Dave Lister argues for a more tolerant and civil party culture
Talking to people from across the country, it is clear that a toxic atmosphere has been created in some CLPs by a relatively small number of people. This is particularly true of some GCs but has even percolated down to some wards. This toxicity does not tend to be created by the large number of enthusiastic young and not so young people who have joined Momentum, but by a small number of sectarians buried in the disputes of the past. This can be extremely damaging for the party and for individuals.
Thus, in one North West London CLP both the Chair and the Secretary were hounded out of office by a stream of personal attacks and some intimidation. In my own CLP in the past some members stopped attending GC meetings because of the aggressive atmosphere created by just one individual. As Francis Beckett and Mark Seddon – who are largely pro-Corbyn – wrote in their book Corbyn and the Strange Rebirth of Labour England: “What the present authors wonder at is how in recent years a party with such noble aims managed to harbour so many clearly quite malevolent and unpleasant people.”
Of course, unacceptable behaviour is not confined to some members of the hard left. There are plentiful examples of manoeuvrings by right-wingers and Blairites. The classic case is the old response to people wanting to join their local party that it was ‘full’.
There are a number of ways of addressing the toxicity problem. Meetings need to be firmly chaired and personal and/or abusive attacks need to be stopped immediately. There needs to be a recognition that the concept of the Labour Party as a ‘broad church’ is valuable. We saw in the 1980s how bitter divisions in the party helped to keep the Tories in power for 18 years. There is a danger of party ‘moderates’ drifting out around Brexit and sectarianism and gravitating towards the centre grouping of MPs (Change UK) or the Lib Dems. On the other hand, it is worth dwelling on how most of the party was able to unite around the 2017 manifesto which was both left social democratic and much more radical than anything we have stood on since 1981.
Very careful thought needs to be given to the selection process for MPs. A hard left sectarian Labour Party is not going to win a general election. There are some MPs who tried to thwart Corbyn from the outset who I would not want to re-select. However, where MPs, or for that matter local councillors, are hardworking, have the interests of their constituents at heart and have strong local support they should not be automatically removed because they do not declare themselves to be Jeremy Corbyn supporters.
We need a united but diverse Labour Party and we desperately need to see a Labour Government elected. If we can all accept the right of people to hold views different to our own, we are more likely to achieve this goal. Some people seem to believe that with greater concentration on winnable constituencies we can easily win next time. Experience however suggests that this is not a foregone conclusion by any means. The polls suggest that both of the main parties have lost support currently. Constant internal wrangling is very likely to erode Labour’s support even further. Remember, unity is strength.