The Labour party has suspended local meetings of its constituency branches until its leadership election is complete.
This unprecedented decision was made to avoid the risk of intimidation and abuse at local meetings, in a party that has become rapidly more divided – with aggression escalating among activists and in politicians’ language.
The party’s National Executive Committee decided to temporarily cancel all local party meetings following the suspension of an entire local Manchester branch on Tuesday evening. The Gorton constituency party was suspended by Labour, and is now under police investigation, after allegations of infighting, bullying and voting irregularities. These allegations “relate to the conduct of Labour Party members both during and outside of Labour Party meetings”, according to Labour HQ.
The morning following Gorton’s suspension, the Huffington Post revealed the NEC’s ban on local branches meeting until Jeremy Corbyn’s fate is decided, reporting: “The move to suspend local party meetings was to prevent further intimidation and violence of MPs and members.”
CLPs (Constituency Labour Parties) are now only permitted to meet to nominate a leadership candidate, and in the circumstance of a by-election or mayoral election:
— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) July 13, 2016
Corbyn and the Labour leadership have been repeatedly urged to combat the climate of intimidation in their party. And this is an example of the party taking measures to prevent such situations arising.
But will it work?
While CLP meetings are easily suspended, MPs must, of course, continue to do constituency work. And there is nothing the party has done to prevent angry activists demonstrating outside the constituency offices/surgeries of MPs they’re not keen on, although Momentum has urged its supporters not to. This kind of protest can cause MPs and their staff to feel personally attacked simply for representing their constituents.
Also, some local members are getting around the ban by holding impromptu, informal meetings. For example, on Wednesday, 41 members of Hounslow’s local Labour party held a spontaneous meeting to reiterate their support for Corbyn after the official Brentford and Isleworth branch meeting was cancelled at short notice. Brentford Labour member James Rosen says: “With Labour branch meetings suspended until after the leadership contest, grassroots Labour members will continue to meet as planned to support Jeremy Corbyn.”
Temporarily cancelling meetings might give aggressors fewer places to go for now. But in a climate where a brick has been thrown through the window of leadership candidate Angela Eagle’s constituency office, there should also be a longer-term strategy to target abuse in and around the party.