Labour members expelled over attempt to form anti-Jeremy Hunt alliance

Two longstanding Labour members have been expelled over their efforts to unseat Conservative Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt. The two members were instrumental in the grassroots movement to form a progressive alliance to fight the Conservatives, and had orchestrated an electoral pact in Hunt’s South West Surrey constituency. As part of the pact, the Lib Dems and the Greens have stood aside for a candidate from the National Health Action party.

Kate Townsend, a Labour candidate in last week’s county council elections and local party secretary, and Steve Williams, a member of the constituency party’s executive committee, were expelled from the party last week. Public support for a candidate from another party against Labour is a clear offence, according to the party’s rules. This was the reason stated for their expulsion by the party.

In a letter sent to both expelled members, the party said that they would be ineligible to apply for re-admittance for five years.

Williams has been working for Compass, a centre-left think tank, on the progressive alliance initiative in defiance of the national party, which has said it will not entertain any notion of local party cooperation at election time.

Labour has fought a series of battles around a so-called progressive alliance since the 1980s. Initiatives have largely fallen on deaf ears, with a few notable exceptions. These include the cross-party campaign to unseat Neil Hamilton in Tatton in 1997, where Martin Bell stood and won as an independent against the disgraced Tory MP.  

One local party member told me:

This really is disproportionate. They may have broken party rules but they acted within the spirit of the rules; they wanted to unseat a Tory who is destroying our NHS. Five years’ expulsion means they’ve been given a bigger punishment for that than Ken Livingstone got for repeatedly telling the press that he thought Hitler was a ‘Zionist’.

Labour has selected David Black as candidate for South West Surrey, after a series of local party figures said that they would not stand. Jeremy Hunt has a majority of 28,556.