Battle between leadership and Labour left intensifies amid proscription plans

Sienna Rodgers

Labour is preparing to proscribe four groups: Socialist Appeal, Labour in Exile Network, Labour Against the Witchhunt and Resist. If the proposal is approved by the national executive committee at its meeting on Tuesday, as expected due to the pro-leadership majority on the ruling body, supporters of these groups will be auto-excluded from the party.

This is a different approach to proscription than the one taken in the past. Instead of investigating each individual case as the party did to oust Militant members – a heavy workload that led to the establishment of the national constitutional committee (NCC) in the late ‘80s – Labour will automatically kick out supporters of these four groups when there is prima facie evidence of their involvement with them.

The NEC papers are detailed and carefully worded. The different reasons for proscribing each organisation is specified, as is the criteria for considering someone a supporter. For Socialist Appeal, a group that emerged from the 1991 split in Militant and is organised around a magazine of the same name, support means selling the publication, writing for it, staffing the street stalls or describing oneself as a supporter. For Labour Against the Witchhunt, the list of ways to support them includes participation in an event the group has hosted or organised, because that is one of its primary ways of campaigning.

Mostly, and certainly in public, the Labour left has reacted angrily to the proposal. NEC members such as Laura Pidcock and Mish Rahman have confirmed that they will be voting against the move on Tuesday. Left NEC members are meeting tonight to firm up their position and Momentum is expected to fight the proscriptions.

Some have pointed out that these four groups are small and relatively insignificant, and wondered why the party is bothering – or why it hasn’t gone further. “Why won’t they purge the Trots that actually cause us problems?” one Labour left source privately asked, referring to Alliance for Workers’ Liberty and Socialist Action. (It is not clear whether they haven’t been included because they are less implicated in the antisemitism crisis or because it would be more legally difficult.) 

There is now broad agreement on the left that the move should be opposed. The slippery slope argument is a key reason. Although the NEC papers specifically cite Momentum as an example of an organisation that is compatible with the aims and values of the Labour Party, there are nonetheless suspicions that this is a precursor to something much bigger.

Those close to the Labour leadership say banning Momentum, which has tens of thousands rather than merely hundreds of members, is not on the cards. Proscribing Socialist Appeal is described as a “tidying up exercise”: the group is considered by them to be a successor organisation to Militant, and this move is designed to refresh the legal position on that. 

Socialist Appeal sources argue that they don’t allow anyone to stand against Labour, they always call for a Labour vote and most of their activists are very young, not old enough to have any Militant history. They also say the Labour membership statuses of two editorial board members were put to disciplinary panels in recent years, yet they did not find that support of Socialist Appeal was incompatible with Labour membership. 

The reasons for Labour proscribing the other three – Labour in Exile Network, Labour Against the Witchhunt and the little-known Resist – are more related to antisemitism and their connections to figures including Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and Chris Williamson, all expelled from the party. Evidence that LAW is antithetical to Labour’s aims and values includes its call to boycott antisemitism awareness training run by the Jewish Labour Movement, its defence of Ken Livingstone and rejection of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. Williamson’s ‘Resist’ intends to register as a political party, so proscribing it is a means of cutting off those who are ‘two-tracking’ their memberships as long as they can.

Neither Jewish Voice for Labour nor Momentum are likely to be up next for proscription, sources supportive of the leadership say. But it is thought that high-profile members such as Ken Loach could be expelled via the banning of these four groups. There is a hope among some Keir Starmer backers that this could also have the effect of lowering morale among Corbynites and undermining the ‘stay and fight’ argument on their wing of the party. In the short-term, the intensity of the internal battle has been kicked up another notch.

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