Labour MPs have spoken out in the run-up to the coronation against party rule changes that prevent constituency branches from affiliating with an anti-monarchy group.
Republic, a pressure group that campaigns for the abolition of the monarchy, was named on a list of 12 organisations sent in February by a party official and seen by the Guardian.
The internal email said affiliations between Republic and constituency Labour parties (CLPs) were no longer valid, and renewing such links without approval by the Labour party’s national executive committee (NEC) would breach party rules.
Such affiliations are designed to promote the sharing of information and support – financial or otherwise – or can just be symbolic.
The email naming 12 organisations followed rule changes brought forward in 2021 to stop CLPs from affiliating to any organisation not approved by the NEC, and is separate from the proscription of certain other groups, such as named far-left groups, according to the party.
Labour under Keir Starmer’s leadership has attempted to underline its patriotism in order to reconnect with voters in “red wall” seats. In the past, Starmer had advocated abolishing the monarchy.
But John McDonnell, the former shadow chancellor, questioned the rules this week, saying: “I can’t see that allowing local parties to participate in groups like these is going to bring down civilisation as we know it.
“A form of institutional paranoia has emerged in the higher echelons of the party’s bureaucracy which has led to a level of control-freakery in relation to the activities of local CLPs which borders on farce.”
Another MP and former shadow frontbencher, Clive Lewis, who will address anti-monarchy protesters staging a demonstration against the coronation in London on Saturday, said he had “serious misgivings” about the rule preventing affiliation with Republic, adding there was a long history of branches having relationships with democratic campaigning organisations.
Lewis said: “It feels wrong, and sits uncomfortably with me. I think a lot of people will find it problematic, even people who are going to be supportive of the coronation and the king. Many of them will also be people who believe in freedom of speech, freedom of expression and having an open, honest political debate about the future of this country.
“If you join the Labour party, you often joined because you want to make a difference to make your country better, and those are the kind of people who will want to ask questions about the kind of democracy we have.”
The letter, written by Labour’s acting head of regional governance and local government in its “southern hub”, said organisations that were nationally affiliated to the party were eligible to affiliate to any CLP “provided they pay the appropriate fee and the CLP cannot debate or decide on their affiliations”.
It added: “With the others, I assume it is the case that [it is] the CLP that has previously opted to affiliate to these organisations rather than the other way around. Any such affiliations require approval from the NEC in advance. The following affiliations are therefore no longer valid, and the CLP may not renew its affiliation without approval from the NEC. To do so would breach party rules.”