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adrian pingstone

British politics is being turned on its head by the U.K.’s Bernie Sanders

One of the U.K.'s leading political parties is rejecting membership applications over fears of infiltration.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw


Posted on Aug 20, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 3:16 am CDT

While the U.S. wades through a swamp of unwanted GOP presidential contenders, the U.K. is experiencing an equally embarrassing political quagmire.

After losing the general election in May, the leader of the center-left Labour Party stepped down. The resulting leadership election is being held this month, and it has already led to a lot of public infighting among Labour politicians. It also inspired a rush of people trying to join the party in time to vote for a new leader, to the point where Labour is actually rejecting some membership applications.

Welcome to the #LabourPurge.

To vote in the leadership election, you had to either join the party or pay a £3 ($4.70) supporting fee before Aug. 12. But thanks to a surge in applications, some Labour officials were concerned that outsiders were trying to hijack the election for nefarious purposes.

About 1,200 people (out of 400,000 new voters) were rejected before the deadline, but this week has seen more reports of people being blocked from joining the party. Many of these aspiring Labour voters claim they were “purged” for being too left-wing—including some who have supported the party for years, such as comedian Mark Steel.

This concern over election “entryists” was inspired by the influx of support for Jeremy Corbyn, a staunchly left-wing candidate who is now leading the polls by 32 points. Backed by several prominent labor unions and known for his criticism of austerity and nuclear weapons, Corbyn is essentially the U.K.’s answer to Bernie Sanders, the Independent Vermont senator and 2016 Democratic challenger to Hillary Clinton.

Corbyn’s supporters believe he is the only candidate who can steer Labour to the left and provide an effective opposition to the Conservative government. However, most prominent politicians from the Labour establishment—including former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown—argue that Corbyn is too extreme to lead the party to victory in a general election. Blair recently published open letter saying that the party faces “annihilation” if Corbyn is elected.

This type of rhetoric led to a suspicion that people might infiltrate Labour from both sides of the debate: Conservatives secretly joining and voting for Corbyn in an attempt to destroy the party from within, and left-wing activists trying to skew the party toward a more radical agenda. Hence the #LabourPurge, weeding out applicants who “do not support the aims and values” of the party.

While a handful of people have admitted to joining Labour with an ulterior motive, the purge seems to be doing more harm than good. Twitter is full of longtime Labour supporters whose membership was rejected this week, or new members who were turned down because they used to be affiliated with another party.

Student Rosie Fletcher told Channel 4 News that she believed her application was rejected because she previously left the party but decided to rejoin after the 2015 election.

The belief in an unfair “purge” has gained so much traction that one man is compiling a survey of rejected applications.

So far, Labour is defending its “robust system” of protecting against malicious membership applications and election fraud. But given the number of Labour supporters claiming to have been rejected, it doesn’t seem to be working as planned.

Photo via Adrian Pingstone/Wikimedia (Public Domain)

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*First Published: Aug 20, 2015, 11:59 am CDT