Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Labour Party Disciplinary Rules - and how not to use them?

I have always been interested in the politically controversial application of disciplinary procedures within our labour movement – not least because I myself have been on the receiving end of politically motivated threats of such action more than once.

In a working lifetime of trade union activism I have too often witnessed the (ab)use of internal labour movement disciplinary procedures to stifle radicalism and dissent. Politically motivated disciplinary action is never open and honest but always purports to be about some particular alleged misconduct on the part of those under attack.

A Constituency Executive meeting this evening got me thinking about the related issue of disciplinary action within the Party – as today expressed in the exclusion of Alastair Campbell for having boasted about having voted for another Party.

The Labour Party Rule Book provides that “a member of the Party who… …supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate… …shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a Party member.” (Chapter Two, Clause One, Part Four B).

It is, at the least, highly arguable that appearing on national television to announce having voted Liberal Democrat amounts to giving support (albeit retrospective support) to a candidate who stood against an official Labour candidate. The Party may therefore have felt that it had no option but to accept that Mr Campbell had made himself automatically ineligible to remain a Party member.

However, this was plainly what the miscreant wanted in this case, since it gives the right-wing critics of the Party leadership further opportunities (unjustly) to accuse the Leader of hypocrisy (given his admirable – and in these circumstances irrelevant – history of disobeying the Whip in Parliament) whilst giving undeserved victim status to a calculating Blairite (and those hostile to the leadership will find reasons unreasonably to compare and contrast the swift action in this case with alleged delays in others cases).

Perhaps – in this particular case – the Party did indeed have no choice but to take administrative disciplinary action. Wherever a choice exists though we should avoid rewarding attention-seeking behaviour, and should certainly always refrain from using administrative means to settle political differences.

Socialists in the Labour Party who complain that left-wingers are too swiftly disciplined or suspended by the Party machine often make a good point (about a Party over which socialists still have limited influence), but if the lesson which they draw from this experience is that a left-led Labour Party should be just as eager to take such administrative action against right-wingers then I must part company with them at that point.

I don’t want a socialist-led Labour Party to be a political mirror image of the horrendous organisation which the Party had become in the heyday of Alastair Campbell. We should win political arguments politically – not by the use of administrative measures.

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