Thousands of new members are being purged from the Labour Party ranks, accused of not supporting the “aims and values” of the party. But the stated aims and values of the Labour Party are so bland and generic that they encompass nearly everyone, Tories and militant entryists included.
Do you agree with the aims and values of the Labour Party?
That was the probing question posed to each of the 121,000 new supporters who have swelled Labour’s ranks since May’s general election defeat by providing the party with a name, email address and the princely sum of £3.
With bookmakers already paying out on a Jeremy Corbyn victory in September’s leadership election, the Labour Party is fighting a rearguard effort to thwart potential ‘entryists’ and troublemaking Tories from infiltrating the party with dishonourable intentions. And the test applied to new supporters as part of the vetting process is intended to ensure that prospective supporters share the same aims and values as the Labour Party.
But what are these values? Fortunately, the Labour Party website tells us precisely what they are:
Labour has only been in government for four short periods of the 20th century. However its achievements have revolutionised the lives of the British people. The values Labour stands for today are those which have guided it throughout its existence.
• social justice
• strong community and strong values
• reward for hard work
• rights matched by responsibilities
That one of the Labour Party’s core values is “strong values” tells you everything you need to know about the decline of Labour as a social, intellectual and ideological force, and the utter vacuity at the heart of British politics in general.
The BBC reports that over 3000 people have so far fallen foul of the vetting criteria, including a number of high profile celebrities and political figures. But one has to wonder how this is possible given the impossibly broad and woolly nature of the Labour Party’s stated values.
Who among us does not believe in social justice, want to live in strong communities, hope to see hard work fairly rewarded and expect our fellow countrymen to be engaged and considerate citizens? For this is all that the Labour Party values essentially demand.
These vague aspirations are shared by every decent human being in the country – they are not restricted to one particular ideology or one particular political party, least of all Labour. And besides, what stringent vetting procedure could possibly reveal that a prospective supporter secretly covets weak communities, indecency, and the reward of laziness?
In fact, it is rather ironic that a political party which reflexively opposes any attempt at welfare reform, turns a blind eye while head-in-the-sand multiculturalism erodes any common feeling of community and seeks always to expand the state and limit the autonomy of the individual should now find itself expelling new applicants because they allegedly fail to live up to the values that the Labour Party so conspicuously fails to follow itself.
But what of those left-wing prospective supporters who feel that Labour has drifted away from them as it scrapped with the Tories over the narrow political centre ground? Is ‘supporting the aims and values of the Labour Party’ just a euphemism for being blindly loyal and tribal in support of Team Red, and the suspension of one’s critical faculties in order to unthinkingly follow the party leadership’s orders?
Helen Lewis picks up this point, writing in the Guardian:
Let’s not be too hard on some of these rejected voters. Perhaps they didn’t want to vote Labour when it was (as they saw it) a neoliberal, pro-austerity, pro-Nato party that was too soft on Israel and too tough on benefit claimants. A Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn would be one they’d feel comfortable voting for. The trouble is that the entire current model of party membership and support is not set up to deal with people who feel a passing, rather than tribal, loyalty to Labour.
And Lewis concludes by asking:
How much loyalty do [political parties] have a right to demand of their members? Or, to put it more simply: how do you invite people to join your party without attracting gatecrashers too?
Having failed to even begin addressing that question, the bar for being deemed a genuine Labour Party supporter is now in danger of being set so high that it effectively excludes anyone who, in a moment of frustration or disillusionment, may have voted or voiced support for a rival political party or candidate in the past – and with the statute of limitations on that heinous crime set according to the whim of whoever happens to be doing the vetting.
Comedian Jeremy Hardy has fallen victim to this very phenomenon, stripped of his right to vote in the Labour leadership election for the high crime of backing Caroline Lucas – an exceptional politician and member of the Green Party – in her election campaign in Brighton.
Given the supposed synergy between Labour Party and Green Party values, who can blame Hardy for complaining:
“I’m sure many Labour supporters in Brighton voted for Caroline because she is a democratic socialist, which is supposed to be one of the aims and values of the Labour party. I doubt many Labour MPs now can claim to be democratic socialists.”
That someone like Hardy is excluded from the Labour Party say it all about the dominant mindset. Because as far as the modern Labour Party is concerned, concurring with the vague statement of values on their own website is not enough.
All that really matters now is that you hate the Evil Tories, and have not done anything to embarrass the Labour Party or show up its manifold failings. As with everything about Labour, ostentatiously saying the ‘right’ things on social media matters far more than real-world actions or the content of one’s character.
Take the ludicrous web application that allowed voters to create their own customised “Why I’m Voting Labour” placards to share on social media during the 2015 general election campaign. Choosing from a list, Labour supporters could pick their top issues and create something like this:
The problem is that the average Labour voter is none of these things. They may vaguely support some of these things in principle, but the furthest that the average Labour voter is likely to get to promoting LGBT or women’s rights is retweeting the odd article or colouring their Facebook profile picture with a rainbow hue. Words now speak far louder than actions, and Labour has become the consummate party for loud virtue-signalling trendies who wear their political opinions like a must-have fashion accessory.
That’s why this debate about Labour values is important. Does the Labour Party still aspire to its founding aims, or even to the feeble statement of principle so lazily set out on their website? Or are they content just to signal their collective virtue by making it known that they hold “progressive” views on all the right subjects and hate the Evil Tories, without doing any of the intellectual and political heavy-lifting required to bring about real left-wing change?
At present, signalling virtue – by jumping in on the right side of Twitter wars and various social issues – matters far more than one’s own behaviour and actions. But worse than this, the Labour Purge reveals that even among the “words, not deeds” crowd there is a hierarchy, with those who show tribal loyalty to a lost political party favoured over those whose fidelity to their own values led them to support candidates outside the Labour Party at one time or another.
Nick Tyrone is also confused on this point:
If you want only those who subscribe to the values and aims of the Labour Party voting for who will be the leader of the party, that’s perfectly understandable. There’s a really easy way to ensure that happens: simply vet new memberships well and then only let members vote in the election. If you’re going to let non-members vote in something, then you have to open your mind to the fact that they are, by definition, non-members. Somehow, the Labour Party never considered that until very recently. And now they have to go through every £3 application and expel anyone who has ever tweeted positively about the Women’s Equality Party.
You can look at all this and protest that something must be done to prevent the scourge of entryism and the hijacking of the Labour Party from the far-Left or the mischief-making Right. But you can also watch what is happening and wonder what kind of a political party prizes blindly loyal partisans over independent thinkers whose support has to be continually earned, not taken for granted.
The former may come naturally if you aspire to machine politics of the kind at which Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper excel – these acolytes of Gordon Brown are all about being on the right ‘team’ and securing advancement by subordinating personal conviction to cliquish loyalty. But with the current public distrust of politics it is the latter group of people who most urgently need engaging, and yet they are the people most condescended to – and now persecuted – by the current system.
And so we now have the unedifying spectacle of family pets being signed up as Labour supporters and given a vote in the leadership election thanks to bureaucratic incompetence, while those who support the formerly-mainstream ideals and policies of Attlee, Bevan or Foot are treated as pariahs and purged from Britain’s main left-wing party just for being a couple of decades behind the times.
If the Labour Party does not want to be a socialist party any more it should say so boldly and unequivocally, and draft a new set of Labour values embracing privatisation, spending restraint and free markets. And then at least the Left would know where they stood, and have the chance to split off and become their own party.
But since the Labour Party establishment is not willing to do this – their survival dependent on stringing the Left along, leeching off their support while offering nothing in return – they must accept that so long as Jeremy Corbyn’s presence is tolerated within their parliamentary party, his supporters must also be grudgingly welcomed and heard.
And instead of using the “aims and values” of the Labour Party as a weapon against unwanted supporters, these principles should be updated to finally make clear who is welcome, and who is not.