Who’s Afraid of Democracy?

owen_smith_2013_croppedThe British Labour Party, that’s who.

Towards the end of this month, the Labour Party, one of the two major political parties in the United Kingdom, will hold a leadership election. Elections should always be welcomed by democrats, right? Especially after a tumultuous year in British politics which has seen a referendum to keep the UK together, and another to separate it from the European Union; a new (unelected) Prime Minister and Cabinet, and a whole new ball game to work out as the country separates itself from an institution it’s been part of for nearly half a century. Yes, this is surely a good time to take stock and decide who we, the British electorate, want to represent us; both in Parliament and to the outside world.

So, all good, you’d think, if you were a Labour supporter? Especially as the Party suffered a disastrous defeat in the 2015 General Election, resulting in its then leader, Ed Miliband, falling on his sword and leaving the political stage with great haste. While the Conservatives (“Tories”) are reconfiguring themselve post-Brexit, this should be a perfect time for its only credible opposition (despite past Liberal/”Social Democrat” attempts to take away votes from both Labour and Tory Parties) to take stock and get its ducks in a row to stand against a deeply divisive government.

Except that’s the last thing the Labour Party is doing. What it is doing instead is tearing itself apart. While there are similarities with the U.S. Democratic Party’s partisan rivalry between supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, divisions in the U.K.’s “liberal” party have shown themselves to be much deeper and visceral here in the old country. Imagine Bernie Sanders being a standing, elected Democrat runner for the Presidency, his party lodging a vote of no confidence in him, then waiting for a succession of any-old-how candidates to step up and stand against him.

And then… when it becomes evident that said elected leader is the most popular figure in the history of the Party since its founder, begin a series of legal and extra-legal procedures to stop him being re-elected.

And then… do all this stating as your reason the the said leader is “unelectable.”

You couldn’t make it up, right? Right. It’s the truth; which is, as we know, stranger than fiction.

The Labour Party was formed, as the name suggests, by labour unions, more than a century ago, to give working people a representative voice in the U.K. Parliament. As such, it retains links with those unions, diminished though they have become in the intervening century. Jeremy Corbyn is supported by the biggest labour union in the United Kingdom, and many other unions besides. This biggest union, “Unite the Union,” realising that millions of people without union representation support Corbyn, came up with a way for the unemployed and other community members to join its ranks, and thus be affiliated to the Labour Party, at a fee which unwaged people could afford and justify without taking food out of their kids’ mouths.

This would have given them a vote in the Labour leadership contest.

“Would have.” Past tense. This scheme was scuppered by a group of people who saw it as undesirable.

Who could that be? Who would want to disenfranchise supporters of an already elected leader, whose policies are directly tailored to benefit them, the most vulnerable people in society?

You’re ahead of me, I know; but the answer is… The Labour Party! Yes, really!

In case you’re wondering, the reason I know this is because I tried to obtain a vote in this process by joining the Unite union. Unfortunately, because of the efforts of Labour’s National Executive Committee, the vote I almost had has been taken away from me. They decided that, unless I pay ten times the fee I paid to the Union, I am not eligible to vote. Corbyn appealed and won; this appeal was lost on appeal. The Labour Party took itself to the second highest court in the land three times to make sure that I can’t vote.

If this all seems a bit like Alice in Wonderland, let me put a little cherry on the cake.

A week ago, I received a phone call from the latest stooge to stand against Corbyn. I was asked if I intended to vote for said stooge. I replied that I was ineligible to vote. This was news to the caller, who lost interest and rang off instantly.

Maybe this sort of thing goes on in other countries’ political processes; I don’t know. I do know that I’ve come face to face with a beast that bears no resemblance to the organisation founded by Keir Hardie in 1906. And more importantly, there is surely a question to be asked here, from the land of the “Mother of All Parliaments;” with democrats like these, who needs fascists?


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