Something strange is happening in the Labour Party.
Over the last twelve months, Labour Headquarters has pulled all the strings it can to attack Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party members.
Recall the last Labour leadership election. Not even 1 year ago, Jeremy Corbyn was nominated as Labour Party leader.
He won by a landslide. No other candidate came close.
Winning on a platform of integrity, honesty and social and economic justice; he toured the country to packed town halls and street rallies, declaring that we needed a “kinder, gentler politics;” a “New Politics” for the future of the country.
Jeremy tapped-in to the frustrations of Labour Party members and supporters. The New Labour era ended under Ed Miliband but it had not been replaced with anything substantial. Jeremy Corbyn was elected to deliver it.
But Corbyn’s appeal transcended the normal boundaries of Labour Party leadership contests. People joined the Labour Party – as members and supporters – to be part of the movement Jeremy had started.
Jeremy’s innate sense of justice, of compassion, of empathy, allowed people from all corners of the country to not just identify with his message; but to be motivated to join the fight against poverty, against war; against “politics as usual.” This was a movement for a better society – a better world – and Jeremy was riding a tidal wave of enthusiastic, passionate and dedicated support.
But there were concerns.
Many expected a quick end to the honeymoon-period. Indeed, many people couldn’t even believe Jeremy Corbyn had sealed the nomination, let alone by a margin larger than any elected leader in Labour’s history.
Having scraped onto the ballot in the last seconds of the PLP’s leadership vote, conventional wisdom suggested Corbyn was on the ballot out of some sort of misplaced pity from senior Party figures.
Some predicted that, since Jeremy had been shunned by the front-benches for nearly thirty years, he could expect a rocky reception at best from his Parliamentary colleagues, expecting not much of a honeymoon period at all.
But few could have predicted what would happen following this victory, just a few months later…
Not only has Jeremy faced continuous assault from the mainstream media, but he has endured the most unprecedented attacks from his own MPs.
No leader has endured so much disloyalty, subversion and outright disdain as Jeremy Corbyn.
The refusal of experienced MPs to serve in a Shadow Cabinet, continuous anti-briefings, public desertion and at least two coup attempts, it is a miracle that Jeremy has not been displaced or resigned.
And yet, despite all this, Jeremy’s support has grown. Recent polling suggests Corbyn is now supported by even more people than at the last leadership election, with over 60% Party members now backing him to continue as leader.
Unwavering and increasing support from the grassroots does present its own problems, however.
The Labour Party machinery has now unleashed what can only be described as a coup against its own members.
Realising they cannot get to Jeremy either politically or via “trying to destroy him as a man,” according to Diane Abbott at a recent PLP meeting, Labour Party HQ has decided to attack him through his supporters.
When Jeremy was voted onto the Labour Leadership ballot just a few weeks ago, the Labour Party machine seemed to have been defeated.
A margin of 18-14 votes had vindicated Corbyn’s democratic right to stand as well as his supporters’ conviction that any attempt to remove him from the ballot would be a gross attack on democracy.
Whilst celebrations were underway across the country, news broke-out from Labour HQ: the same NEC that kept Corbyn on the ballot had disenfranchised 150,000 Labour members from voting in the leadership election, and supporter registration fees had increased by over 800%.
Clearly, Labour HQ was only content to keep Corbyn on the ballot so long as they made a significant dent in his supporters’ right to vote.
Besides the legal problems the NEC’s decision has presents, there is something much more sinister at work: first, the removal of democratic participation in Party affairs and, second, the pricing-out of many people voting for Jeremy by registering as a supporter.
The increased supporter fees (from £3 to £25) was implemented with the sole intention of preventing people on lower incomes from registering to vote.
This was not just gerrymandering – it was abuse.
If this wasn’t enough, rules barring Labour members registered since 16th January, 2016 had been extended to affiliated members too; overriding Union autonomy and democracy.
And yet, still more steps have been taken.
Under the guise of “preventing abuse,” CLP meetings have been suspended, pro-democracy organisations such as “Momentum,” attacked, and social media accounts and timelines trawled-through on the off-chance that HQ can point to something incriminating to further disenfranchise its members.
We have now entered a kind-of “Panopticon-Politics” of self-governance; where thought-policing is well and truly entrenched in the minds of many Labour members and supporters.
Many are now afraid to even criticise anti-Corbyn MPs through fear of being labelled “abusive” and having their vote stolen or Party membership suspended.
Political cartoons, memes or honest disagreement – hallmarks of a democratic society – are now openly-discouraged, shutdown or, perhaps worse; not even made in the first-place.
Labour members and supporters are now openly-encouraged to report other members and supporters to Labour HQ if they witness any “abusive behaviour.”
But the idea that “abuse” is carried-out solely by Corbyn supporters is far off the mark.
Indeed, Jeremy Corbyn is the only leadership candidate (including former candidate, Angela Eagle) to explicitly demand of his own supporters to “behave with civility” and “treat all with respect”. Corbyn has dedicated an entire section of his campaign website to “Respect and Unity.”
Owen Smith has not done this and has, at no point, condemned his own supporters for abusing Jeremy Corbyn, pro-Corbyn MPs, members or supporters.
A fundamental re-think is required not just for how politics is conducted but for how politics is encouraged.
It is too easy to become disinterested, cynical and angry at political Parties and processes; particularly when part of these processes.
The attacks from Labour Party HQ only encourage abuse.
The responsibility lies not with members and supporters who are moved to make “abusive” comments to opposing forces within the Party or wider political arena; but with those driving the abuse and shutting-down channels of critical engagement and community within these organisations.
Condemning “abuse” is easy when encouraging it to take-place.
But take-heart in this: the Labour Party hierarchy is terrified. They are terrified that their schemes have failed. Terrified that Jeremy will come-back stronger. Terrified he will win again. Terrified that a democratic, Socialist, pro-member NEC will be elected, causing more members to join. Above-all, they are terrified they will lose their jobs.
But Labour’s message should be this: Don’t be scared. Join us. Come on-board. And let’s unite to build a better future – a better world – together.