The slow, inexorable hard left takeover of the party machine is a disaster for Labour

by Rob Marchant

And so it was that, last Thursday, we learned that John McDonnell MP wanted to abolish Labour’s Compliance Unit (£), which deals with constitutional and disciplinary issues.

The NEC of the Labour Party are looking at the whole exercise — how we can move away from this regime that expels people, prevents people joining.”

Not exactly front-page news, of course. Dull, internal workings of the party machine.

But it turns out it is rather important. And it is only the most recent in a number of such events.

The basic point is this: McDonnell wants to make it harder to expel people from the party and, by extension, easier for others – and clearly here he means previously expelled or suspended people –to re-enter.

Now why, one wonders, might anyone want to do that? Is it because the Compliance Unit is a group of over-zealous thought police, imposing a rigid discipline and barring entry to all but the most blind followers of the faith?

If only it were resourced up to be even close to that. It is a handful of people who try to keep the party in roughly sensible shape, by dealing with those whose presence is actually harmful to its body politic. Those who actually belong to another party, for example, or campaign for one. The actual number of cases dealt with is small and expulsions are pretty rare occurrences.

No, like most functions in party HQ, it is a minimalist service that all political parties require in order to function. And you can see from the scandals of recent years in newer parties like UKIP or Respect, or those which have previously been used to a lower level of scrutiny, like the Lib Dems until 2010, this is a vital service for a mainstream party.

In fact, its removal would seem to be a firm indicator of a party bent on leaving the mainstream and reducing its influence. Which, under its current management, it is.

No, there is only one possible reason for making it harder to expel people. And that is because your own people are the very ones whose behaviour puts them at risk of expulsion. In particular, it is to allow all manner of entryists from far-left fringe parties – for example, a number of members of the “grassroots organisation” Momentum, often also members of one of these other organisations – to enter the party without difficulty.

It is the equivalent of a country with a threatening neighbour suddenly finding it has porous borders, and we need not look much further than recent events in eastern Ukraine to see how that generally turns out.

This is not some nutty, off-the-wall local councillor. This is the Shadow Chancellor, effectively the Number Two full-time politician in the party. This man thinks that all the major parties which have basic controls in their membership recruitment – essentially all parties, all over the democratic world – are wrong and he is right.

On what planet do we not need to exclude people who campaign for other parties? Or are racists? Or, as in the most recent case highlighted by John Woodcock MP, paedophiles?

It is quite probable that the Times story is right, and the NEC will not in the end take this path. But it is the fact we are even discussing it which is deeply worrying.

As the piece also notes, we also recently had the attempt to create an NEC-led staffing unit, with the inevitable impact of politically-inspired appointments, instead of the best person for the job.

Not to mention the attempts to scrap the National Policy Forum (NPF) and create policy through the NEC as well. And that this is being done disingenuously in the name of party democracy is hugely ironic: it is not as if the party’s grassroots can easily channel its views democratically through the NEC, any more than union activists manage to channel theirs through similar committees to their own, usually quite unrepresentative leaderships (and if you don’t agree with that, Uncut invites you to inspect the abysmal turnout in most big unions’ General Secretary ballots).

This is not increased democracy in deciding policy, such that this is even possible within the limited resources available to a British political party (and much less one which is broke).

It is a mirage; convenient smoke and mirrors. The NPF is not perfect, but it was at least conceived as a decent attempt at giving activists a say in party policy, including some necessary filters to save us all from the madder ideas which might come out.

Try policy-by-committee and you are back to the party’s insane 1983 manifesto. A hotch-potch of mostly unworkable ideas with no common theme. What is a camel, the old joke goes? A horse designed by committee.

But this is a minor thing compared with the damage that could be done by tinkering with the party’s ability to protect itself: not just from entryists, but from the downright bad people who can easily bring the party into disrepute if not dealt with effectively.

All this together adds up to something: if it was not clear before, now we can certainly see the endgame: it is one of slowly dismantling the party’s current apparatus for managing itself.

In short, to take away the very controls which helped Labour repel Militant, an earlier existential threat.

We can sit there, make excuses for why this is all perfectly reasonable, and let it continue. Or we can choose to do something about it.

The upcoming NEC elections this summer would be a very good time to start. If that will not already be too late.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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23 Responses to “The slow, inexorable hard left takeover of the party machine is a disaster for Labour”

  1. Under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, five sitting Conservative MPs joined Labour, each with absolutely no application process. The whole thing was always played out entirely on television, entirely on the day.

    None of them ever recanted a single past opinion or action as having been wrong at the time. On the night of his defection, Alan Howarth was on Newsnight, still defending the Poll Tax and the imposition of VAT on domestic fuel and power, but by then in receipt of the Labour Whip.

    Of those five, three became Labour Ministers, including one in the Cabinet, and three are now on the Labour benches in the House of Lords. All because, as I have heard Shaun Woodward say in the flesh, “My party had left me.” So each of them joined what he considered the Conservative Party to have been until the day of his defection, or a very short time before then.

    Those days were 8th October 1995 (Howarth), 21st June 1998 (Peter Temple-Morris), 18th December 1999 (Woodward), 15th January 2005 (Robert Jackson), and 26th June 2007 (Quentin Davies). Woodward ended up being given the Cabinet position that Brown had wanted to give to Paddy Ashdown. One of several Lib Dems whom Brown had wanted as Ministers, in spite of the healthy Labour overall majority at the time.

    The Compliance Unit seems to exist to guarantee continued Compliance with that. Both now, and into some future when last year’s Leadership Election had been undone in a coup that would, again, have been played out entirely on television, entirely on the day. Despite the fact that the economy is about to collapse. Proving Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell right, as surely as did the Crash in 2008.

  2. Rallan says:


  3. paul barker says:

    You use the word “Inexorable” in the headline, admitting that The “Takeover” cant be stopped, so why are you still in Labour ? The Hard Left are the majority now, its too late to use democratic means to get back “Your” Party. Any attempt to use undemocratic means will just lose you public sympathy. You should be planning how to leave & where to go.

  4. James Martin says:

    Rob Marchant states “On what planet do we not need to exclude people who campaign for other parties? Or are racists? Or, as in the most recent case highlighted by John Woodcock MP, paedophiles?”. You see Rob, it is this level of childish argument and constant deliberate misrepresentation that reduced the right wing that you support first to a laughing stock and then to an irrelevance. Yes, many of us want to get rid of the current Compliance Unit, but that does not then mean that we don’t want *any* membership vetting arrangements where complaints or disputed membership applications can be looked at, but to misrepresent things like Woodcock and you do means you lose all credibility.

    The fact is that the compliance unit that currently exists is secretive, lacks transparency, has no automatic appeal rights to its decisions and so far as I’m aware does not even feature or get a mention in the current rule book. In other words not only is it potentially not the best system that we could have, it is also potentially unconstitutional. But of course rather than debate what sort of membership vetting and complaints procedures we need you just use things like this to continue to try and score cheap political points without realising that it just makes you look… cheap.

  5. John P Reid says:

    David Lindsay, yes Alan howarth did defend the poll tax, I know Steve a ex Squaddie and labour voter who use to blog here a lot,defended it too,
    Temple Morris and Shaun Woodward were very left wing Tories,too the left of many labour Mps actually

    Not sure the relevance, we rely in swing voters who voted tory,so why, the problem with ex Tory MPs, any more than George brown, Reg prentice ,David Owen backing the Tories after they felt labour were too left wing,and look how many votes they took with them

    This is more about, Trots who infiltrated the party,who nearly destroying it,ignoring the rules to rejoin, look at Christine Shawcroft, backing Lufthur Rahman ,or those who backed class war.
    These people put personal attacks in Harriet Harman Rqchel reeves, yet are trying to get back in to intimidate ,moderates

  6. Madasafish says:

    I see we have commentators who are so knowledgeable about economics they forecast economic crashes.
    Pity they did not do so in 2007…

  7. James says:

    If Corbyn’s the definitive answer I’d love to know what the question is.

  8. Tafia says:

    What happens within the Labour Party is the wishes of the Labour Party membership anmd quite right to.

  9. Madasafish says:

    James says:

    If Corbyn’s the definitive answer I’d love to know what the question is.”

    How do we select a Leader who appeals to a vocal minority and ensure we don’t engage with the majority of voters.?

  10. Henrik says:

    Comrades, are you absolutely *sure* you haven’t got a Tory mole inside your Party HQ, busily engineering policy to your disadvantage?

    Don’t get me wrong, pretty much everything the Shadow Chancellor, the Leader, the Shadow SofS for Defence and the renowned military expert Ken Livingstone come up with suits me just fine – and I’d like a lot more of what they’re doing – but then I don’t have Labour’s best interests at heart.

    I do rather worry about the fact that you guys are meant to be HM Opposition. Oh, and a political party, appealing to a broad electorate, rather than some sort of Sixth Form Common Room Revolutionary Socialist Workers’ Front.

  11. John p Reid says:

    Tarfa ok the party is swinging to the left 49% of the 72% who voted, backed Jac, but undemocratic trots are ousting others, using tactics to get their way.

  12. Ordernado says:

    So while progress plan to try to return the Labour party,a socialist party,to a neo con Tory look alike,should we not wonder whether these right wing people are in the wrong party?.

  13. Ordernad says:

    So the Right wing progress secret unelecte allies of Mandelson and Blair think the Labour Party should follow their unelectable policies.

  14. John R says:

    Tafia is right. It is up to the Labour membership who is a member. However, voters have a right to know what is happening within Labour and how it is evolving under its new Leader.

    For example, Gerry Downing (Socialist Fight) was expelled from Labour by the Compliance Unit last August. After appeal to the NEC he has now been reinstated (1).

    What are the views of Mr Downing and “Socialist Fight” that the NEC now sees as compatible with Labour membership?

    We “advocate critical support and tactical military assistance from the working class to all those fighting for the defeat of imperialism” (2). This includes “Islamic State” and the Taliban.

    When it comes to 9/11, Mr Downing writes, “it is the justified outrage of the oppressed as opposed to the outrage of the oppressor” and “is progressive, no matter how distorted its actions are, and must never be ‘condemned’” (3).

    So, Labour’s NEC now, after appeal, have accepted that a political organisation who give critical support to Islamic State and see the “progressive” nature of the 9/11 attacks is compatible with Labour values.




  15. John pReid says:

    Ordenqd, when was Mandleson or blair unalectable, Blair never lost, regarding being in the wrong party, how many banned trots are trying to re infiltrate labour..

  16. steve says:

    Rob can bleat as much as he likes about a “hard Left takeover” and, no doubt, he will.

    But one matter he’ll never address is the loss of 5 million Labour voters during the Blairite era.

    Even Kinnock in ’92 won more votes than Blair did in 2001.

    And, to underline the decline, the Blairite candidate in the leadership election could only net 4.5% of the vote.

    It was a pitiful demise and one which the shamefaced Blairites refuse to address.

  17. Madasafish says:


    Rob can bleat as much as he likes about a “hard Left takeover” and, no doubt, he will.

    But one matter he’ll never address is the loss of 5 million Labour voters during the Blairite era.

    Labour votes in 1992 GE 11.6M Pre Blair.
    Labour votes in 1997 GE 13.5M Blair
    Labour votes in 2001 GE 10.7M
    Labour votes in 2010 GE 9.6M Brown lost

    Nowhere has Labour lost 5 million votes.

    4 million yes from the peak .. but only 2 million from Pre Blair days – which is a far fairer and more accurate measure..

    Exaggeration and inaccuracy mean you don’t have any credibility…

  18. Peter Kenny says:


  19. Mike Homfray says:

    That’s nonsense

    There has been a consistent decline since 1997. Of course many of the 97 Labour voters were one-time-only Tories, and in 2015 we saw a definite upturn in turnout from Tory voters, particularly in the marginals

    But they did nevertheless vote Labour in that year.

    With turnouts having declined from their pre-97 norm of the mid-70’s down to the mid-60’s, there is demographic evidence that the non-voters may be more likely to be Labour-leaning, and certainly not turning out to vote was something the pollsters discovered about the 15 election with regard to Labour pledges.

  20. Tafia says:

    Labour vote

    1922 – 4,076,665 (73%) C
    1923 – 4,267,831 (71%) C
    1924 – 5,281,626 (77%) C
    1929 – 8,048,968 (76%) L
    1931 – 6,339,306 (76%) C
    1935 – 7,984,988 (71%) C
    1945 – 11,967,746 (72%) L
    1950 – 13,226,176 (84%) L
    1951 – 13,912,405 (83%) C
    1955 – 12,405,254 (77%) C
    1959 – 12,216,172 (79%) C
    1964 – 12,205,808 (77%) L
    1966 – 13,096,951 (76%) L
    1970 – 12,208,758 (72%) C
    1974 – 11,645,616 (78%) L
    1974 – 11,457,079 (72%) L
    1979 – 11,532,218 (76%) C
    1983 – 8,456,934 (73%) C
    1987 – 10,029,270 (75%) C
    1992 – 11,560,484 (78%) C
    1997 – 13,518,167 (71%) L
    2001 – 10,724,953 (59%) L
    2005 – 9,552,436 (61%) L
    2010 – 8,606,517 (65%) C
    2015 – 9,347,304 (66%) C

    1.Although Brown had marginally more votes than Foot, the actual voter base was far larger and the turnout lower.

    2. Blair won an absolute majority in 2005, despite only marginally getting more votes than Miliband. Interestingly, in 2005 Labour’s vote fell on an increased turn-out.

    3. Given that the voter base increases year on year as the population increases, both the Tories and Labour are in long term decline since 1945 at the increasing profit of smaller parties, although Labour seem to be in a steeper decline.

    4. The Labour Party were no-hopers and going nowhere until the Trades Unions got a grip of them.

    5. The natural party of government since the Labour Party was born has been the Tories.

    6. Nobody has even won more votes than John Major in 1992 – 14,093,007

  21. Tafia says:

    6. Nobody has even won more votes than John Major in 1992 – 14,093,007

    An election which Labour lost with a vote of 11.5 million, which is more than every election since bar 1997, despite the introduction of corruptable postal voting and a far larger potential voter base because of population growth.

    It’s hardly inspiring and is quite plainly not the fault of Corbyn.

  22. Tafia says:

    And up to and including 1997, turn out had always been above 70%. But something happened between 1997 and 2001 that not only turned voters away from New Labour, but also cayused turn-out to crash a- and it has never come close to 70% since and Labour has never recovered it’s vote. Labour’s vote reduces at and turn-out drops – therefore most of that drop in turn-out is Labour voters, so Labour has done something in it’s soul, changed it’s image if you will, that has turned a significant chunk of it’s own voters into non-voters and until it addresses that it is not coming back.

    And I’ll bet those now non-voters are what Labour would have counted on as it’s core in the past – blue collar workers. It can be cured of course – massive council house building programme, stiff immigration controls (for both EU and non-EU immigrants), a tough and quickly enforced asylum policy, distancing the UK from the EU core (in but not part), proper wages not tax credit subsidies, scrappingg student loans, housing policies and welfare policies that favour the indiginous population over the incomer. But can you see a what is now middle class/professional class Labour Party doing that? No and neoither can I – they have become obsessed that the only way to beat the tories is to be like the tories, not try and win back the several million voters that have abandoned them since 2001.

    It wasn’t the second Gulf War that screwed Labour – that wasn’t until 2003. It was something that happened between 1997 and 2001 – DISILLUSIONMENT.

  23. paul barker says:

    Theres been a long decline in the proportion of the vote going to Labour + Tories, from about 97% in the early 1950s to 69% (GB) in 2015. On top of that polling has found declining proportions of The 2 Party voters seeing themselves as “loyal”. For that reason comparisons with the 1980s are difficult, there is a much bigger pool of “Others” & Swing Voters now & the ties to the big 2 Parties are weaker.
    Lets remember that The Alliance got 25% of the vote in 1983, even after the Falklands pushed them off the front pages, a similar grouping could do much better in 2020.

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