And why Labour needs to stop fighting its supporters and pull together.
Dear Iain McNicol,
12th September 2016
Today I received a letter from you, reproduced below.
I have always been very open about my political opinions and affiliations and have been politically active on and off since 1977. As a teenager I was conservative, mostly because I was from a Conservative family. Over the years, my politics have become closer and closer to the left via the Liberal Democrats, The Green Party and, latterly, The Labour Party. In short, my politics have changed over time. In that respect, I am a perfectly ordinary voter with diverse opinions that are not wholly consistent nor wholly committed – much like The Labour Party itself.
I have also, over the years, voted for different parties depending upon the type of election; for some years voting Labour locally while voting Green or Liberal Democrat nationally. sometimes I have voted Green locally and Labour nationally. I have done so because national and local political candidates have views that represent only parts of their official manifestos and some politicians are more effective than others. In that respect too, I am an ordinary voter. Many voters make judgments based upon the political statements and opinions of candidates, or lack of them, as much as on the official party lines the candidates should be promoting. It’s absolutely normal. In short, your demand for total consistency is both undemocratic and unrealistic. Yet I have not supported The Green Party at all since I switched my support to Labour. I payed my £5 last year and my £25 this year for Registered Supporters status for Labour. I resigned my Green membership and it has been cancelled. I’m sure that you, personally, also support organisations who are not always in total and complete agreement with all of Labour’s policies – will you bar yourself on that basis? No, that would be ridiculous. In the Venn diagrams of political organisations, not all policies will overlap with Labour’s but many will.
As an ordinary voter, wishing to take part in the democratic process, I became a Labour supporter because I felt that The Labour Party was progressing in a direction more representative of my own opinions and beliefs than ever before; partly because I find John McDonnell’s and Jeremy Corbyn’s political positions similar to my own and partly because I have found The Green Party to be less relevant to my own politics now that green issues are stronger within the labour movement generally. And, by the way, I have been very critical of many Green positions on social media as your researchers would have found had they bothered to read my blog over the past few years.
But of course, your researchers are not looking for content or nuance (I’m sure they don’t have the time or the instruction), they are looking for reasons to exclude voters who support Jeremy Corbyn’s political direction. I say that with some confidence because what other reason can you have for not embracing new supporters who have swung to Labour from other parties? By all means prove me wrong. Are you not in favour of new members? Do you not want to attract new voters? The logical extension of your position is to turn away all voters who have previously supported other political parties – in other words – all swing voters. If you think you will win a general election by saying you do not want votes from people who have previously supported other parties then you are effectively saying you want the voting patterns to stay exactly as they are. That is a recipe for becoming unelectable if ever there was one.
I’m sure you will deny the charge that you are only denying support from Corbyn supporters so please show us the statistics. How many Smith supporters have you barred? How many Conservatives? How many Greens? How many UKIPers? If your stats show it is mostly Corbyn supporters who have been barred then you are rigging the leadership election. If it is mostly Smith supporters then you are also rigging the election in the other direction. If it is mostly previous supporters of other parties then you are turning away floating voters. I am happy to receive a reasonable explanation. Please respond.
I have no idea if what you are doing is legal; clearly the law follows the political affiliations of the lawyers who win, as much as the literal meanings of statutes and precedents. But what you are doing is unethical, immoral, impractical and politically unwise to say the least.
Labour needs to pull itself together. You must take advantage of the huge rise in membership and support rather than turn people away. Be democratic and build policy and direction from the bottom up via the membership. Get behind Corbyn because, if the thousands of us who have been barred because we support Corbyn are excluded from the leadership election, you will never recover the trust of voters who wish to see Labour as welcoming and inclusive rather than divisive and insincere. Many of us on the left actually care about the future of this crowded planet and the future of our small corner of it. We have thought long and hard before deciding to support Labour; many, like me, have spent decades on this journey and to see our democratic rights swept away is nothing short of disgraceful.