Hide your kids: those dastardly undemocratic reds are coming again! The front page of one Murdoch outlet today carries wild reports of “Moderates forced out by hard left in Labour purge”. What has actually happened is this. Labour is choosing candidates to stand as councillors in next year’s local elections. In some cases, members have democratically decided that some sitting councillors should face an open contest: this happened automatically until a rule change last year. Calculating that they will lose to a leftwing alternative, some have stood down. Others have lost. This is not a “purge”. This is what is known as “democracy”.
Labour’s membership has the right to decide who will represent the party in elections, based on their record and politics. Take Haringey. As my brilliant colleague Aditya Chakrabortty has exposed, the Labour council there has tried to force through the privatisation of £2bn of council housing, public buildings and land. On one estate, more than 1,000 social-rent homes are to be demolished, with no provision given for socially rented replacements.
You will be shocked to discover that this has not gone down well with Labour activists, or the local community. The plans have been opposed by both of Haringey’s Labour parties, both of the MPs, and local trade unions. Members who object to these proposals have, in many cases, chosen not to reselect councillors who support them. Again: this is democracy in action. It will mean that – after the local elections next May – there will be a majority of councillors who oppose the plans, and then they can be stopped. Good.
Before the Corbyn surge, many Labour parties were hollowed-out husks, the playthings of ambitious hacks, lacking roots in their local communities. Council candidates were selected at poorly attended meetings: yes, often because of stitch-ups. In the last two years, Labour has blossomed into one of the biggest parties in the western world. In Hornsey and Wood Green – one half of Haringey – one in 14 voters are now members of the Labour party. Many of these members are full of inspiration and optimism – they want to replace our bankrupt social order, not tinker with it – and expect their representatives to be accountable to them and their values.
And so, in Manchester and Haringey and elsewhere, members have decided that some existing candidates should be replaced. Any candidate who loses an election has the right to feel disappointed, hurt even. They may well have done things in office that they’re rightfully proud of. But construing democratic, grassroots internal elections as an authoritarian purge is a grave disservice to the truth.
This is, again, part and parcel of a renewed media campaign against Momentum, portraying them as sinister, extremist zealots intent on hijacking democracy. It bears no relation to reality. During the election, Momentum activists mobilised and campaigned for the most New Labour-sympathising parliamentary candidates. The truth is this. The rightwing press, the Tories, and the vested interests who fund and support them, are terrified of Momentum. They know that Momentum’s efforts in the general election – both online and on the streets – played a critical role in depriving the Tories of their majority. They understand that Momentum may prove decisive in catapulting Jeremy Corbyn into No 10.
Expect the press onslaught only to escalate as their fear grows. But the truth is that the democratisation of the Labour party is a good thing – and necessary if a democratic socialist society really will be built.
• Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist