Labour, Lawson & the Attack on Party Democracy

Neal Lawson’s threatened explulsion from the Labour Party reveals a level of control freakery unprecedented in Labour history. The party’s long traditions of pluralism and tolerance must be upheld.

The ILP is dismayed and saddened to hear that Neal Lawson (left), the founder and executive director of Compass, has been threatened with expulsion from the Labour Party.

The ILP was a leading part of the pluralist coalition of individuals and organisations that founded the Labour Party in 1906, about which Lawson has written. The ILP has long campaigned for Labour to uphold this claim to be a broad church, to value and welcome the diversity of views that are held within the party and to create a political culture that allows a variety of views and ideas to be exchanged.

We have supported the goal of a pluralism and tolerance within Labour and criticised Labour leaderships of all political persuasions – from Tony Blair to Jeremy Corbyn – when they have acted in more factional ways. Other groups – including Open Labour and Chartist, as well as Compass – have argued in a similar vein.

Indeed, Compass was, in the later years of New Labour, one of the very few forums where members could openly and comradely debate new ways forward, a forum in which current front benchers, such as Yvette Cooper, played an active part.

And although its political focus is no longer solely on Labour, Compass, and Lawson in particular, have continued to make valuable interventions on the political culture and direction of the party, commenting in recent times on the Forde report and Labour’s attitude to constitutional change, among many other issues. For the party to serve notice that Lawson is to be disciplined for a two-year old tweet, smacks of victimisation.

While attacks on some of Labour’s so-called hard left members have been common in recent years, the threatened expulsion of Lawson, as with the exclusion of Jamie Driscoll from the north east mayoral contest, goes further even than New Labour’s control freakery. Indeed, it has gone so far that even ‘moderate’ MPs such as John Cruddas are now speaking out, calling the party leadership a “right-wing illiberal faction” hell-bent on a witch-hunt against the slightest expression of dissent.

These are deeply worrying signs of the kind of government Keir Starmer seeks to lead. It is incumbent on other MPs, not least those in the shadow cabinet, to tell Starmer to call off the attack dogs. If he does not, his standing in the party will be further eroded and the threat to Labour’s internal culture and democracy will only increase.

See also: ‘Democracy Derailed: The Jamie Driscoll Affair


  1. Ernest Jacques
    19 July 2023

    What you do today prefigures what you become tomorrow – that is what the ILP taught me. So political leaders who stifle free speech and democracy spawn horror stories, aka Stalinism, fascism, Blairism, and anything inbetween.

    Starmer hasn’t learned that lesson and should he become prime minister it’s anyone’s guess what he and his cabinet will deliver. The only certainty is that it won’t be any shade of socialism or social democracy.

  2. Harry Barnes
    4 July 2023

    With an even longer membership of the Labour Party than Neal Lawson I agree fully with this article.

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