Dozens of constituency or branch Labour Party officials, chairs, secretaries, and so on, have been suspended without due process simply for allowing debate on "banned" motions about other disciplinary crackdowns.
“If I have to suspend thousands and thousands of members, we will do that", declared Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner on 29 November, following a new message from Labour Party general secretary David Evans that local Labour Party officials could be suspended for allowing debate on restoring the Labour whip to Jeremy Corbyn.
It's a Catch-22 logic: suspensions can never be stopped, because objecting to suspensions is itself grounds for suspension...
Evans and Starmer can scarcely carry the Catch-22 process far enough to outlaw all protest. Motions in CLPs on these lines:
This CLP resolves to write to the General Secretary and the NEC to express opposition to what we see as lack of respect for democracy and freedom of discussion in recent decisions
convey the message, and can be carried without setting local chairs and secretaries up for suspension.
The suspension-mania hinders rather helps the fight against antisemitism within Labour. That fight can be won only through political argument - as trenchant as necessary - to convince the majority of the harmful implications of antisemitism operating under cover of what purports to be only "criticism of Israel" but is in fact denial of the Israeli Jews' right to national self-determination and conspiracy-theory portrayal of Israel and of Jews who identify (however critically) with Israel as the hidden axis of global right-wing politics.
No such political argument is coming from Evans and Starmer. The suspension-mania is a substitute for the political argument and an obstacle to it.
We have had two waves of "thousands and thousands" of suspensions and exclusions without due process in recent years, attempts to exclude or discourage the left and so tilt the 2015 and 2016 leadership elections.
This current wave is probably at dozens, so far, but could well go further. A significant number of those suspended or excluded in 2015 or 2016 were long-standing Labour Party members who had remained active without retaliation, if with little success, through the Blair and Brown years. The balance this time is different, though, and on one estimate includes 30 or 40 CLP chairs or secretaries.
Some suspensions are reported to have been "pre-emptive", without specific charges, as of the secretaries of Tottenham and Liverpool Walton CLPs. Other CLPs with officers suspended include Bristol West, Nottingham East, South Thanet, Camberwell and Peckham, Chipping Barnet, Chingford and Woodford Green...
Maybe 80 to 100 CLPs - and Young Labour's leadership - are estimated to have to have defied David Evans's decrees in some way or another, so more members could be suspended.
It is still unclear what Labour's new "independent" disciplinary processes will be, but they will be a joke if they make no barrier against the suspension-mania. Labour talks of getting lawyers to vet disciplinary proceedings. Even if Labour can get hanging-and-flogging-minded lawyers for the job, people attuned to Amy Coney Barrett's doctrine that the right to vote should be reserved to "virtuous citizens", the lawyers are likely to be concerned enough for their future professional reputations to object to exclusions carried through with no due process, no charge at all, or no charge other than complaining about another exclusion without charge or allowing a debate.
Perhaps the objective of Evans and Starmer is to intimidate enough activists into quitting and dispersing that they can be sure of a docile 2021 Labour Party conference. No-one should help them out by quitting, or voluntarily inviting suspension, out of disgust.
At another pole, a few on the left are positively supporting the suspensions and crying for more. That is foolish. Some of those suspended have been part of a low-grade "left antisemitic" culture in the Labour Party. But not all. And confronting that culture through political argument should come first. The current regime positively discourages that argument.
The initial ruling under which this purge started, to ban local Labour Party discussions on suspensions or expulsions from the party, came in March 2019 from the previous, "Corbynite", general secretary Jennie Formby, not from Evans or Starmer.
Resistance to the current purge is weakened by the fact that few on the left objected to Formby's decree. Many of those suspended chose to keep quiet about it, despite the charges against them being flimsy or just not stated, on the Catch-22 grounds that by complaining about being suspended they would break rules even if they had broken no rule before. Consequently we don't know how many were suspended between March 2019 and the current purge started in November 2020, but it was a lot, maybe as many people (though not as prominent) as targeted in this wave. We should contest Formby's decree as well as Evans's.
• Suggested wording for model motions: bit.ly/mo-pe