Surrey Labour activists expelled for backing pro-NHS ‘progressive alliance’ candidate

Photo: Dr Louise Irvine is running against health secretary Jeremy Hunt. 

UPDATE: Two other senior Labour members in Surrey have now been expelled on similar grounds

A senior Labour party member in Surrey has been expelled after backing the National Health Action party’s candidate instead of Labour. 

Steve Williams – a Labour member for 46 years and an executive member of the South West Surrey Labour branch – received a letter from Sam Matthews, the Head of Disputes at the Labour Party, informing him yesterday that he is ‘ineligible to remain a member of the Labour Party’, over his backing for Dr Louise Irvine, a local NHS campaigner running for the National Health Action Party (NHA).

South West Surrey Labour Party had already made the decision not to stand a candidate – but this was allegedly overturned by the Labour NEC, with Labour now running a candidate in the constituency.

The move comes after South West Surrey Progressive Alliance hosted a ‘progressive forum’ at the weekend to select a single progressive candidate to take on Jeremy Hunt. Williams is an organiser for the cross-party coalition of centre-left activists, which is backed by the think tank Compass.

Members of Labour, the Lib Dems, Greens and the NHA party voted on Saturday to select Dr Louise Irvine, a local NHS campaigner, standing for National Health Action.

The Greens have officially opted to stand aside for Dr Irvine, and while the local Liberal Democrat branch are unable to endorse another candidate, it is understood that senior members are supporting her campaign.

Green co-leader Caroline Lucas described Labour’s actions as ‘shameful’ and said her party will now aim to run a full slate of candidates.

Steve Williams said:

“Even at Labour’s highest peak of popularity, we weren’t able to take Surrey seats from the Tories but because of Jeremy Hunt’s disastrous and calamitous management of the NHS, another might have a shot.

“My only crime here, after 46 years of Labour membership, is trying to unseat one of the worst secretaries of health in our nation’s history. A man who has made countless health professionals and patients absolutely miserable.

“Clause IV of the Labour Party states: by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone. For me, these aren’t just words on a piece of paper but a strategy the Labour Party must commit itself to if we want to see progressive change in Britain. Only by progressives working together can we beat the Tories.

“For the next four weeks I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing for the last 46 years – campaigning for a progressive government.”

Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas MP added:

“Both Labour and the Lib Dems have betrayed the people they represent by not fully engaging with the idea of electoral alliances. Though the Lib Dems were happy to have informal discussion, they never delivered on ruled any meaningful alliances. Labour were even more intransigent – with no hint from their leadership that they were interested in talking about how we best beat this rotten Tory Government.

“Labour’s treatment of Steve Williams in Surrey is both shameful and shortsighted. There was a real chance to unite around a pro-NHS candidate to beat Jeremy Hunt, but Labour might well have now blown it.

“Labour and the Lib Dems defied their own members on the ground – and the time has now come for the Greens to focus entirely on winning votes up and down the country.”

When asked for comment, Labour pointed to the constitution which states:

“A member of the party who joins and/or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour Group or unit of the Party or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate, or publicly declares their intent to stand against a Labour candidate, shall automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member, subject to the provisions of part 6.I.2 of the disciplinary rules”.

A Labour spokesperson said: “This individual is no longer a member of the Labour party”.

‘Progressive alliances’ have already formed in Ealing, Ilford, Brighton, Richmond and Twickenham to support centre-left candidates who have the best chance of beating the Conservatives. In most cases the Greens have stood down to help Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

Josiah Mortimer is a reporter and Contributing Editor for Left Foot Forward. He also works for the Electoral Reform Society and tweets at @josiahmortimer.

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