Are you now or have you ever been?

On the day the Labour leadership meets to discuss claims of vote infiltration, Helen Sandler outlines her thoughts at being told she could not vote in the Labour leadership election.

I was rejected last week as a Labour Party supporter. I’m in good company, along with comedians Jeremy Hardy and Mark Steel, but I was taken aback. When I rang the party headquarters to ask the reason, they told me: ‘We have evidence from Twitter that you are a supporter of Plaid Cymru.’

That threw me. I had signed up, full of hope. I wanted to vote for Jeremy Corbyn as leader and help turn the Labour Party back into a force for change. I am a former party member and used to live in Corbyn’s constituency, where I saw at first hand his commitment to a fairer world.

They took my £3 and sent me umpteen election communications but then, last Thursday (20 August), came the standard rejection email, with the words: ‘We have reason to believe that you do not support the aims and values of the Labour Party or you are a supporter of an organisation opposed to the Labour Party.’

When I signed up, I was asked to confirm that I shared these ‘aims and values’ and was not a member of an organisation opposed to Labour. The aims and values were not given, though, and the only place where I could find a full list was the Pendle consituency website. The document includes words and phrases I find inspiring, such as ‘democratic socialist’, ‘common endeavour’, ‘solidarity’, and ‘respect’; and the concept of redistribution of power, wealth and opportunity.

In contrast, the Labour Party’s national website does not list the aims and gives the values as: ‘social justice; strong community and strong values; reward for hard work; decency; rights matched by responsibilities.’ Conveniently, most of the key words and phrases have been lost or diluted in the bowdlerisation.

Which version do they want supporters to agree with? How am I to know if I agree with the value of strong values, without knowing what those strong values are? And what is meant by ‘decency’? The dictionary definition is ‘conformity to the prevailing standards of what is right’. Probably not socialism, then.

I ticked my agreement. Because although some of the new stuff did sound like the Conservatives, I like solidarity and respect.

But what is now in question is my support. The party with which I was aligned for most of my life, with which I hoped to realign, has been monitoring me on social media to gather ‘evidence’ against me without my knowledge or permission – and is not afraid to say so. It deems a liking for Plaid to be at odds with support for Labour, where I see two parallel progressive parties, each bobbing further left or right, depending on the times.

I was angry and confused. I examined my underused Twitter account for the ‘evidence’. I follow Leanne Wood, my Plaid MEP and my dear friend Mike Parker, who was a promising Plaid candidate in the general election in Ceredigion, where Labour stood no chance. I had also retweeted something over a year ago from Plaid Pride: ‘Congratulations @JillEvansMEP! Wales’ strongest voice on LGBT votes in Europe has been re-elected!’

I scroll down two years and see I retweeted Mike’s original announcement that he was running for office. I call out to my partner, Jane: ‘This could be what disqualified me!’ She replies: ‘It doesn’t matter. Stop trying to get inside their minds. They had no right to snoop on you, it’s intrusive and ridiculous.’

As Tim Turner has explained on his law blog, it was also probably illegal. You can’t vet people without telling them first and no one told us we were being vetted. The party invited the public to sign up and are now acting as if we are infiltrators.

Am I an infiltrator? In this year’s general election, after a lifetime of voting Labour in Manchester and London, I marked my cross for Plaid Cymru. I have lived for the past few years in Dwyfor Meirionnydd, a pretty safe Plaid seat where the Conservatives came in second and Labour only took 13.5% of the vote. I voted Plaid because they stand up for Wales and outlined clear anti-austerity policies; a vote for Labour would be wasted; and I wanted to be absolutely sure of ruling out a Conservative or UKIP win.

Even if they could get inside my head and know all this, does any of it define me as ‘a supporter of an organisation opposed to the Labour Party’? And how can they use that criterion at all, when I was only asked to tick that I was not a member of such an organisation? When I tell friends about the Twitter vetting, they think I’m joking, then compare it to being spied on by the Stasi.

Let’s not forget that Labour had issued an open invitation to new supporters – interim leader Harriet Harman announced in May that anyone on the electoral register could become a supporter and have a vote. Apparently the rules have changed.

My local Labour Party branch is now trying to help but even if I am reinstated (which looks unlikely), the whole episode has driven home one piece of crucial knowledge that I had buried during my short fit of optimism: party politics is corrupt, divisive and authoritarian, and even nice people can’t fix it.

Helen Sandler is a writer, publisher and event organiser

8 thoughts on “Are you now or have you ever been?

  1. A title quote from the McCarthy era! Twitter and social media spying. Privacy invasion. Entryism. Acronyms. Innuendo. Dirty tricks.This is all erm… red meat and drink for the political anorak. Looking forward to the Assembly elections.
    Note to self…look up how to set up a VPN.

  2. So, the Labour Party declines your support, because of your support for Plaid, you label it as ” corrupt, divisive and authoritarian”.

    It might have been easier if your “road to Machynlleth” had occurred before the GE, particularly in view of the animosity between Plaid and Labour !

  3. Defining Plaid Cymru’s Mike Parker as a ‘Dear Friend’ says a lot (A failed PC candidate of English origins who ‘Now sees the Light through worshiping a Tribal Language & its culture)’ and now deep into the public money trough courtesy of BBC Wales – Life & Times of Owain Glyndwr – Mind boggles)!

    No question the national Labour Party is in a mess but an open debate on all issues affecting the party can only be a good thing and perhaps in time the party will realise that the Welsh Labour Party is no labour at all but a thinly veiled political tool of Welsh speaking nationalists to promote ideology and culture of the few upon the most!

    As a Labour Party member I realised long ago that the Welsh party is infiltrated by Plaid Cymru sympathisers and became vocal upon the issue. It didn’t take long for complaints about me to reach the head office with demands to have me thrown out but thankfully there are still people in the party that will stand up for members who have a true allegiance to Labour ethos and values that have now again come to fore via Jeremy Corbyn.

    Hopefully Lee Waters will bring those values to Llanelli if he becomes nominated as a candidate for the Assembly elections!?

  4. Labour are not interested in ‘bloody lefties’ which is why they are desperately trying to purge themselves of all you people who think you share their ideals but don’t.

    Not one Labour MP that represents a Welsh constituency has publicly backed Corbyn. The only one of them who hasn’t backed anyone is Mark Tami. All the rest support varying shades of Red Tory.

    They honestly believe the only way to win an election is to pinch Tory voters rather than try to win back the countless millions of people the have ‘left’ behind.

  5. It could be seen to be a form of election ‘rigging’ – and the leadership contest could be asked to re-run. Either way, it seems a mess, although clearly, Jeremy Corbyn has gained plenty of support as a candidate.

  6. I’ve also been purged.

    Although, as I said on another blog, the process is more akin to Kafka than to McCarthy. At least the Senator put forward his famous question to the accused. Here, an accusation (or more) is made against you in secret, then you are found guilty and, without showing you the evidence, sent an email to confirm your “robust” guilt.

    A local blogger in Penarth emailed me yesterday as he’d heard about my being purged. I hadn’t intended to write anything in the local media but, as people were curious, I wrote him my side of the story. Especially, after Harriet Harman was talking about “cheats”.

    Maybe, we shouldn’t be too hard on Ms Harman who is, after all, a trained lawyer. The Leadership election is, obviously, a very stressful time and perhaps she just got the expression “innocent until proven guilty” muddled up.

    Btw, I’m not on Twitter or Facebook and I’ve voted Labour for the past 11 years I’ve been in Penarth. I’m just filling out a Subject Access Request to try and find out my secret file held by Labour.

  7. Are you now, or have you ever been – the owner of an ‘I Love Cuba’ T-shirt?

    Not sure whether that means you’re in or out?

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