Labour’s attempt to rig the Wolverhampton South West parliamentary selection has meant a crackdown on democracy to silence the Left – and such an authoritarian instinct from a ‘government-in-waiting’ will have dark ramifications for the whole country.
While journalists debate whether or not a purge of left-wingers is taking place in the Labour Party, those of us in the tightly-packed constituency of Wolverhampton South West are at the centre of something that couldn’t be referred to as anything but that.
The historic constituency is probably most well known nationally for being a well of support for Enoch Powell at the time of his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, with the local Conservative Club (now the African Caribbean Heritage Centre) being a core part of his regional base. In recent years, the constituency has bounced between Labour and Tory, with the West Midlands’ first black woman MP, Eleanor Smith, being elected there in 2017.
In December 2019, Eleanor lost her seat. But down to the constant work of herself and Constituency Labour Party (CLP) activists, the margin of defeat was slim and the increased Tory vote far beneath that of other neighbouring ‘red wall’ seats that turned blue. Many of these active members stayed on from the election to work as CLP officers and activists, in a CLP which has been an all-members CLP for many years. This included many left-wingers who fought hard for Eleanor, as well as supporting Jeremy Corbyn nationally.
To be clear: this was not a shouty, confrontational Left grouping but a hardworking, door-knocking Left. Key issues were debated on doorsteps and Labour gained increased credibility, despite extensive media attacks on Corbyn. CLP meetings often powerfully debated motions over Palestine, anti-war politics and the NHS, and the party upheld its activity digitally during the pandemic, despite our secretary being expelled for circulating a leaflet for the Banner Theatre (with the spurious reason that he was supporting another political party, since their performance was backed by the Socialist Labour Party).
A Crackdown on Democracy
At our first post-pandemic annual general meeting (AGM) in July 2022, an executive was elected that largely supported the Left, and was keen to start a process to identify the parliamentary candidate that could return our constituency to Labour. In late September, we were informed that the application process had begun. Those wishing to be included needed to send their details to the party’s regional office.
We were given a timetable for the selection process, and we elected a selection committee of CLP members to join with those from the party’s regional office and trade union reps. CLP members of that selection committee cleared dates in their diaries for the first meeting—a meeting which never materialised. The CLP secretary was informed there were not enough applicants, and then that not enough of these applicants were women; the process was re-opened and re-abandoned.
Selection committee members were given to believe that January 2023 would be the next time to put in diaries. No announcement came, and by February, the process of campaigning for the local elections had started, making it clear that there would be no selection announcement. By June, members were beginning to show concern.
Soon, the person elected as a procedures secretary by the committee was expelled on the basis of pro-Palestinian social media comments. After this, the CLP members of the committee met and elected a new secretary, informing the regional office. In July, we discovered through social media that the process had reopened and there was a short window to re-apply, with at least one local candidate being informed that she needed not re-apply.
On the Left, many were supporting Mish Rahman, a Labour national executive committee member and trade unionist who made it clear that he had applied and had gained the backing of a significant number of unions and socialist societies. When the regional office organised candidate interviews, it became clear that Mish had been blocked; soon, we were given information that there was a longlist, but because it only included three people, it would automatically become a shortlist. There was no need for the CLP selection committee, and the process would move directly to a hustings, ignoring branch nominations.
Of the accepted applicants, only one is local, though we know that a number of members—including local councillors—put their names forward. The names of the other two shortlisted candidates were unknown to South West Party members until 24 July, when they received an email from the regional office appointing a procedures secretary.
This is why left-wing members have been campaigning to halt the selection process and have it reopened, arguing that the current process breaches party rules and silences local people. We are calling for the overturning of the seven-day notice period, since it discriminates against members who need time to make arrangements to attend meetings, as well as the three-day window to register for an online vote and the absence of postal votes, since such a process would drive a coach and horses through any semblance of electoral principles.
We are also calling for an overturning of the sixteen-month cut-off date for eligibility to vote, since it will disenfranchise dozens of members, and for an updating of Labour’s systems, since members with valid e-mail addresses are not receiving any information and people with no e-mail addresses have not been contacted either. We are also highlighting how two of the candidates have had ‘difficulties’ in accessing the membership list, how a shortage of women candidates was given for the delay in the selection despite the fact we know local women candidates applied, and also how credible candidates have been blocked from standing despite having more than the requisite union and society endorsements.
The truth of it is that all this manoeuvring is in the service of a single candidate. It removes real choice and takes even the vaguest semblance of democratic power out of the hands who knock the doors and put in the footwork for Labour come election time. None of this is surprising from the current leadership, which is clearly interested in little beyond destroying whatever power the Left membership holds and blocking the routes for left-wing politics in British society. That they have to resort to such authoritarian acts and engage in such open disregard for democratic procedures to get their way tells you about the lack of security they feel about their own ideas; this is about the actions of a clique with little vision beyond sorting out jobs for their mates. We urge you to join us in resisting them.Original post