader, there will definitely be another leadership contest.
“The best person for the job by a country mile would be David Miliband and overtures have already been made to him about a potential return.
“If things turn out as horrendously as we fear they will under Corbyn, David would be the only hope of saving the Labour Party.”
In a separate move, several MPs are also looking at ways of changing the Labour Party’s rules to make future leadership challenges easier.
At present, anyone trying to oust a Labour leader needs to put themselves forward and win the backing of a fifth of Westminster’s Labour MPs.
But a rival plan put forward earlier this year by right wing Labour MP Frank Field would mean just 30 anonymous Labour MPs could trigger a vote of confidence in the leader to get rid of a “deadbeat” leader.
- It became an uneasy autumn and a winter of discontent for Mr Corbyn, with 66 of his own MPs rebelling against him on the vote to bomb Syria and Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips stating she would knife her leader in the front, being some of the lowlights.
But nothing quite prepared Labour Party members or the general public for the sinister shenanigans which emerged on 7 January.
Mr Corbyn’s long expected Shadow Cabinet reshuffle led to the revelation, that BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Daily Politics presenter Andrew Neil and Labour MP Stephen Doughty planned his live resignation on their programme, hours before it began.
The producer of the programme revealed in a BBC blog (quickly deleted) that Neil, Kuenssberg and himself manipulated the news to negatively impact Mr Corbyn during Prime Minister’s Questions.
In the blog, the producer – Andrew Alexander – admitted that the BBC team were not just reporting the day’s news but trying to influence it:
“This was a story where we could make an impact,” he wrote.
“We took a moment to watch the story ripple out across news outlets and social media. Within minutes we heard David Cameron refer to the resignation during his exchanges with Jeremy Corbyn.”
The broadcasting set-up was conceived by Mr Doughty – under advice from fellow Progress backed MPs – to create the maximum damage to Mr Corbyn.
- On the morning of 23 March, just hours before Mr Corbyn was to tackle David Cameron in Prime Minister’s Questions on the Tories’ Budget U-Turn, a confidential list of loyal and disloyal Labour MPs was leaked to The Times.
The result was predictable: Mr Cameron used PMQs, not to defend the Budget U-Turn, but repeatedly mock the Labour leader for the leaked ‘list’.
It later emerged that the list was compiled three months earlier, yet it was leaked just as Mr Corbyn’s popularity was increasing in the opinion polls, just as the Tories were taking a big hit, just before a PMQs when Cameron was likely to be in very serious trouble, and weeks before the May council and mayoral elections.
So only an enemy within would deliberately leak the list at a key moment in order to help the Tories and do as much damage to Labour under Mr Corbyn as possible – to make them ‘a laughing stock’, as Labour plotter John Woodcock MP put it.
Ironic then that Woodcock privately tweeted to a journalist that it’s a ‘fucking disaster’, presumably to further damage Mr Corbyn. Only he inadvertently tweeted publicly so we can all see what he’s up to and give momentum to the plot against the leader.
- On 13 June, The Daily Telegraph published an article which gave a deeper insight into the scheming of the Labour MPs, who hoped to topple Mr Corbyn.
The piece entitled: Labour rebels hope to topple Jeremy Corbyn in 24-hour blitz after EU referendum lays out the scheme:
Labour rebels believe they can topple Jeremy Corbyn after the EU referendum in a 24-hour blitz by jumping on a media storm of his own making.
By fanning the flames with front bench resignations and public criticism they think the signatures needed to trigger a leadership race can be gathered within a day.
They see the tactic as a way of securing public support for the move while targeting what is perceived as one of the Labour leader’s major flaws – indecision.
After the referendum Labour splits will return to the fore as the Tories call a string of parliamentary voters on Trident renewal and banning councils holding Israeli boycotts to help rebuild party unity.
While losing the EU referendum is seen as fatal by many to Mr Corbyn’s leadership, continued speculation remains about a challenge if the referendum brings a Remain vote.
Rather than naming a date to make their move some rebels now believe taking advantage of an opportune row holds the beast chance of success.
“It is not going to be a date in the calendar, it will be on the back of a media firestorm. It could happen within 24 hours,” said one Labour MP.
Asked how the coup could take place, another said: “Things go wrong, people have had enough, you start to see resignations and it spirals from there.”
A third Labour MP who served in the shadow cabinet said: “After the referendum there is going to be an immense number of lessons to learn and decisions to make.
“It is likely to be a pang of frustration that makes one colleague say ‘enough and enough’ and just resign. If one person did it and said to others ‘how about it’, things are desperate enough that it will happen.”
- Now fast forward to the so-called Morning After the Night Before: Saturday 25 June – less than 36 hours after the Brexit referendum result.
Eight right wing Labour MPs broke cover to use the Brexit vote to knife their leader Mr Corbyn in the back.
MPs Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey submitted a motion of no confidence against him to the Parliamentary Labour Party chairman, John Cryer.
Almost immediately six other Labour MPs went on record backing the motion.
Mr Corbyn defended his conduct in the Euro referendum campaign amid criticisms that he offered no more than lukewarm support for remain, blaming government austerity cuts for alienating voters.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell accused many of the would-be assassins of being linked to Progress.
“They all come from a sort of a narrow right-wing clique within the Labour Party based around the organisation Progress,” he said.
“I don’t think they’ve really ever accepted Jeremy’s mandate. I’m afraid they have to recognise that Jeremy got elected with the largest mandate of any political leader from any political party in our history.
“I’m afraid they haven’t respected that leadership election result.”
- Within two days – hot on the heels of Mr Corbyn sacking Hilary Benn as Shadow Foreign Secretary for his part in organising the coup – a battle for the heart and soul of the Parliamentary Labour Party began.
By the evening of Monday 27 June, 34 Labour MPs publicly announced their intention to try and oust Mr Corbyn as leader – with carefully timed resignations from the Shadow Cabinet.
Paul Flynn MP stated what many onlookers were thinking: “Orchestrated treachery. Resignations on the hour by the future Blair Tribute Party. Self-indulgent party games as steel jobs are in new peril.”
One of Mr Corbyn’s staunchest allies Ian Lavery MP said: “If we don’t respect democracy then we stand for nothing. The Labour Party membership gave Jeremy Corbyn a massive mandate. I’m supporting the membership and Jeremy.”
And as a shock to the plotters, shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham stood with the membership.
“At an uncertain time like this for our country, I cannot see how it makes sense for the Opposition to plunge itself into a civil war,” he said.
“I have never taken part in a coup against any leader of the Labour Party and I am not going to start now.
“It is for our members to decide who leads our Party and 10 months ago they gave Jeremy Corbyn a resounding mandate. I respect that and them.”
Angela Eagle was among the resignations from Mr Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet on that Monday, in the wake of the Euro Referendum result and the sacking of Hilary Benn as Shadow Foreign Secretary.
But while heaping the blame for Brexit on Mr Corbyn, Ms Eagle failed to admit that just two weeks earlier she publicly said of Mr Corbyn campaigning for Remain: “Jeremy is up and down the country, pursuing an itinerary that would make a 25-year-old tired, he has not stopped.”
And within hours of her resignation, it was revealed that Ms Eagle’s leadership campaign website Angela4Leader was registered at 6pm on Saturday 25 June, hours before Hilary Benn was sacked and two whole days before she resigned.
The website was registered by Joe McCrea, a PR executive who served as a special adviser in Downing Street during Tony Blair’s tenure.
But as we all now know, Ms Eagle’s candidacy was that of a stalking horse for the more media-friendly Owen Smith to step in.
- The next attempt to subvert democracy occurred on Tuesday 12 July, when a hastily called meeting of Labour’s NEC had to determine whether Mr Corbyn needed the nominations of fellow Labour MPs and MEPs in order to stand for re-election as leader.
The crunch meeting at Labour’s Westminster headquarters began at 2pm and continued well into the evening
NEC members voted 18-14 in a secret ballot that he was not subject to parliamentary nominations and could automatically stand for re-election.
But in a separate decision taken after Mr Corbyn had left the room, the NEC ruled that only those who had been Labour Party members for more than six months would be allowed to vote – while new supporters would be given two days to sign up as registered supporters to vote in the race, but only if they were willing to pay £25.
- The firestorm was now ablaze and the #chickencoup plotters decided to disenfranchise over 100,000 existing Labour voters, and in doing so deliberately destroy the incentive for people to join the Labour Party.
But the undermining of democracy didn’t end there.
Following the NEC ruling that Labour members who had joined the party since 12 January 2016 had been banned from voting in the upcoming leadership election. They were also denied attending their own constituency Leadership Nomination meetings – even as a non-voting observer.
Yet nowhere in the 12 July NEC ruling is any mention made of banning new members from attending Nomination meetings!
- The next affront to democracy was done in the open, when millionaire Labour Party donor Michael Foster applied to the High Court to stop Mr Corbyn standing in the leadership election.
But despite the overtly vindictive application, by this close friend of Tony Blair, on 28 July, Mr Justice Foskett ruled that Mr Corbyn could automatically appear on the leadership ballot.
Speaking after the decision was announced Mr Corbyn said: “There should have been no question of the right of half a million Labour Party members to choose their own leader being overturned.
“If anything, the aim should be to expand the number of voters in this election.
“I hope all candidates and supporters will reject any attempt to prolong this process, and that we can now proceed with the election in a comradely and respectful manner.”
- Having exhausted almost every trick, the leaders of the coup were now so convinced that Jeremy Corbyn would win the leadership contest that they began planning to elect their own leader and launch a legal challenge for the party’s name.
Leading Blairites leaked to the Daily Telegraph that they are looking at plans to set up their own “alternative Labour” if Mr Corbyn remains in post:
The move would see them create their own shadow cabinet and even elect a leader within Parliament to rival Mr Corbyn’s front bench.
They are also already planning to go through the courts to get the right to use Labour’s name and assets including property owned by the party across the country.
They would also approach John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, and argue that having more MPs than Mr Corbyn means they should be named the official opposition.
“The notion that we’ll all go back to happy families is nonsense,” said one prominent Corbyn critic, saying that the plan would help avoid the “nuclear” option of a full party split.
But support for the move is not universal, with some Labour centralists saying a legal challenge would be unlikely to succeed and warning creating a de facto alternative leader would be too provocative.
But the fact the plans are actively being considered by some of the party’s most senior moderate figures shows the level of despondency at Owen Smith’s chances of success and their contempt for democracy.
- Then on Monday 8 August, came some welcome news. Five new members of the Labour Party won a High Court battle over their legal right to vote in the leadership election.
The five accused the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) of unlawfully “freezing” them and many others out of the high-profile contest even though they had “paid their dues”.
To gain the right to vote, members were given a window of opportunity, between July 18 and 20, to become “registered supporters” on payment of an additional fee of £25. Non-members were given the same opportunity.
But Mr Justice Hickinbottom ruled that refusing the five the vote “would be unlawful as in breach of contract”.
The court action gave hope to almost 130,000 Labour supporters who were victims of the freeze.
The judge overturned the requirement that they must have been party members since before 12 January – the “freeze date”.
But it was a short-lived hope.
A few days later – using more than £40,000 of membership money to fight the case – Iain McNicol and the Labour Party elite won an appeal against the High Court ruling.
They also applied to recoup £30,000 towards the legal costs from the five ordinary members who brought the case.
Mr Corbyn’s campaign team responded angrily to the news.
“We think that this is the wrong decision – both legally and democratically,” they said.
“The Court’s ruling disenfranchises nearly 130,000 Labour members, who joined the party since January and were explicitly told that they would have a vote in any leadership election.
“Crucial to the outcome was the introduction of a new argument by the Labour Party HQ’s lawyers, who invoked an obscure clause in the Labour Party rules (Chapter 4, Clause II, 1A), which could be read as giving the NEC the right to ignore all of the rules laid out for leadership elections. In other words, this is a ‘make it up as you go along’ rule. We do not think that making it up as you go along is a reasonable way to conduct democracy in our party.”
- And then came the now infamous purge of Labour Party members and supporters who were supportive of Mr Corbyn.
The seemingly ad-hoc purge went on throughout August and September, allegedly based on examples of abuse and bullying on social media.
Among the thousands suspended and expelled were Paralympic athlete and disability rights campaigner Kristina Veasey, Ronnie Draper, the leader of the Bakers Union, one member for stating on Facebook that she “fucking loves the Foo Fighters”, one lady who had no access to social media at all and…… me!
I won’t bore readers with my own case. But if interested you can read my appeal against my expulsion here.
Labour deputy leader John McDonnell publicly stated that there was a “rigged purge going on”.
And the purge was conducted in an overtly hypocritical manner.
It’s bad enough that Jeremy Corbyn supporters were purged from the party for stuff as trivial as liking the Foo Fighters too much on their personal Facebook feed, while anti-Corbyn members of the Labour Party establishment were allowed to get away with abuse like calling other members of the party “Nazi stormtroopers” in the mainstream press
But one of the most disgraceful things was the people were being purged for having posted social media comments supporting other political parties long BEFORE they joined Labour.
When the civil rights campaigner Shami Chakrabarti delivered her report into alleged cases of anti-Semitism the Labour Party and the NEC agreed to abide by its findings.
One of the clearest recommendations of the whole report was her call for “a moratorium on the retrospective trawling of members’ social media accounts and past comments”.
Instead of heeding this call for a moratorium on social media trawling, the Labour Party NEC instead decided to orchestrate what is almost certainly the most invasive McCarthyite mass trawling exercise in British political history.
Not only were they trawling back through people’s social media accounts to look for signs of disloyalty or thought crime from when people became party members, they were trawling back through comments that were made long before the intended victims of their witch-hunt ever joined the Labour Party.
One of the worst examples of someone being purged for supporting other parties long before Mr Corbyn even became Labour leader is the case of Gemma Angel who was purged from the Labour Party over a Tweet from May 2014 in which she explained her reasons for voting Green.
Another example is Ben Crawford who was also purged for the “crime” of posting Tweets in support of the Green Party between 2014 and 2015.
Then there are the trade union members who are known to support Mr Corbyn.
Steve Hedley, Senior Assistant General Secretary of the RMT, said recently that many RMT members had been excluded in the current purge.
This included a 38 year long member of the Labour Party who put a “like” against a TUSC candidate on Facebook, who was a friend of his.
A close friend and leading lawyer had this to say about the purge: “Nic, I can’t see any way for them to have done the mass purge other than by some form of software that trawls for your name and then terms like “Corbyn”, “Labour” and “traitor” within 10 words of each other or whatever.
“Some flunky will then give the results a cursory glance and fit the briefest of details into the pro forma purge letter.
“When I used to lecture in law we used software called Safe Assignments for plagiarism and needless to say, all the lazy and useless teachers loved it because it highlighted sentences and paragraphs in students’ writing that had apparently been taken from elsewhere on the web and gave them “evidence” for not having to read and assess the essays of their students. I always thought it raised more questions than answers and refused to use it myself.
“I’d really suspect that something like that is being used here, and to “lazy and useless” we can add a few other epithets for the fuckers who are using it on good Labour Party members like you.”
And this hypocritical purge has been far more insidious than we might think.
Iain McNicol put out some figures on 8 September of Labour members excluded/suspended around the leadership election.
A spokesperson for the party declared, “The speculation that huge numbers of applicants have been denied a vote has been wildly exaggerated.” He went on to claim that less than 0.5% of the electorate had been denied a vote.
It is worth drilling down into the figures released by Labour’s Compliance Unit.
The 0.5% claim refers to the entire Labour Party electorate of 650,000, not to new members where the purge was targeted.
After the failed parliamentary coup in June there was another wave of tens of thousands of people joining the party to defend Jeremy Corbyn.
This produced the decision by the July NEC to deprive these members of a vote in the leadership election by setting the freeze deadline at 12 January. Despite this around 180,000 members and supporters paid £25 to be able to vote.
So far, of this group, 21,000 were excluded because “they did not provide details that matched the electoral roll”. This has been interpreted extremely tightly; a slight variation in the person’s name as it appears on the electoral roll, a Flat 1 down as Flat A etc.
Many of these people will never know why they did not receive a ballot paper and did not chase it up and appeal.
Another 3,107 were ruled ineligible on grounds of party rules and a further 1,616 cases are awaiting a decision – that is 4,720 excluded up to 1 September.
Another 3,791 people apparently failed to make the necessary £25 payment – maybe because the website process wasn’t that easy.
So just taking the first two groups, nearly 26,000 people were excluded from voting out of 180,000 who applied, that is 14.4% not 0.5%.
The Compliance Unit then turned its attention to Labour conference delegates with one Labour blogger learning of five Corbyn mandated delegates excluded in 24 hours.
Ian McNicol claimed all these suspensions/barrings have “been approved by the NEC”, but of course the NEC has not met since July.
They are in fact approved by an NEC sub-committee run by the right – the NEC Oversight Panel – the new left leaning NEC does not come into being until next week – after this weekend’s Labour Party Conference.
- And yesterday, the #chickencoup guns turned heavily towards the conference and the ruling NEC.
The Labour NEC, which includes several imminently-defunct members who will be replaced by Corbyn supporters at the weekend.
But last night at an eve of conference NEC meeting the right wing dominated committee voted by 16-14 to increase its number by two – one member each to be nominated directly by the Blairite leaders of Welsh and Scottish Labour:
Tellingly, no such move was made to put a representative of Northern Ireland Labour on the NEC – doubtless because Labour in Northern Ireland has seen 500% growth in membership under Mr Corbyn and is overwhelmingly pro-Corbyn.
It is another brazen snub to the memberships of the Labour Party and democracy itself.
The move must still be ratified by the Labour Conference, and the outcome of that vote is unclear.
But if the measure passes a Conference vote, Jeremy Corbyn must take any actions necessary to negate it, whether that be shuffling people like Jon Ashworth, who has voted against Corbyn in every NEC vote, out so that they are removed from the equation and replaced by a better MP, or by withdrawing the whip to disqualify right-wing members so that the post-Conference NEC can overturn it or bring in rules that negate this deeply, shamelessly anti-democratic tactic.
It will go against the grain to take such steps, even to correct such an egregious and underhand wrong – but turnabout is fair play and the anti-democratic faction in the Labour party must not be allowed to succeed. They have underhandedly exploited the rulebook to open this door, so they can’t complain if the rules are used to firmly close it again.
These are the dying efforts of a right wing in retreat at all levels in the Labour Party; an attempt to fight to the last by gerrymandering democracy at every turn.
On the path forward to true democracy, the current General Secretary Iain McNicol must resign.
The Compliance Unit must be abolished and replaced by something that welcomes new members and holds all members to collective discipline – left or right.
We need a sustained effort to involve the new members into an outwardly focused party, campaigning against austerity and against the Tories.
Protecting democracy requires that the general public be educated on how people can be manipulated by the Establishment and media into forfeiting their civil liberties.
Together things can and will change.
- Thanks to Stuart King for purge statistics section