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20 September 2016updated 09 Sep 2021 8:51am

Labour expelled me from the party – for supporting women’s rights

The Women's Equality Party deliberately leaves affiliate membership open to members of other parties.

By Lucy Whitehouse

There are many things incompatible with the Labour party’s aims. As such, if you want to be a member, there’s a number of political missteps to avoid.

For example, if you find yourself cackling merrily at white supremacist posts on social media, or handcrafting homophobic slogan t-shirts for when you pop to the shops, or slipping out for a skinny dip to celebrate the Ukip conference, Labour might not be for you. Hate speech, abuse, fraud, violence, failing to pay your membership fee or supporting incompatible groups – these are the things for which you might, quite reasonably, be kicked out. Last week, though, I was expelled for supporting women’s rights.

Now, yes, the list of things at odds with our largest left-wing political organisation is understandably lengthy, but being an affiliate of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), as I am, should not be one of them. The WEP is non-partisan political party that aims to work collaboratively across the political spectrum to further women’s rights and move towards greater equality. They advocate for things like shared parental leaveadequate sex education and properly funded domestic abuse services. Being an affiliate – not a full member – of the WEP simply shows your support for those aims.

It doesn’t indicate you’d necessarily vote for them in any election where their candidates are up against Labour’s. It doesn’t suggest you oppose any policy put forward by Labour. It doesn’t mean you’d give your time, efforts and energy to the WEP over Labour. But being an affiliate of the WEP (affiliate membership is deliberately open to members of other parties so that those members can advocate for WEP aims within major parties) is apparently cause enough for Labour to ban me.

I suppose it’s possible that when Labour says “by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”, I’m completely mishearing it as a call for collaborative politics to work towards the society we want to live in. I do have fluid in my middle ear. Then again, it’s written unambiguously in clause IV of their constitution, which is also printed on every membership card. Labour aims, it claims, to create a society “where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.” Yet, as a young woman who cares about women’s rights, keen to be involved in the democratic process and political life of this country, I have been silenced and ejected. How can Labour possibly square these clearly opposed realities?

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The anniversary of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership win dawned last week, and with it arrived a bureaucratically cold letter signed by Labour’s General Secretary Iain McNicol. Since I “support a political organisation other than an official Labour Group or unit of the party”, I am “ineligible to remain a member of the Labour Party”. The slippery euphemisms (let’s call an expulsion an expulsion) and autocratic aloofness of this communication weren’t the most uncomfortable elements; more concerning was its Gestapo-style opener. “It has been brought to our attention with supporting evidence that you are a member of the Women’s Equality Party.”

Putting aside for a moment the discussion of how appropriate it is to kick someone out for this reason, what they were thinking wording it this way? What kind of informant network are they running, and why? What is this undisclosed evidence, and why would anyone able to access it be vindictive or panicked enough to want to oust me for supporting the WEP?

On top of the dogged devotion to due process at play here, farcical but with disquietingly threatening undertones, the gender politics of making women choose between Labour and an organisation explicitly promoting their interests are curious, to say the least. Because it’s not just me they’ve taken umbrage with for supporting women’s rights: a host of bright-eyed, enthusiastic would-be supporters of both groups have had the bright red Labour door slammed in their faces, according to the WEP. One 18-year-old applied to become a supporter of the Labour party – not a full member, and wanting just, I imagine, to register herself as firmly akin with their aims and to offer her willing, valuable support – only to be rejected for having merely liked the WEP on Facebook. Even with the rule book ostensibly there to fall back on, this is patently absurd, exclusionary and unfair.

The Labour party is keen to make sure anyone voting in this week’s leadership election is a legitimate Labour player, fair enough. Making sure members are there because they legitimately want to see the party elected so it can carry out its aims is definitely reasonable. But any notion of WEP “entryism” is just ridiculous – people like us aren’t some conspiracy to be stamped out. The WEP, with its crucial aims that Labour surely shares and its consciously collaborative way of operating, isn’t a threat to Labour, but an ally. It’s a real shame Labour has chosen to plug member-backed resources into this misjudged attempt to reduce the ever more complex modern political landscape to some base tribal battlefield. While it attempts desperately to ram a genie back into a bottle that has long since broken, the world watches on, unimpressed and in disbelief. Politics isn’t football, loyalty should be much more complicated than “either with us or against us”.

Society, politics and parliament need bright young women like my fellow WEP supporters who have been rejected and banned by the Labour party. Any glance at representation levels in the House of Commons will tell you that (tackling this issue, incidentally, is a WEP policy). Labour’s national women’s conference is this weekend; having excitedly bought a ticket months ago, I’m now not allowed to attend. I’ve been shut out from even responding to the expulsion for five years, according to the letter I’ve received, until the National Executive Committee (NEC) reconvenes and they consider any applications from people like me. As a young person, that’s the equivalent of a fifth of my life so far that Labour have decided I’m ineligible to be part of their movement – huge. It all makes especially galling the repeated (and ridiculous) claim that Corbyn’s administration is putting women off politics, when the party’s own NEC are actively closing the door to any kind of access to the Labour party to young women for supporting women’s rights.

The most incomprehensible and weird part of it all, is this doesn’t mean saving Labour. Not by any metric, to any end. This purge, unless they descend to some truly darkly undemocratic depths in the coming few days, is going to have no impact on the fact Jeremy Corbyn is, almost certainly, about to be chosen again by Labour members to lead them. Come Saturday, the Labour party will have alienated a whole host of people for nothing. Its website states that the party welcomes “anyone with an interest in building a better Britain”. Hi guys, that’s me and the rest of the WEP supporters you’ve ejected and barred. “There’s a common goal,” it continues: “ensuring the party remains open and democratic and help maintain contact between the party, the people and the government”.

Thanks for your letter, Mr McNicol, but there seems to be some mistake.

Lucy Whitehouse is a journalist and editor. She is a political activist, particularly concerned with women’s rights.​

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