Is Labour MP Clare Curran a political cyber-bully? That’s what some Labour and leftwing activists appear to think. Although the issue hasn’t yet hit the mainstream media, surely it will soon be reported on to some extent. (Watch out for Chris Trotter’s Tuesday Press newspaper column to see what he has to say. He won’t be kind.) The gist of the issue is that bloggers at The Standard website are making various allegations about the Labour Party leadership – or at least ‘senior’ MPs – clamping down on the internet communications of party members. The original allegations can be read about in this blog post and the subsequent comments: Just how wrong can you get it?.
Much of the allegations are opaque and without any solid verification. They appear to involve an attempt to censor members' participation in blogs such as The Standard, but also an attempt to use private information stored at the Labour blog Red Alert in order to identify the wayward party members. This is explained by Danyl Mcloughlan in his blog post, All enemies foreign and domestic. He says, ‘My understanding of what’s happened here is that most authors on The Standard comment under pseudonyms. And they’ve commented on the Labour blog Red Alert using those same pseudonyms. Now, when you comment on Red Alert you have to provide your real email address. So these have been matched to Labour’s membership and the dissenting members have been contacted by party officials. All pretty creepy’. This is also discussed by Pete George in his post, Red Alert compromising anonymity?. (Of course, George is following the developments closely and currating them on his blog, Your NZ).
A consensus has formed that blames MP Clare Curran for all of this, and she – at this stage, at least – appears to be unwilling to refute any of it. This is leading to all sorts of incredibly strong criticism being made of Curran on this issue and on her general performance as an MP. Scott Yorke, for instance, isn’t yet convinced about the verity of it all, but nonetheless puts forward a warning for the MPs in his blog post, Are The Guns Turned Inwards?:
If a Labour MP really is trying to silence the party's online critics in the way being claimed, then that MP really has lost the plot and should probably think about finding another job, and fast. There is enough crap going on within the party, without some zealot with all the nuance of a suicide bomber trying to destroy everything around them for the greater good. We should also consider the possibility that the MP in question (assuming there is a factual basis for these allegations) is very much out on his/her own and is in the process of being told by his/her fellow MPs that he/she is really quite a special class of fool, and should just shut his/her mouth, because look at the mess he/she has made. Again!
The cyber-bully complaints - as well as other interesting posts at The Standard - raise some bigger issues about the current state of the Labour Party. There is no doubt that the political character of The Standard blog has changed incredibly over the last year. Previously it focused its fire power against National, and was fairly slavishly in defence of Labour (only allowing the occassional and minor criticism to be made). These days it's almost open warfare with Labour. This change clearly represents some larger issues going on within the Labour Party. There’s a hostility present that hasn’t been seen since the darkest days of Rogernomics. For more about the rising hositility between The Standard and Labour/Curran, see the Standard post, Butterfly upon a wheel, or we haven’t changed.
Partly this simply reflects the divisions in Labour that were embodied by the Cunliffe vs Shearer leadership spat. These days The Standard represents the Labour left, and they're in opposition to the Labour right, which is firmly in control of the party now.
But there are other things going on. The Labour Party has long been drifting towards an organisational and political style that political scientists call ‘electoral-professional’. This is a modus operandi in which a party no longer acts a bottom-up mass membership party but is instead an elite of parliamentarians and parliamentary staff who have almost total control over the image, policy, ideologies and activities of the party.
Party membership in this model is simply not necessary. In fact members and activists are at best tolerated instead of encouraged. Therefore such parties tend to have very low membership numbers, and the members have little real incentive to join unless they want to rise up the ranks to become MPs or parliamentary staff. Instead of relying on the fundraising of party members or their activism, instead such parties rely on backdoor state funding through parliament which pays for the bulk of their activities.
The upshot is that, if Curran is indeed involved in the suppression of party members' activism and speech as alleged, then she is hardly acting out of sync with the spirit or operations of the modern Labour Party. Instead she is simply reinforcing and playing the usual role required under the model of the modern electoral-professional style party.
Nonetheless, it’s kind of ironic to draw attention to Clare Curran’s recent press statement: Cyber bullying must be dealt with intelligently.