IN the bad old days of the 1980s, any purge of Labour Party members came about the hard way. Investigations went to the national constitutional committee and the national executive committee and the whole process was lengthy and fractious. Passing rules about the behaviour of members, the conduct of meetings and the proscribing of entryist organisations wasn’t plain sailing either.

To deal with its internal problems, Labour had to conduct internal investigations with lots of paper evidence, witness statements, meetings etc. It was a lot of work for party official Joyce Gould, dubbed the Witchfinder General for her work in rooting out entryism by the Militant Tendency within the party. Gould’s work meant numerous trips to Glasgow and Liverpool and other cities where Militant had flourished. The investigation in Glasgow Pollok was time-consuming, Liverpool under Derek Hatton more so.

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Joyce Gould would probably look at current events within the Labour Party with a very familiar eye but also be astounded about the relative ease with which Labour can remove membership from some supporters – by using their tweets against them as some members effectively retweet themselves out of membership.

Now, in a sense, things couldn’t be easier for Labour to determine whether its members are breaking the party’s rules or out of step with its values. The current party rulebook – 91 pages of it – has several sections on its aims and values, the rules on membership and just about everything else. One section is particularly important, clause 1 on conditions of membership. It states that: “A member of the Party who joins and/ or supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other 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.”

A quick trawl of tweets might well reveal a member or £3 supporter actually also supports or has recently supported one of Labour’s opponents: so goodbye to membership. But, there are problems here. First, there are hundreds of thousands of members and also, thousands of new members and supporters. How do you monitor a deluge and how do you investigate it?

When Labour’s NEC invoked the six-month rule about eligibility to vote in the leadership election, it effectively disenfranchised the 130,000 new members who had joined this year – thanks for joining, but you can’t choose the leader is not a heartening recruitment message.

Second, Labour had an existing membership of something like 400,000. Investigating the social media activities of such huge numbers of people must be mind-boggling – taking action to suspend them even more so. It must be costing Labour a fortune in time and money – with staff working 24/7 looking at tweets to root out the Cybertrots. The practicality of all of this is questionable and that’s before you get to the political effect of it on members and supporters.

Dr Peter Lynch is a senior lecturer in Politics at the University of Stirling