In the middle of a global pandemic, it seems almost trivial to be writing about internal disputes within the UK Labour Party. Certainly, the UK media seem to have taken this view towards the recently leaked report. I’m sure, this is the only reason the media have paid it so little attention.
The leaked Labour report exposed a cache of WhatsApp messages from the Labour HQ from 2014 to 2019. These leaked WhatsApp messages expose that senior party staff undermined the Party’s 2017 election campaign and delayed investigation into antisemitism to maximise political damage to Jeremy Corbyn.
The leaked report is over 800 pages long and names a number of individuals. Like many who follow politics, I have seen this report. I will not be sharing it or naming individuals. I will surmise, however, that many of the ‘senior officials’ named were also rumoured to be front runners to be the new party General Secretary or to fill other roles in the party under its new leadership. This possibly explains the timing of the leak and the motivation behind it. This is just my speculation.
The leaked draft report essentially said that UK Labour’s ability to deal with the antisemitism issue was “an abnormal intensity of factional opposition to the party leader” which had “inhibited the proper function of the Labour party bureaucracy.” In other words, for the party apparatchik undermining Jeremy Corbyn was a higher priority than stopping racism.
The many transcripts show that while there were many antisemitism complaints in 2019, the majority of these were from one individual and upon investigation, these were dropped due to lack of substance. Many of the earlier antisemitism investigations were delayed, by senior Party HQ officials and not by the Corbyn or his team. The report also makes it clear that these senior Party HQ officials were working very closely with Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who was very outspoken in the media about Labour’s handling of antisemitism. It is likely he a) knew or had some idea that early antisemitism complaints had been delayed by his friends in party HQ, rather than Corbyn’s office and b) that the many complaints in 2019 were originating from one vexatious litigant in the party rather than there being hundreds of genuine complaints.
Opposition to the Corbyn project by Party HQ was at fever pitch. The leaked WhatsApp messages show that these senior officials became despondent when Labour’s support increased during the 2017 General Election. These texts confirm that party funds were funnelled to their friends and allies in safe seats, specifically Tom Watson. For candidates in marginal constituencies who were seen as too supportive of the Corbyn project, Party HQ starved these campaigns of resources. These officials even joke about the fact that they were doing little work during the campaign in their WhatsApp group.
In July 2019 BBC current affairs show Panorama did a report on antisemitism in Labour. Ironically many of the whistleblowers from this Panorama documentary were the people named in this leaked Labour report as having frustrated antisemitism investigations. Were it not for COVID-19, we can be sure the BBC would ensure this was properly reported on to ensure a balanced and factual news service had been provided. Or maybe not?
Former Labour MP for Kensington Emma Dent Coad responded that she was both furious and vindicated by the leaked report. On being elected the MP for Kensington, officials in Party HQ were both surprised and annoyed, describing her as a ‘Grade 1 tool’. In the 2017 election, Emma thought Labour HQ had failed to provide help with her campaign because the Party thought it so unlikely she would win. But even in the last three weeks, when it was clear Labour had a chance in Kensington, there was still no assistance from the Party at all. This lack of support from the Party continued after the election when the Grenfell Fire happened in her constituency. Despite desperately needing support with casework, Party HQ failed to step up.
On the release of this leaked report, current Mayor of Manchester and rival Labour leadership contender in the 2015 leadership election Andy Burnham sent out the following tweet:
Burnham is a moderate, on the centre-left of UK Labour. His politics would fit very comfortably with the moderate wing of the German Christian Democrats who are the main conservative party in German politics. That he felt that the party machine was undermining him when trying to push for pro-NHS or social care policies is astounding. Burnham came second to Corbyn in the 2015 Labour leadership election. Senior officials in Party HQ were still aligned to the policies and politics of Labour under Blair. By 2015 these politics were sidelined and candidates running on these platforms did very poorly. The Party HQ apparatchik could not win an open policy debate as party members and the public was tiring of austerity or austerity lite. So instead they used bureaucracy to undermine those pushing progressive politics.
Newly-elected Labour leader Kier Starmer and Deputy Angela Raynor have announced there will be an investigation into this leak and the issues raised. Whether this investigation focuses more on the leak than on the issues the report raises is yet to be seen. The former UK Labour General Secretary has stood down from his position in the Labour Lords front bench pending this investigation.
The implications of this leak for Labour, and specifically for the new leader are significant. Whilst during the global pandemic the media not have given this much attention, party members and supporters have noticed. And people in politics have long memories.
There will be immediate repercussions from this leak. One Labour councillor is demanding a refund of her membership fees due to the Party misusing funds and sabotaging the 2017 election campaign. Many of those named in the leaked report could also take legal action against Labour, thus the party are actively trying to stop people now sharing this document.
In a candid interview to Sky News, former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said those former employees from Party HQ who undermined Labour’s 2017 election campaign and failed to act on antisemitism complaints should be expelled from the Party:
McDonell also highlights some of the appalling things said about Party members and MPs by these senior officials in Party HQ. Below is one example of a conversation party officials had on WhatsApp when they found MP Diane Abbott crying in the toilets:
For Corbyn supporters, the leaked report is a big case of “I told you so.” And yes, those aligned to Corbyn/Momentum have been saying for the last 2-3 years that the right of the Labour Party was using antisemitism as a tool to undermine Corbyn. They also realised that Party HQ was not committed to getting Labour elected in 2017. Now they have 800 pages worth of nasty, unpleasant and downright revolting WhatsApp messages to prove them right. But none of this really helps them.
This article by Michael Chessum highlights the problem the left face now. Having more than doubled Labour’s membership after Corbyn was elected leader, having come within a stone’s throw of government in 2017, now the mood on the left is despondency. Many of those who joined Labour in the last 5 years are now threatening to leave the party.
I covered many of the issues facing Labour in my Why Labour Lost blog posts earlier this year. Corbyn was from the small group of socialist MPs in Labour with a handful of support in the wider party. He and this group were able to win the Party leadership in 2015 when the other party factions were bereft of ideas or vision. However, the socialists were not expecting to win. And having spent their careers championing policy positions and causes, and were not ready to challenge the party bureaucracy, rules and structures. Momentum was established to try and overcome this challenge, which despite some early successes ultimately failed.
Conversely, the right could not win in a competition of ideas, especially not on policy big picture vision. The game they knew best was using the machine to frustrate your opponents. This works as a defensive strategy to keep and protect your people in their positions of power and to stop your opponents succeeding. But you can’t win this way. Kier Starmer, despite not being from the Momentum wing of the party, has said he will stick to the anti-austerity policy positions adopted under Corbyn. These are the same positions party HQ tried to frustrate not only under Corbyn, but earlier when Burnham was advocating them.
The challenge for Labour after this leaked report is significant. Keir Starmer’s calls to end factionalism may be well-intended but are unlikely to be successful. At a time when the UK has the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe, Labour is yet again consumed in internal warfare. To potential voters and the public at large, even if they agree with Labour’s policies or positions, the party looks too fractured to provide a viable alternative Government. For the party to change this, it can’t ignore the issues from the leaked report. Instead, it needs to face them head-on. This means calling out and taking action against behaviours and actions that are wrong, even if they are from people from the faction or side of the Party the current leadership supports.
My series of blog posts on why UK Labour lost the 2019 General Election: