Pamela Fitzpatrick discusses with Shabbir Lakha current Labour leadership, the targeting of socialists in the Labour party and what the left can do to counter it
There has been a new wave of Labour members receiving letters from the party threatening them with expulsion. As someone who has received one of these letters, could you tell us what are the grounds the party is using for these actions?
I received a letter from the Labour Party on 23rd August 2021 notifying me that I may be ‘auto excluded’ because there was reason to believe I was a supporter of the socialist organisation, Socialist Appeal, which was proscribed by the National Executive Committee (NEC) in July 2021. The evidence that I was a Socialist Appeal supporter was that they had interviewed me in May 2020 about my application to be General Secretary of the Labour Party.
I was told I had seven days in which to prove that this was not the case. No indication was given as to what proof would be required, nor who would judge my case. There would be no right to a hearing to put my case, nor of any appeal.
We are in dire crisis the like of which has not been seen for decades. In this climate, to prioritise expelling our own members is unforgivable.
Initially, I thought it must be a fake letter. After all, it’s difficult to imagine a party born of trade unions adopting such an approach. Applying rules retrospectively, with such disproportionately harsh sanctions, are the actions you expect to find in repressive regimes, not that of a democratic political party.
But more was to follow. On 30th August I received a second letter from the Labour Party containing a notice of investigation. This time my ‘crime’ was that I had been a speaker at the launch of Don’t Leave Organise in April 2020. I was informed in the letter that, in the audience, there were former members who had been expelled for antisemitism. In fact, this was an old complaint made back in 2020, which party structures had already dealt with and dismissed.
In a social media post about the letter, you mentioned a complaint of harassment you made several years ago, how did the party deal with your complaint?
I have been a Labour member for decades, held numerous positions in the CLP and as an elected councillor in Harrow since 2014. I am currently Chair of the Labour Group and Chair of the Planning Committee. I had never experienced any problems in the Party until 2015. At that time I was one of four people who set up Harrow for Corbyn to support Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become the Labour Leader. Since that time, I have been subjected to multiple vexatious complaints, hostile briefings to the press, defamatory statements, threats to my family and intrusion into my workplace. The vexatious complaints and harassment stem largely from a small group of men, who hold positions in the party. The harassment is frequently misogynistic and has caused my family considerable distress, but the party has so far failed to deal with it.
A complaint that I made in 2018 set out the organised nature of this harassment and bullying. In July of this year, I received a telephone call from the Governance and Legal Unit. I was informed that a hearing in respect of my complaint was imminent. I was asked whether I wished to give evidence at the hearing and I confirmed that I would, as this matter had caused me such distress.
However, I have heard nothing further regarding my complaint hearing. Instead, I am now threatened with the investigation and disproportionately severe punishment on absurd charges.
What do you think the motivation is for the Starmer leadership to treat members in this way?
It is unfathomable to me why any leader should treat its own members in this way. There seems to be utter contempt for those that work the hardest in the party. We are a membership organisation and one of our greatest assets is that of our members.
Starmer shamelessly played on his background as a human-rights lawyer to get elected as the leader of our party. Yet anyone with the most basic knowledge of the law would baulk at the idea of the retrospective application of rules, and any human-rights lawyer understands that the freedom of association is one of our most basic human rights.
However, in my view, it would be wrong to place the blame solely on Starmer. Of course, he is the Leader and must accept responsibility, but it goes far wider than one man. Starmer is inexperienced as a politician and appears to have surrounded himself with people who care more for a battle with the left than dealing with the issues affecting working-class people.
I have worked in the voluntary sector and have never known such poverty and desperation amongst so many. The onset of the Covid pandemic highlighted so vividly the inequality that a decade of savage cuts has led to. Too many people, including Labour members, have lost loved ones and many more have lost their jobs or homes.
It is estimated that some fourteen million people in the UK now live in poverty. This level of poverty is not by accident but is due to an ideology pursued by an extreme right-wing government. Whilst poverty has soared, the Government has wasted billions and has presided over some 150,000 deaths due to its incompetence in handling the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UN special rapporteur on Poverty Philip Alston said that ‘ideological’ cuts to public services since 2010 have led to ‘tragic consequences’. The UK’s social safety net has been ‘deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.’
We are, it seems, moving backwards to a time when working-class lives are of little value. Towards a support system so basic as to be more akin to that of the Victorian poor laws rather than the rights-based social-security system we fought for.
We are in dire crisis the like of which has not been seen for decades. In this climate, to prioritise expelling our own members is unforgivable. To witness MPs celebrating the rule changes which protect their own interests, whilst instructing Andy McDonald to vote against a £15 minimum wage is genuinely shocking. But it is an indicator of how out of touch some in the PLP and NEC are with what is happening to so many people in the UK. There seems to be no awareness that all the elements are now present for serious civil unrest and a rise of the far-right. The lessons of the past appear to be ignored in favour of a power grab.
How do you think the left inside or outside the party should respond?
Many are in despair, feeling that socialism is further away than ever before. The attacks on our democratic processes, the arrogance of some of our elected members, the apparent gerrymandering of votes, leave many wondering what on earth has happened to our once great party, and fearful that a socialist government is further away than ever.
In my view this is wrong. What we are witnessing is the death of centre-ground, establishment politics. Whilst the old guard are clinging on to power and using any means to do so, a new world is struggling to be born.
Some of our Labour politicians are failing to speak for working-class people and instead appear more concerned for their own interests. We should remember that the Labour Party is bigger than any one individual, and the leadership of the party is only ever temporary. Those who hold positions of power stand on the shoulders of giants. Our party was borne out of the trade unions to give a voice to working-class people in Parliament. After a decade of austerity, and in the post-Covid era, that voice is needed more than ever.
As socialists, we understand the necessity for a different society, based on need and not profit. We are the ones with the ideas, the energy, and the desire to make the world a better place for everyone. We need to build the leadership that can answer the concerns of working-class people to put an end to this rotten system once and for all.
As Sylvia Pankhurst said: ‘We do not make beams from the hollow, decaying trunk of the fallen oak. We use the up-soaring tree in the full vigour of its sap.’
Pamela Fitzpatrick is a Labour Councillor in the London Borough of Harrow, Vice-Chair of the Labour Representation Committee and Chair of Unite Branch LE/785. She was recently elected to Labour’s National Women’s Committee and stood as a PPC in Harrow East in 2019.
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Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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