23rd July 2016
There have been lots of rumours over the last year about entryism and I am grateful to a small dedicated team (who wish to remain annonymous) who have written most of this blog about the impact it has had in Brighton & Hove. This is my City and I care about all aspects of B&H life and its politics.
This type of entryism into our Labour Party is simply against the rules but with Corbyn colluding and with his fan club these type of incidents are likely to be widespread across all constituencies. When party members vote they can do so for these people (and Corbyn) or we can support the need for a fresh start and competence by voting for Owen Smith.
Meanwhile B&H Labour Party is suspended as this and other matters are fully investigated.
Over the past year a great deal has been written about so-called ‘entryism’ into the Labour Party – members and supporters of other parties or groups joining the party to influence its leadership and direction. Since the doors to the party were thrown open during last year’s leadership contest there has been a steady stream of stories about Conservatives and others paying their £3 and voting, and the attempts of the Labour Party to identify and expel those ‘members’ who don’t share our values.
There is a darker side to ‘entryism,’ however, than a few thousand opportunist Tories making mischief over the Labour leadership – a darker side with echoes of the Militant infiltration of the party in the 1980s. This is a story of fringe leftwing groups insinuating their way into local parties and attempting to force their agenda – explicitly revolutionary and contemptuous of parliamentary democracy – onto the Labour Party. Groups like the Alliance for Workers Liberty, a Trotskyist sect committed to revolution which grew out of the Militant Tendency in the early 90s.
There have long been concerns that groups like the AWL have been attaching themselves to Momentum, the pro-Corbyn grassroots pressure group, as a way of riding the ‘Corbyn surge’ to positions of influence in the party with the aim of fulfilling their ultimate goal – a takeover of the party.
A clear example of this campaign is the example of Brighton, Hove & District Labour Party, the largest single unit of the Labour Party in the UK, and one of the AWL’s most longstanding activists, Mark Sandell – who was recently elected to the local party’s Executive Committee in a result now voided by the Labour Party over allegations of an improper ballot and the ineligibility of candidates.
Mr Sandell’s candidate statement ahead of the Brighton, Hove & District Labour Party AGM stated that he was a former President of the West Sussex NUT who “first joined the Labour Party in 1986.”  Members understandably took this to mean that Mr Sandell had been a member continuously since that time, although he later clarified during his appearance on BBC South East’s Sunday Politics show that he has been a member of the Labour Party “on and off” since that time. 
More off than on, it would appear. Searches of the website of the Alliance for Workers Liberty (www.workersliberty.org) show a history of Mr Sandell’s activism within that organisation stretching back to the early 1990s – indeed, he was known and respected enough to be nominated by comrades to the group’s National Committee in 2007.
In his nomination statement for a position on the AWL’s National Committee, he claims to have “joined the group in 1987 as a student,” roughly a year after first joining the Labour Party. This particular chain of events will not be unfamiliar to those with some knowledge of the tactics of the left wing fringe, who have long seen student politics as a fertile recruiting ground for new activists to serve as loyal footsoldiers – submitting motions at Labour Clubs, manning stalls, selling socialist newspapers and generally carrying out the busy-work of political campaigning. More on this later.
From there, further searching reveals nearly three decades’ worth of consistent activism for the AWL. Mr Sandell claims in the above document to have “been an AWL branch organiser in Canterbury, Birmingham, Oxford and now  in Brighton.” [ibid] During this time he was an active contributor to the AWL’s magazine as a writer and a serial proposer of motions to the group’s conference. The various links below place Mr Sandell as an active member (as a writer, speaker or in submitting motions to meetings) in at least 1993, 1996, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2014. [4–15] Throughout this entire period, the AWL was a proscribed organisation within the Labour Party, i.e. its members were banned from being Labour members, and has sponsored candidates standing against Labour candidates under the banner of TUSC and the Socialist Alliance, for whom his fellow BHDLP candidate Phil Clarke stood against Labour in 2005, 2007, 2013 and 2015. Either Mr Sandell was not a Labour Party member during this period or he was breaking party rules by simultaneously being a member of the AWL.
Indeed, Mr Sandell was an active member of the AWL as late as 2015, when his name appears as a contributor in an edition of Workers’ Liberty Teachers published only months before the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party.  If he was still a Labour member at this time, he was in clear breach of the rules.
A few months later in September 2015, just after the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, the AWL formally wound up as a political party in an attempt to get around its longstanding proscription – that is to say to allow its members to join (or, as in Mr Sandell’s case, re-join) Labour. This attempt did not go unchallenged by the Labour NEC, with several former AWL activists expelled from the party in October.  Nevertheless, with plenty of reports at the time that the party’s compliance unit was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new members, the potential for members of proscribed groups being missed and remaining as members of the Labour Party into 2016 was high. Indeed, anticipating the likely attempts to expel members of proscribed groups from the party, the AWL’s own policy platform calls for it to “retain at least a small core of people aligned with our politics who ‘play safe’ so that they can be confident of not being swept out of the Labour Party by a backlash at the next stage.”
Members like Mark Sandell.
Why does this matter? It matters because despite being formally wound up as a political party, the AWL held a full conference a mere two months later on 21–22 November 2015. At this conference, the group adopted three documents, entitled –
- After the Corbyn Surge
- The Next 12 Months
- Student Activity 2015–16
These documents outline a concerted strategy for members of the AWL to infiltrate (or, to use the language of the documents, “intervene”) in the Labour Party with the explicit intention of influencing the party to indoctrinate “more people of revolutionary socialist ideas,” “advance and transform the wider labour movement” and to focus “on drawing in, organising, propagandising among, and recruiting among, the new people (especially the new young people) mobilised by the Corbyn surge.” 
The reference in the above to “young people” is instructive, given that the document ‘Student Activity 2015–16′ outlines a specific plan to infiltrate university Labour Clubs to revolutionary socialist politics, with the aim of “organis[ing] and politically hegomon[ising] these people.”  This is a longstanding tactic of the fringe left as far back as 1987 when Mr Sandell, by his own. admission, joined the AWL as a student only a year after “first” joining the Labour Party. Indeed, the document ‘After the Corbyn Surge’ spells out this priority – “youth work is particularly important for renewing the movement and for convincing a new generation of socialists.” 
These documents clearly demonstrate a concerted effort by the AWL – less than 12 months ago a proscribed group who’s members were constitutionally barred from joining the Labour Party – to gain influence within local parties and student groups, to “consolidate leftwing victories” by “winning officer roles and policy votes,” to “break the right [of the Labour Party] quickly” and engage in local parties by “circulat[ing] motions, blogposts and literature.”  Going further, the adopted platform of the AWL as of November was that “all AWL members should be members of the Labour Party unless specifically agreed; doing Labour Party work of some kind should be the norm,” “in every area and at every level.” 
This campaign continues – the July issue of the AWL’s newspaper Solidarity splashes the headline ‘Flood the Labour Party’  with a call for members to step up their infiltration (or “intervention”) into the party. Only this week, the AWL’s Twitter feed called for supporters to sign up as Labour activists to vote in its upcoming leadership contest. 
All of this is undertaken with the ultimate aim of influencing the Labour Party and its membership locally towards the politics of the AWL, a group which has consistently throughout its history demonstrated a basic contempt for parliamentary democracy and which regards even the policy platform of Jeremy Corbyn as “woolly and populist,” “relatively weak and piecemeal.”  The group’s platform calls for Labour councils, like the one in Brighton & Hove, to “refuse to implement cuts” – that is, to set illegal budgets that would bring Tory-run DCLG bureaucrats into city hall to run the city and the deselection of MPs. Mr Sandell himself has argued for the deselection of Labour councillors in Brighton & Hove in the past. 
Mr Sandell began appearing at local party meetings shortly after these documents were adopted, busying himself proposing several pro-forma motions scribed by fringe groups at branch-level Labour Party meetings, and latterly stood as a candidate for Chair of the BHDLP at its AGM, backed by Momentum – a group who’s Haringey branch was founded by one of the AWL members expelled from Labour in October and which has long been the subject of concern that concern that “hard-left groups such as Left Unity, the Socialist Workers party (SWP), the Socialist party and the AWL are trying to attach themselves to Momentum to gain entry into the party.” 
A number of members attending the BHDLP’s AGM on 9 July had concerns about the background of this relatively unknown quantity, however due to the large numbers in attendance at that meeting it was not possible for members to put these questions to candidates. Subsequent concerns were dismissed by Greg Hadfield, who stood as secretary at the AGM. Given Mr Hadfield’s background as a former Fleet Street journalist it seems unlikely he played the role of a “useful idiot” when only a brief Google search would have revealed the true nature of Mr Sandell’s involvement with the AWL.
Mr Sandell does appear to have some questions to answer as to his status as a member of the AWL, a group that stood candidates against the Labour Party and doesn’t share its fundamental commitment to parliamentary democracy. As a self-styled “revolutionary socialist” group that has explicitly endorsed a platform of entryism into Labour comparable to the Militant tendency of the 1980s, the prospect of AWL infiltration into the Labour Party, up to and including the Chairmanship of the largest single unit of the party in the country, is extremely serious.
Sources (each link opens in a new tab/window)
By Ivor Caplin
Former Former Hove MP and Defence Minister