THE decisions by two constituency Labour parties (CLPs) to rule motions supporting the Big Ride for Palestine — a charity bike ride raising funds for Palestinian children — out of order shows that Palestinian causes are collateral damage in Labour’s anti-left crackdown.
The CLPs cite the sweeping restrictions on discussion issued by Labour’s general secretary David Evans in his determination to prevent criticism of the exclusion of former leader Jeremy Corbyn from the parliamentary party.
Taboo subjects now range from criticism of any aspect of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s anti-semitism report to any expression of solidarity with Corbyn, any discussion of Labour’s own procedures and even motions of no confidence in Evans himself.
The first time the Big Ride for Palestine got into trouble with Labour was in the summer of 2019, when Tower Hamlets Council refused to allow the ride’s closing rally to take place in the borough.
The objection was reportedly that the event might be seen as a breach of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism, because it referred on its website to Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing.
This autumn Tory Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who has otherwise posed as a champion of free speech at universities, threatened the funding of universities which do not adopt the IHRA definition.
It is hard to imagine that the once obscure definition, whose own author Kenneth Stern has condemned its misuse as “a hate speech code” which has had a chilling impact on free expression, would have attained such power as a repressive tool without the Labour right’s decision to use it as a factional weapon against Corbyn.
The factional nature of that fight is clear from the leadership’s total disregard for the recommendations of the EHRC report in its drive to trash Corbyn’s reputation and expel his supporters.
The cynical abuse of the party’s own rulebook in the letters sent to Jewish mathematician Moshe Machover suspending him — which he has done the movement the service of publishing — shows the party machine is behaving in exactly the manner that was exposed in the leaked report on anti-semitism cases published in spring, which recounted the casual purging of thousands during the 2016 leadership election in an obvious attempt to disenfranchise Corbyn supporters.
Machover’s suspension takes the ever-broadening definition of misconduct further, since attending a demonstration which other, supposedly objectionable individuals also attended is an accusation that could be levelled at anyone who has ever attended a demonstration of any size.
While undoubtedly opportunistic, its implication is that activists should restrict their political activity to pre-approved public appearances. It confirms the Labour right’s deep hostility to all grassroots politics.
This poisonous authoritarianism is not just evident in Labour’s attitude to its own membership.
Starmer has already pushed for increased political censorship, calling on the Tories to deny a broadcasting licence to RT.
Labour is now calling for sweeping internet censorship to combat anti-vax conspiracy theories — measures the Tories could easily exploit to shut down exposés of corruption in the allocation of health contracts, which after all do undermine confidence in public health systems.
The French Communist Party and socialist politician Jean-Luc Melenchon both observed at the weekend’s mass demonstrations that Emmanuel Macron’s authoritarian Global Security Bill cannot be separated from the growth in poverty and inequality.
In Britain too, draconian pushes towards the policing of opinion are tied to the Establishment’s inability to handle social discontent.
Labour’s dual nature as a party embedded in the system but one created to represent the working class means the conflict is sharpest there, and its leaders are inclined to more drastic repressive measures than favoured by the current government.
But as Williamson’s use of the IHRA definition to bully universities shows, the anti-democratic weapons normalised by Labour will be picked up by the Tories whenever it suits them.