Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party
Having rejoined the Labour Party in celebration of your election to its leadership in 2015, I was only too happy to vote for you again this year. You, John McDonnell, like-minded and loyal MPs, CLPs and hundreds of thousands of new members are doing socialism proud in exceptionally difficult circumstances. As someone who has had an academic interest in health and healthcare for 40 years I offered an input into Labour policy-making.
The narrative surrounding the latest leadership vote is more than concerning. After over a month of repeated telephone calls and emails to the Party, several assurances that I had not been purged or blocked, and three re-issues of my ballot, I was relieved to receive my ballot on Wednesday 14 September. I voted the same day. Three days later, on Saturday 17 September, I received an email signed by Iain McNicol explaining that my vote had been cancelled and that I was suspended from the Labour Party.
This email stated that it is regarded as unacceptable for members to use ‘racist, abusive or foul language or behaviour at meetings, on social media or in any other context’, and that I was guilty of an offence in this category. He then referred, more specifically, to ‘comments you have made on social media, including a post on 26 July’.
My sole engagement with social media is via twitter, so I looked up my tweets for 26 July. There were 14 of these, only three of which related to the Labour Party. Here is the trio:
‘Say publicly and repeatedly your leader is useless > polls slip down > say publicly and repeatedly that polls show your leader is useless.’
‘Labour plotters routinely abusing/bullying Corbyn but NEC not bothered. Also routinely critiquing OWN Labour Party with help of MSM.’
‘Mistake to think Blairites & Corbynites want the same things & disagree how best to get them. Blairites are Tory-lite. We need change!’
Needless to say, I stand by them. In an open letter to Iain McNicol I wrote:
‘I imagine that the third might be the offending tweet because it includes a double-mention of the word ‘Blairites’. I know from colleagues on twitter that you are more sensitive to the negative deployment of terms like ‘Blairites’ and “Progress’ than you are of terms like ‘Corbynite’ and ‘Momentum’. It will be for you to explain why and to justify yourself at a later stage, critically of course, after the leadership election.’
‘The attempt to exclude the elected leader from the second leadership ballot despite his impressive mandate was an offence against natural justice. Your repeated attempts to exclude Labour Party members from voting in the leadership contest on the basis of non-random but contingent criteria fall into this same category. Just listen to your policies. Never mind what the Labour Party website states, you can only vote if you joined the Party before mid-January 2016. If you are a non-member, on the other hand, you can vote if you give us £25. Oh, and member or not, if you are eligible to vote we may check you out and if we don’t like what we find, we’ll remove your right to vote or, if you have voted, cancel it.’
I find my suspension as farcical as it is concerning and have lodged an appeal. How ironic that even as Momentum is being accused of facilitating Trotsyist entryism, Labour’s NEC adopts Stalinist tactics via a ‘compliance unit’. Whole CLPs have been pushed into political exile. Blairite lobbying through the offices of Progress is of course okay.
This letter is to ask you to address this issue of the ‘cleansing’ of your supporters in the Labour Party. It is clear that tens of thousands have been denied their rightful vote, while many have like myself been suspended or even expelled. Some members have been suspended for merely retweeting Caroline Lucas while it is apparently acceptable for Labour MPs to speak at the Green Conference. Have a second look at my putative ‘naughty emails’. This kind of palpable nonsense is insulting to people who have in many instances been loyal and committed Labour members through thick and thin.
I appreciate that you are engaged in understandably covert negotiations to secure working stability within the PLP. I am a sociologist after all (and as such nobody is going to censor what I tweet about). I also realize that your authority within the Party in relation to the NEC is limited. In the views of many, Iain McNicol should resign or be dismissed for gerrymandering, politically motivated purging and culling and the abuse of his office; but your public statements around these issues have obviously to be coded and guarded.
I think members who have been treated so appallingly by the NEC, most of them your supporters, are entitled to a transparent enquiry into the numbers who were denied a leadership ballot; who were suspended; and who were expelled. I judge own suspension to be an absurd and political act, and I want it addressed and lifted. There are many others about whom I feel even more strongly: people, for example, who have been dutiful members for decades and now feel rejected, hurt and depressed. We feel disconnected, anomic.
So what am I saying? I am asking you: (1) to address this whole issue publicly; (2) to announce an internal enquiry into how the NEC handled this second leadership ballot and (3) to make both the resultant data and recommendations available to Labour Party members. What has happened runs counter to everything you and most members represent. Few of us thought it could occur in our Labour Party.
To repeat myself, I understand the pragmatic and political constraints on you. I would like to reassure you, finally, that those who voted for you and for change admire your personal stamina and – not being ‘cultists’ – are consociates on a post-auterity policy programme that nobody would have called ‘hard left’ in Harold Wilson’s time: we have been railroaded a long way rightwards since! I am currently barred from any official Labour activitiy, but would be only too happy to input into health and healthcare policy in the future.
Graham Scambler, Ph.D, FAcSS,
Emeritus Professor of Sociology,UCL.