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Labour of the People?

22/07/2016 10:02 | Updated 22 July 2016

The recent decisions by the NEC regarding Labour's leadership election are unrepresentative of a party that draws its power from the swathes of people it represents. These decisions restrict access to a democratic process on one's ability to pay. This is not what the Labour party stands for.

Labour's National Executive Committee decided that only members that registered before the 12th of January can vote in the leadership election between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith. As for registered supporters, they had the opportunity to re-register as supporters for the price of £25.

During the last 12 months Labour has undergone a political renaissance. For the first time in decades, political membership was on the rise. It didn't just rise, it exploded. Since the cut-off date of the 12th of January, more people have joined the Labour party than the total number of members the Conservative Party has. This explosion in membership (inc. registered supporters) flies in the face of the common myth of political disengagement, that has been perpetuated the last couple of decades.

All these people that have joined the Labour party should be respected, engaged and celebrated. Unfortunately, the NEC's decision has done exactly the opposite. The decisions taken do not stand up to scrutiny, are conflicting and undemocratic.

The restriction of members voting to those only registered before the 12th of January disenfranchises and alienates members. These are genuine people that have started taking heart from Labour's message about equality and investment and are fed up with the current political landscape. These are also people that have despaired of the lies told by UKIP and the Conservatives during the EU Referendum campaign and they recognise that the only party that is truly internationalist and supports Europe is the Labour party. They crave to be engaged and to have a party that finally listens to and represents them. Denying them the chance and opportunity to shape the future of the Labour party risks alienating them. Their voice must be heard and respected, not marginalised.

Any valid concerns of entryism that could justify such a cut-off period are undermined by the approach to registered supporters. The decision to allow people to become registered supporters in a short window of 2 days for the price of £25 does exactly the opposite of preventing entryism and effectively encourages it. As long as people pay the price, that is.

There is precedent to only allow people who have been in the party for six months to vote for prospective councillors or parliamentary candidates. Again such a decision is undermined by allowing the registration of registered supporters. In addition, during the leadership election of 2015, the cut-off day was set in August, after the leadership election was called, a whole month before the final day to vote in September.

The opportunity for people to register as registered supporters as long as they pay £25 defies any logic. If a cut-off date must be set (and one should) surely this date should be the same for registered supporters and members alike and should be at least the date the leadership was challenged. The decision taken penalises members that have had their interest in politics rekindled and made them join the party in the first place.

Having a fee paid is not an issue. Any registered supporter should be asked to pay a notional fee to associate themselves with the party. The £3 requested last year could be argued as low and an increase could be justified. Asking for £25 however it is not.

£25 represents 3.5 hours work for someone on the minimum wage. For those living hand to mouth, £25 could be the difference of going hungry for a week or feeding their family. The working people on minimum wage, the people looking for work and on benefits, the working poor are all part of the Labour ethos and they should not be excluded because they cannot afford it. Democracy is not just for the well-off. Democracy does not rely on one's affluence. Democracy does not care about one's income. It should not be a factor of participation in the political discourse.

More importantly, the NEC must reverse its decision because of what the Labour party is, its history, whom and what it represents. The Labour party was formed on the need of the working people to have a voice. It prides itself in solidarity, respect and inclusiveness. Its members are its strength and its heart.

Their voice must not be restricted by their ability to pay.

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