“I’d like to scrap the Compliance Unit completely”, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told a 300-strong Momentum meeting in Barnet on 22 February, “and I want people automatically accepted into membership when they first join”.
He wants a fair and democratic process for membership disputes, and he’s right. Two weeks ago it looked as if expulsions by an unelected body with no place in the rulebook, the Compliance Unit, had come to an end, with none since November.
Now there are new expulsions and threats of expulsions. That includes two friends of Workers’ Liberty in Lewisham, Jill Mountford and Tom Harris. Nick Wrack, a well-known left-winger in south London, has had a letter from the Compliance Unit saying that he will be excluded if his CLP wishes (no reference to the CLP having to give any reason).
Jill was denounced in the Daily Telegraph after the Momentum National Committee, to which she was a London delegate, elected her to the organisation’s Steering Committee; and expulsion by the Compliance Unit followed soon after.
Jill stood against Harriet Harman in the ultra-safe Labour seat of Camberwell and Peckham in 2010, while calling for the return of a Labour government. Since then she has supported Labour candidates and only Labour candidates.
Jill was expelled the same week that Richard Barrett, the only UKIP councillor in Hull, elected in a high profile defeat for Labour in 2014 and who stood against Labour in the 2015 general election, announced his defection to Labour. So nationalist bigots who stood against Labour and advocate voting against it two years ago can join, but class-struggle socialists who stood while calling for a Labour vote everywhere else six years ago are thrown out?
This continues the sorry tradition which saw Tory MP Shaun Woodward defect to Labour, be imposed on a safe seat and then immediately made a minister, at the same time that the Blair machine was vetoing local parties from selecting left wingers as candidates.
To end such things we need to abolish the Compliance Unit. The left should step up the campaign to “Stop the Labour Purge”, and Momentum should get on board.
Jill Mountford said: “Just what are they afraid of? I’ve been expelled as a member without any hearing or any evidence presented against me. The stated grounds being ‘closely involved with and supporting the Alliance for Workers Liberty’ and cites the AWL's socialist policies and program. The rules that support expulsion are hideous and need scrapping; the desire to expel people because they have socialist views is scandalous and has nothing to do with building a radical alternative to the bosses’ party and their austerity politics. Ironically my expulsion letter arrived while I was out canvassing on a local estate for Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London.
“Socialist ideas were important at the founding of the Labour Party more than 100 years ago. And they should remain so now. We need to build a truly democratic Labour Party that fights for a working-class agenda. We have to fight against every expulsion and exclusion of socialists and other radicals from the Labour Party or we’ll just get more of the same from Labour.
“I have every intention to fight this as hard as I can. If Shaun Woodward, Richard Barrett and a myriad of other people from the right can be accepted into the broad church we call the Labour Party, then socialists can too! I call on other socialists to join that fight.”
McDonnell said that people have been expelled for "spurious reasons... There's a compliance unit. The NEC of the Labour Party are looking at the whole exercise - how we can move away from this regime that expels people, prevents people joining. I have been speaking out against expulsions and talking to NEC members. That review will go on. My view is I'd like to scrap the compliance unit altogether and get back to the situation where people are automatically accepted for membership, unless there is a significant issue that comes up."