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15 July 2016updated 05 Oct 2023 8:25am

Labour may block supporter applications to vote if they’ve called an MP “scum” or “traitor”

“Terms of abuse that will not be tolerated include (but are not limited to): traitor, scum or scab.”

By Barbara Speed

NEC guidelines leaked to the Morning Star on Thursday seem to show that supporter applications to the Labour party could be blocked if the applicant has publicly used the words “traitor”, “scum”, or “scab” to describe “any candidate, any Labour representative, or any other member”. This could, in theory, include any public social media post. 

Left-wing sites have responded furiously to the move, arguing that the choice of these words unfairly targets the left of the party. The Canary, an alternative left-wing news site, ran the headline: “Labour are trawling your social media to stop you voting in the leadership election.”

Vox Political advises Corbyn supporters to avoid this language on social media, and wonders why words like “rabble”, “dogs” or “Trots” – insults which tend to be directed at the left of the party – were not included in the guidelines. 

Arguably, they were. The full definition of unacceptable language in the leaked document shared by Morning Star reporter Conrad Landin is as follows (emphasis mine):

“Applications will be referred to the NEC panel in the following circumstance:

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“….If they publically state or send any abusive comments regarding any candidatate, any Labur representative, or any other member. This goes beyond general disparaging remarks, and includes the use of aggressive or foul language. Terms of abuse that will not be tolerated include (but are not limited to): traitor, scum or scab.

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[And] if they have made any public statements of a racist, homophobic, or otherwise abusive or discriminatory nature.”

Terms beyond “traitor”, “scum” and “scab” will therefore also be flagged, though it is notable that these are the only ones quoted here. 

It’s a timely reminder that parties have always had guidelines of this sort, but they have become much harder to navigate in an era of social media. 

I contacted the Labour press office, which did not confirm the leaked guidelines, but also didn’t deny them. A spokesperson directed me to the following line in the NEC’s published procedural guidelines for the 2016 leadership election (and which is standard fare in their voting guidelines):

22. No abuse of any kind by members or supporters shall be tolerated. All eligible members and supporters must conduct themselves in a calm and polite manner and be respectful to each other at all times. Behaviour including, but not limited to, racist, abusive or foul language, abuse against women, homophobia or anti-Semitism at meetings, on social media or in any other context will be dealt with according to the rules and procedures of the Labour Party.

The leaked guideline naming specific terms seem to be an expansion of this more broadly-worded guide. I will update this piece if the NEC releases any more information on this. 

It’s worth noting that the leaked guidelines, if genuine, only seem to apply to those applying to be registered supporters of the party, not members – though this includes members who joined since January 2016, who must also register as supporters to vote. Supporters can register to vote in the membership election for a £25 fee between 5pm on Monday 18 July and 5pm on Wednesday 20 July. 

As the Morning Star noted today, this means members, and those already registered – such as Labour MP Anna Turley, who called Unite leader Len McCluskey an “arsehole” on Twitter on Thursday, or Dennis Skinner, who compared the Labour rebels to “scab” miners earlier this week – won’t be held to these standards.