John Redwood discusses the issue of far-left entryism into the Labour party and the challenges it presents.  

One of the freedoms we enjoy in the UK is the freedom to join a political party of our choice, or to ignore them all if we wish. Some of us wish to be very active in our democracy, others wish just to vote or occasionally join in the public debate as they see fit. Some do not participate at all.

The process of joining a political party is normally very easy. You get in touch with the one you like, through their national or local office. They send you details of the costs of membership and you pay and join if you wish. There is no form to fill in about your views, no formal interview to test out what your beliefs and opinions are. Parties tend to the view that people only join them if they are broadly in agreement with them. Parties assume people interested enough to join are sufficiently aware of the main propositions their chosen party stands for.

Various parties do have rules about not belonging to a rival party at the same time, not acting to undermine the party’s candidates in elections, and not saying or doing things that reflect badly on the party. Each party has a reputation to maintain. Parties wish to be welcoming and usually want more members, but do see that if someone has a chequered political past they may need to veto their membership or seek promises about future conduct. There is a difference between someone changing their mind and converting to a different party’s general view, and joining with the intention of trying to make the party joined like the one the person has just left.

Entryism has become an issue in the modern Labour party, raised by the party’s own Deputy Leader in an unusual public attack on the leadership. The concern is that people who belong to another party or ginger group like the Socialist party or the Alliance for Workers Liberty or the Communist party may join Labour in numbers to push its agenda into line with the agenda of their real party or lobby group. This is not an easy matter to deal with. Some on the left would say these pressure groups are entirely legitimate and form part of the Labour family. Others think they are out to subvert their view of what Labour is and stands for. The rules are meant to stop anyone belonging to both the Socialist party and Labour, for example.

If those who wanted out of the EU had joined the Conservative party en masse in recent years instead of joining and promoting UKIP they would have been welcome, as long as they did not also hold views that the Conservative party strongly ruled out. They might have helped change party policy towards the EU more than we managed anyway. Personally I would have had no problem welcoming mainstream UKIP supporters who simply wanted the UK to leave the EU into the Conservative party, as that view was a popular view within the existing Conservative party. They could not of course have at the same time continued with UKIP membership or sought to promote UKIP candidates.

What do you think a party should do to attract the right members and avoid the wrong ones? Or are there no wrong members, other than law breakers?

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