Ken Loach Ken Loach. Photo: Chris Payne / Cornerhouse / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, license linked at bottom of article

With the expulsion of Ken Loach, Keir Starmer is escalating his McCarthyite witch-hunt against the left in Labour, argues Alex Snowdon

Ken Loach’s expulsion from the Labour Party is the latest escalation in the party leadership’s witch-hunt of socialists. The veteran film director’s expulsion comes at the same time as a disciplinary attack on Jewish Voice for Labour, an organisation of left-wing Jewish members of the party.

Ken Loach announced the news on Twitter:

“Labour HQ finally decided I’m not fit to be a member of their party, as I will not disown those already expelled. Well, I am proud to stand with the good friends and comrades victimised by the purge. There is indeed a witch hunt. Starmer and his clique will never lead a party of the people. We are many, they are few. Solidarity.”

The Labour Party apparatus has decided that there is no place in its ranks for Britain’s best-known socialist film-maker. It sends a powerful message to thousands of socialists that they, and their politics, are not welcome. 

The pretext for expulsion is reportedly Loach’s refusal to disavow the groups that were recently proscribed by the Labour Party’s national executive committee. Labour’s NEC voted to proscribe four left-wing groups, leading to the ‘auto-exclusion’ of its members. In a McCarthyite twist, this is now seemingly being extended to those who have been in some way associated with those groups, or who defend them. 

There is widespread revulsion at Loach’s expulsion. John McDonnell, former shadow chancellor, said:

“To expel such a fine socialist who has done so much to further the cause of socialism is a disgrace. Ken’s films have exposed the inequalities in our society, have given us hope for change and inspired us to fight back”. 

Loach has been a consistently principled left-wing voice in the Labour Party in recent years. In 2018, he was one of the few prominent Labour left wingers to stand firm against the Labour Party’s adoption of the deeply contentious IHRA definition of antisemitism, which conflates antisemitism with opposition to the Israeli apartheid regime. He argued that it was a dangerous attack on the rights of Palestinians and their supporters. He has subsequently been vindicated. 

Loach defended Jeremy Corbyn against sabotage during Corbyn’s time as party leader between 2015 and 2019. In 2019 he said: “A broad church does not work when the choir is trying to stab the vicar in the back.” Corbyn continues to have the Labour whip suspended, instead sitting as an independent socialist in the House of Commons. 

The witch-hunt is clearly now being extended from the proscribed groups to Jewish Voice for Labour (who may be next on the target list) and to many socialists who defend the groups’ right to remain in the Labour Party. Last week, Jewish Voice for Labour submitted evidence to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. 

JVL’s submission gave evidence of at least 35 investigations of Jewish party members over allegations of antisemitism. Nine of JVL’s seventeen committee members have been investigated, with three of them currently suspended. It looks like Jewish socialists are being targeted disproportionately for disciplinary action. 

Keir Starmer’s witch-hunt is directed at the left and designed to silence socialist voices. It is part of the sharp move to the right that he and his team are executing. Starmer recently gave an interview in which he tried to politically rehabilitate Tony Blair. The current chaos in Afghanistan – the legacy of two decades of war and occupation – is a reminder of the terrible damage that Blair did during his time in Downing Street. 

At a time of growing disaffection with Boris Johnson and his Tory government, the official Opposition is squandering opportunities by attacking its own left wing instead of directing its fire at the Tories. It is preoccupied with demonstrating that Labour would be a safe prospective government for the ruling class. In the coming months the real opposition to the government will come from protest movements and trade unions, not from Starmer’s front bench. 

Loach’s expulsion – together with Corbyn’s ongoing suspension and the attacks on JVL and other groups – also raises questions about the need for political organisation outside the Labour Party. Millions of people are finding that their views and aspirations are unrepresented in electoral politics. Tens of thousands of socialists no longer feel that the Labour Party is their political home. 

A socialist party could potentially bring together many thousands of socialists and attract significant support. For a number of reasons it sadly still seems an unlikely development, but we should be clear that an attachment to Labourism will continue to constrain the left. Whatever the prospects for a new electoral party may be, it is essential that socialists organise independently of Labour and look beyond parliament. 

This means mobilising for big demonstrations outside Tory conference in Manchester in October and at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow the following month. It means strengthening the collective power of trade unions to take action for working people. And it means building socialist organisation that is rooted not in parliamentary manoeuvres and the internal life of an increasingly hostile Labour Party, but in the struggles of social movements and unions. Counterfire is dedicated to that political project.

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Alex Snowdon

Alex Snowdon is a Counterfire activist in Newcastle. He is active in the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition and the National Education Union.​ He is the author of A Short Guide to Israeli Apartheid (2022).

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