Alastair Campbell and the Labour loyalty rules

Three white men (including Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell and a third whose face is obscured) wearing suits and ties sitting at a large wooden table with papers in hand. A marble fireplace is behind Tony Blair and the third man.
Alastair Campbell with Tony Blair during the latter’s years in power

Yesterday the former Downing Street communications director under Tony Blair, Alastair Campbell, was expelled from the Labour Party for openly declaring that he had voted for the Liberal Democrats in last week’s European elections. This provoked a huge reaction from Labour supporters of the Blair/Brown tradition who see it as another example of Corbynites securing a stranglehold on the party and purging it of ideological ‘undesirables’, as well as people complaining that nobody accused of anti-Semitism had faced instant expulsion from the party (which is, in fact, inaccurate). Others have noted that this has been the rule for decades, that it was enforced during Blair’s years in power and that Alastair Campbell must have known about it.

The rule in question was indeed enforced, sometimes very rigidly, during the Blair years when many Labour members (as well as long-standing Labour voters) expressed dissatisfaction with Labour MPs and candidates, often in safe Labour seats, who had supported the Iraq war or other Blair policies which were seen as counter to either socialism or ideas of social justice. There were, in addition, candidates imposed on certain constituencies who were quite unlike those the local party would have chosen; there was some discontent about Shaun Woodward, an ex-Tory defector from the Major years, being imposed on or ‘parachuted’ into a safe Labour seat on Merseyside, for example. I recall seeing a letter in a newspaper that a member in South Wales had received a letter informing them of being expelled from the party for writing a letter to a local newspaper suggesting that people consult a tactical voting website. One can understand the rule that one be expelled or suspended for standing against an official Labour candidate or actively campaigning for a rival in an election, especially a Parliamentary one where “first past the post” applies, but for merely publicly suggesting that someone not vote for a particular Labour candidate, the threat of expulsion is contrary to freedom of speech.

This, frankly, is why I never renewed my membership when it lapsed after a year in 1995; I saw Tony Blair taking the party in a completely different direction in which appearance and ‘spin’ seemed to matter more than actual policy. Contrary to what seems to be the case in other parties, you do not enjoy free speech as a Labour party member; anything you say or write can be used against you if it is seen to be prejudicial to party interests. During the Blair years this was generally used against pesky Lefties who wanted a Labour party to reflect their values rather than the need for power at any cost; people wanted to change the politics and policies rather than just the faces and the rosette colours. I would never support a political party for its own sake, whether they call themselves Labour or anything else, and it is unreasonable to expect the discipline one might expect in a revolutionary socialist movement, from socialists, to further the interests of a capitalist party.

I support remaining in the EU and as I said in my previous entry, I voted Green to make that stance known. I might have voted Labour had they come out in support of a further referendum. I can do that from outside the Labour party; if Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair and others in that tendency do not like the rules, they had many years to change them.

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