Labour is facing serious questions about the role of of hard-left activists within Jeremy Corbyn’s grassroots movement after the party’s decision to expel four alleged Trotskyists was challenged by Britain’s biggest trade union.
The most senior political figure in the Unite union, Jennie Formby, intervened after Labour’s national executive this week recommended that four members of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) be barred from party membership.
According to two accounts, Formby, Unite’s political director and a Labour national executive member, argued that the AWL had dissolved itself by deregistering with the Electoral Commission two days after Corbyn was elected party leader and that its members should now be entitled to join the party. Her challenge was rejected.
The four people were Vicki Morris from Nottingham East, Daniel Randall from Hampstead and Kilburn and Ed Maltby and Liam McNulty, both from Hornsey and Wood Green.
McNulty is the founder and organiser of the Haringey branch of the Momentum movement, which he says is not a separate party within Labour. The group’s stated aim is to make Labour more democratic and create a mass movement for real progressive change.
Unite said that Formby made reference only to Maltby at the NEC subcommittee meeting, and she had simply sought clarification over the party’s general policy regarding the automatic exclusion of members, and more broadly the status of AWL as a party.
The union said that Formby did not argue for for anyone specific to be admitted to the party. Unite added the party’s compliance officer said she would look into both issues and report back at a further meeting. A Unite spokeswoman said “the allegations are wholly wrong and malicious”.
However, there is concern in the parliamentary party that several hard-left groups such as Left Unity, the Socialist Workers party (SWP), the Socialist party and the AWL are trying to attach themselves to Momentum to gain entry into the party. Party moderates are fearful that Labour’s largest affiliated union is too relaxed about opening the party’s doors to the hard left.
Where AWL admits it has stood candidates against Labour in the past through the Socialist Alliance, it said it only did this in seats that Labour was never going to lose. It says it has backed no anti-Labour election campaigns recently.
Labour party rules allow for the expulsion of anyone that stands against an official Labour candidate or has links with a “political organisation other than an official Labour group”. Much of AWL’s lineage derives from a Trotskyist paper, Socialist Organiser, that was proscribed by the Labour conference in 1990.
In another sign that Momentum is a focus for leftwing groups, Andrew Burgin, the national officer of Left Unity, formed by the film-maker Ken Loach two years ago, wrote: “It is heartening to see that one of the first steps forward for the Corbyn movement has been to launch Momentum, an organisation which will seek to act on a mass basis drawing together those both inside and outside the Labour party.
“I hope that Left Unity members are at the heart of these new Momentum groups. The days of entry work are over. They were in many ways counter-productive anyway,” Burgin wrote on inter:change, a Left Unity website.
Burgin warned that poor results in next May’s elections could lead to “a moment of crisis” for Corbyn. “The pressure on the Corbyn leadership to trim their policies to make themselves acceptable in those terms will be immense, particularly given their isolation within the PLP.
“There has to be a mass movement surrounding and protecting this new leadership and helping it resist the pressure from wherever it stems. That is where Left Unity situates itself.”
Separately, the SWP has said it will build links with Momentum while the Socialist party has also said it plans to go to Momentum meetings to argue for the deselection of Labour councillors who will not fight spending cuts.
Meanwhile, a memo leaked to the Evening Standard has revealed the scale of Labour’s new support in London after Corbyn’s election. The report says there have been 872 new membership applications in Harriet Harman’s Peckham constituency; 659 in Chuka Umunna’s Streatham constituency party; 740 in David Lammy’s Tottenham constituency; and 725 in Walthamstow, currently held by Stella Creasy.
This article was written by Patrick Wintour Political editor, for theguardian.com on Saturday 24th October 2015 13.51 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010