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Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn

Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn, Photo: Jeremy Corbyn Flickr / cropped from original / licensed under CC BY 2.0, linked at bottom of article

After recently quitting Labour, Paddy O’Keefe describes the toxic atmosphere of smears and bullying which is hounding dedicated socialists out of the party

On Monday 30 August I received, under the heading of ‘Assessment’, a ‘Notification of Possible Automatic Exclusion from Membership of the Labour Party’. The reason given was that I am a supporter of Labour Against the Witchhunt (LAW) and the only evidence provided to support that was that I had, on 5 June 2021, attended an online meeting hosted by LAW titled Not the Forde Enquiry. Attached to this evidence was a screenshot of the meeting containing my name and image.

The justification for exclusion, and the flimsiness of the evidence, astonished me to such an extent that I decided I could not in all conscience remain a member of an organisation which treated its members with such disrespect and distain. I therefore cancelled my standing order with the party.

I've always considered myself a socialist, but it wasn't until the country was threatened with a Thatcher government that I became active in the Labour Party. I remained active in the party until Kinnock reneged on his previous support for unilateral nuclear disarmament. From then on, apart from helping a friend get re-elected a number of times as a Labour MP, I focused on the anti-war movement and human rights issues.

When Jeremy Corbyn managed to get the required endorsement from MPs to support his leadership bid, I immediately applied for readmission to the party. I was delighted, and somewhat surprised, to discover that my previous record with Respect – the left anti-war electoral coalition formed at the height of the Iraq War – didn't preclude me from Labour Party membership, even though I had been on the National Committee and stood as a candidate in Westminster and European elections,

Corbyn's leadership election victory, his subsequent impact on the political climate in the country and his 2017 general election campaign were the happiest and most exciting times I had experienced in my political life. I was a constituency delegate to conference in successive years during that time.

My support for the Palestinian cause and my criticism of the apartheid Israeli state led to two suspensions from the party, one during Corbyn's leadership, the second under Starmer's.

The first suspension was rescinded and the second was current prior to my exclusion. I was also accused of antisemitism by my ward secretary who reported me to the party. When I threatened to sue the secretary and the party for defamation of character, the complaint was immediately withdrawn and declared by the party to have been "false and utterly without foundation".

I had told the party during my recent suspension that if there were the slightest hint of antisemitism or any form of racism on my part in their conclusion, that I would sue the party for defamation.

It seems to me that the party leadership, with its suppression of free speech, particularly over Palestine, its suspension and expulsion of dissenting members, its ruthless application of false accusations of antisemitism and its use of automatic exclusion, is adopting McCarthyite tactics without even the possibility of an appearance before the Star Chamber. This behaviour at times appears more akin to a cult than a democratic institution. A cult which fails even to possess the primary characteristic of a cult – i.e. a charismatic leader!

I am happy to join the ranks of the expelled with the likes of my old Respect colleague Ken Loach and so many other good socialists.

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