How Will Labour Succeed If It Continues To Disenfranchise People Like Me?

07/09/2016 17:27

I am outraged and desperate. I want to shout so loudly that you are ousted from your apathy and stand with me to shout alongside. For those of us caught on the wrong side of it, screaming sometimes seems like the only real means of expression in Britain's corrupt, Orwellian political system.

I am a Paralympian and a disability rights campaigner. I am a community activist, an artist, a mother, an equalities consultant and until a few days ago I was a Labour Party member.
Two years ago, I retweeted something which the Labour Party's Compliance Unit found unacceptable. Not an abusive message, but an anti-fracking one by Green MP Caroline Lucas. For those investigating me this was enough to expel me on the grounds that "you supported comments made on Twitter that evidenced your support for the Green Party".

My expulsion was carried out under Appendix 2.1.B.x of the Labour Party rules - an automatic exclusion clause which prevents me from reapplying for membership for two years unless there are exceptional circumstances. Personally, I am left wondering what kind of exceptional circumstances led the Compliance Unit to think that retweeting Caroline Lucas was an indicator of supporting a rival party.

Expulsions like this raise urgent questions about the state of freedom of speech in the Labour Party - and the lengths to which some people in the party machine seem to be willing to go to get rid of left wing activist.

It also raises questions about something which will be fundamental to Labour's success in the coming years - people changing their minds. As it happens I voted Green at the last election, but this was not public knowledge. There is nothing on my Twitter timeline that states support for the Green Party. Even if there had been, why should it matter?

How will Labour ever succeed if it rejects the support of people like me? I was desperate to vote Labour at the last election, but at that time to do so would support all the policies - austerity, welfare cuts - that were currently hurting disabled people.

It has only been since Corbyn was elected leader that I have felt the Labour party has been reflective of my views. Corbyn has consistently opposed austerity, and he has been there when disabled people have needed him - at our demos, supporting our campaigns. On a whole range of issues, he stands for progress: on the reinstatement of student grants, preservation of the NHS, public ownership of the railways, and scrapping fitness to work assessments.

And this is why I am fuming - is why I want you to shout out about it. This week, while you see Paralympians cast as superheroes, remember that outside of sport the realities of being disabled are very different. I live on a very low income and benefits. Austerity has disproportionately hit disabled people and we are desperate for change.

It was a big commitment for me to pay to become a Labour member. I took the plunge and joined because I am passionate about change for those in my position. When you know that, due to cuts to Independent Living Fund your friends are lying in their own urine overnight; when your former Paralympic room-mate has had her Motability car taken away due to cuts to Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payments; when 10,600 people die within six weeks of being found fit for work, you know it is worth paying the money to try and secure change.

The Labour Party NEC decided that members like me, who joined after January 2016, should be disenfranchised from the election. So even after joining, I found myself scrabbling to find £25 to pay a supporters' fee as well. I am told this fee is non-refundable, so despite not being able to vote I will get nothing back. My support for Labour goes beyond a financial commitment - local people have even asked me to stand as a Labour councillor and my CLP fully supports me - but I needed that money too.

This whole debacle stinks of corruption. Is there really no connection between the Compliance Unit's forensic inspection of my retweets and the fact that 90% of my current tweets are supportive of Jeremy Corbyn?

I am reassured that lawyers are looking into the situation - and the sooner the new NEC is in place, the better. Hopefully, it will not be too late for me.