This week it was announced that Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) is planning to ‘proscribe’ some groups on the Left of the Party. Proscription is essentially a form of banning. The groups that being expelled from the Party include Resist, Labour Against the Witchhunt, Labour In Exile Network, and Socialist Appeal. All of them have… colourful histories.
Online, many Labour figures have described this as a purge (or even, in the words of Owen Jones, “a Stalinist style purge”) and pledged to resist it at all costs. (What forms this resistance will take, other than tweeting the word “resist” are unclear.) Purge is an extreme word — especially in this context. Only a small number of members are being removed from the party, and they hail from toxic, largely powerless subgroups.
The truth is that these expulsions are overdue. After the Corbyn years, Keir Starmer and the Labour leadership need to prove they are acting on anti-Semitism. All four groups – Labour Against the Witchhunt, Resist, Labour in Exile, and Socialist Appeal – are extremists of different kinds.
Labour Against the Witchhunt, as the name suggests, was set up to call out the ‘witch-hunt’ against those accused of being anti-Semites in the party. Resist, affiliated with Labour Against the Witch Hunt, is the new mouthpiece for Corbyn stalwart Chris Williamson, an MP who lost his High Court bid to be readmitted to the Labour Party after he was suspended in an anti-Semitism row. The Labour in Exile network was set up to be a home for those expelled by “the fake ‘antisemitism campaign’ whose aim was to protect the Israeli state”.
All three groups are intertwined and are the most blatant, but by no means only, homes in the Labour Party for Corbynite true believers. Socialist Appeal is slightly different, descending from the Trotskyite Militant entryists in the 1980s. When Militant abandoned entryism in the 1990s, Socialist Appeal was one of several groups to split from them and remain inside Labour. Despite being a small, insignificant faction mostly made up of old cranks at the back of CLP meetings, Starmer wants rid of them.
What is perhaps more surprising is that other groups — arguably even further to the Left of those being proscribed by the NEC — such as the Trotskyite Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, are not also being removed.
Ultimately, the real novelty of this week’s events lies in the manner of these expulsions rather than their motivation. During the 1980s, Militant members were expelled one by one, with the NEC undergoing lengthy and painstaking investigations that traded speed for rigour.
Now, the NEC is planning to expel every member of these groups in one sweep, which is one reason why Corbynites are so furious. Seeing the expulsion of people with similar beliefs, in many cases, friends and ‘comrades’, has infuriated them.
But those of the Left in actual power — namely, Angela Rayner and her allies — are not sharing much sympathy for the cranks. This silence is deafening. It indicates that the rest of the parliamentary Left is very happy to put some distance between their positions and those of alleged anti-Semites and card-carrying Marxists. So they should — this move is a small, pragmatic step back from the wilderness, and even if this one move won’t win Labour the next election, it certainly can’t hurt.