The Labour Party’s Stalinist contempt for democracy

Councillor Leigh Farrow has given a fascinating insight into life inside the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove
Councillor Leigh Farrow has given a fascinating insight into life inside the Labour Party in Brighton and Hove

Those who read the disturbing front-page article last week cannot but be shocked.

Those who read the disturbing front-page article in last week’s Brighton and Hove Independent cannot but be shocked by how the clique that runs Brighton and Hove District Labour Party treated a fellow councillor.

Councillor Leigh Farrow is not even particularly radical, more a supporter of Old Labour and the awkward squad.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Brighton Labour Party was one of the most left-wing parties nationally. In 1983, Rod Fitch, a supporter of Militant Tendency (which is now the Socialist Party), was elected by just one vote against his brother, Brian.

The left consisted of both Militant and non-Militant supporters, in about equal measure. The battle against the poll tax involved a mass refusal to pay, which the Labour council vehemently opposed. Six Labour councillors refused to pay the poll tax and were suspended: Jean Calder, Andy Winter, Hilary Metcalf, Kate Jones, Gordon Wingate, and Sheila Hall.

Thatcher’s flagship policy, whereby the rich and poor paid the same, led to her assassination by her own party.

Brighton Labour Party [BLP] was open and democratic, comprising Kemptown and Pavilion constituency Labour parties. Steve - now Lord - Bassam, as leader of the council, could not accept that the local parties, not the councillors, decided what was in the manifesto. Given his inability to defeat the left in open, democratic debate, he decided to seek the indefinite suspension of the local party.

In 1991, a year before the general election, Brighton Labour Party was suspended and it remained suspended. In response, activists organised the Friends of Brighton Labour Party. Consequently, more than 20 of us were suspended pending disciplinary charges.

In the wake of defeat at the 1992 general election, an investigation was conducted by Joyce - now Baroness - Gould, the party’s "witch finder-general".

When my turn came to be interviewed by her, I revealed that I had a draft copy of her report, given to me by a sympathetic member of Labour's National Executive Council. She was not best pleased.

My charge was the catch-all McCarthyist one of bringing the party into disrepute. Larry Whitty, Labour’s general secretary was brought down to prosecute the case. Non-Militant supporters ended up suspended for varying terms, whereas Militant supporters were expelled.

Under the left, in 1986, BLP ended 146 years of continuous Tory rule in Brighton. Membership was more than 2,000 and there was a flourishing of socialist, feminist, environmental groups. BLP organised the opposition to the 1982 war against Argentina and supported the local campaign against the National Front.

Today, democracy has been extinguished in favour of a grotesque Stalinist suppression of all free debate. A party that squashes all dissent internally is unlikely to have much interest in a free society or upsetting corporate vested interests.