Revealed at last

The full extent of the lengths the right will go to in order to regain control has finally been exposed, writes David Shearer of Labour Party Marxists

The truth is out. Thanks to the April 12 leak of ‘The work of the Labour Party’s governance and legal unit in relation to anti-Semitism, 2014-2019’, what we always knew has been confirmed.

The 851-page report was compiled under Jennie Formby’s watch as general secretary, as part of Labour’s submissions to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission inquiry into alleged ‘anti-Semitism’. She was appointed in April 2018. In terms of style and approach, it reads as if it was written by staffers who are Momentum supporters - Harry Hayball, former head of digital communications at Momentum, has been mentioned. There was no wish to question the motives of those making false allegations of anti-Semitism, no putting ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ into international context. The tone is studiedly neutral. Nonetheless, the authors’ own biases are all too apparent. Those who have said accusations of widespread anti-Semitism in the Labour Party are false, have been weaponised, are described as “deniers”, or “denialists”, and are therefore guilty of anti-Semitism. Apparently, though, release of the damning document was overruled by party lawyers. Presumably, the intention was to keep it under wraps.

The report clearly demonstrates not just the mishandling, but the deliberate falsification, of accusations against Corbyn supporters and the Labour left in general - combined with all sorts of personal abuse directed against them by those who were supposed to be investigating complaints impartially. The report says there was “abundant evidence of a hyper-factional atmosphere prevailing in party HQ” after the election of Corbyn in 2015. This “appears to have affected the expeditious and resolute handling of disciplinary complaints”. It says there was no evidence at all of current or former staff being “motivated by anti-Semitic intent” - under Corbyn. Of course, it was absurdly claimed that Labour had become “institutionally anti-Semitic”. But the report points out that in 2019 around half of all the complaints of anti-Jewish discrimination had been made by just one person.

There is ample evidence provided of the total bias against the left under former general secretary Iain McNicol. In 2015, head of broadcasting Jo Green said that any Labour MP who nominates Corbyn for leader “deserves to be taken out and shot”. The report states that “some employees seem to have taken a view that, the worse things got for Labour, the happier they would be, since this might expedite Jeremy Corbyn’s departure from office”. There is indeed no doubt that the rightwing bureaucracy was prepared to sacrifice the possibility of a Labour government in the attempt to get rid of Corbyn.

We are informed that in order to ‘uncover’ ‘anti-Semitic’ behaviour by his supporters, rightwing bureaucrats methodically searched social media for the use of particular words and phrases by Labour members, even though no-one had previously made any complaints against them. In other words, staff decided to “initiate cases themselves by proactively investigating social media comments by party members”. They drew up “a list of 57 (later 68) Labour MPs”, who were targeted in this way, simply because they were considered insufficiently rightwing.

Then there were the moves against local Constituency Labour Parties which had been taken over by Corbynites. Officials discussed how to facilitate the suspension of Wallasey CLP, where the left had taken over, in order to prevent a challenge against rightwing MP Angela Eagle. They discussed how best to overturn the Brighton District Labour Party AGM elections in 2016, before making similar moves against the left in those constituencies.

It is ironic that, according to the report, one of the allegations of “abuse” directed against Tony Greenstein, who was subsequently expelled, was that he had referred to the then general secretary as “crooked McNicol”. Hmm.

Left reaction

Unsurprisingly, sections of the Labour left have taken the opportunity to criticise the behaviour of McNicol’s team. It makes you wonder why they were not mobilised previously by the Corbyn leadership.

For example, the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs has called for the report to be published in full and demanded an emergency meeting of the party’s national executive committee. It also says that there should be no disciplinary action taken against whoever leaked the report - they should be regarded as “whistleblowers”, exposing the misbehaviour of the previous general secretary and his team. That, of course, is the term used to describe rightwing ex-staff members who were featured on last year’s BBC Panorama programme, claiming that the party leadership had tried to cover up allegations of anti-Semitism, which these noble “whistleblowers” pretended to have revealed. Of course, several of them just happened to be leading figures in the rightwing, pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement, which was ‘refounded’ in 2016 specifically in order to get rid of Corbyn

Then there are the protests in the unions. Around 1,000 Unison members, including 23 members of its national executive, have signed a statement declaring that the report “lays bare the factionalised and coordinated undermining of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership”. They believe that the union membership will be “extremely concerned to leave the running of Unison’s internal governance, disciplinary processes and elections to staff who appear to have played such a destructive role elsewhere in our movement”.

They are referring to two current Unison staff members in particular. The first is Emilie Oldknow, who, as executive director of the party’s governance and legal unit, is said to have expected staff to “fabricate a case” against Corbyn supporters, who could then be accused of some misdemeanour - not least anti-Semitism. Another was John Stolliday, who, when he was the unit’s director, is claimed to have talked about “political fixing” to help the anti-Corbyn right.

Meanwhile, Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack stated: “Whilst Jeremy Corbyn was trying to deliver a Labour government, senior Labour officials were conducting a vicious sabotage campaign against him”; and, for her part, Paula Barker MP notes that the report has “laid bare the appalling tactics” employed by McNicol et al.

Of course, the left has tried to turn the tables on the right by accusing them of racism, misogyny, etc. So, the report claims that the acting head of press, Neil Fleming, “engaged in what could be considered a classic racist trope” - by calling Diane Abbott an “angry woman”. And Hackney councillor Jon Burke interpreted this and other anti-Abbott remarks as meaning: “If you have the gall to be a passionate, high achieving black woman in this country, we will go to the furthest lengths possible to destroy you.”

So Keir Starmer and his deputy, Angela Rayner, have called for an “urgent independent investigation” into “the contents and wider culture and practices” of the party. And shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said the party was now committed to an investigation, to make sure that the “deeply, deeply unpleasant” behaviour alleged in the report never happens again. However, Starmer and Rayner state: “In the meantime, we ask everyone to refrain from drawing conclusions before the investigation is complete.”

That reminds me of when Chris Williamson was suspended for stating that the party had been “too apologetic” over claims of anti-Semitism: CLPs were instructed not to discuss the case in order to prevent a campaign against this appalling action.

The two leaders are, of course, also committed to investigating “the circumstances in which the report was put in the public domain”: ie, who leaked it. And that is the aspect of all this that the mainstream press is highlighting, with claims that the leak could have breached data privacy laws - reporting that several former staff members are now taking legal advice. Not because they say they have been ‘slandered’, but because what they did actually say and do has been put in the public domain. And, instead of emphasising the appalling false accusations and total anti-left bias of the Labour machine under McNicol, a party spokesman is widely quoted as saying that Labour takes its responsibilities for data protection “extremely seriously” and is now “investigating this data breach”.

Not that the press has given the whole affair much publicity - and this is hardly due just to the overwhelming coverage of Covid-19. For example, The Daily Telegraph’s very brief report - entitled “Sir Keir faces anti-Semitism crisis after leak” - focuses not on the report’s content, but the fact that it had been leaked. In case you thought that the scandal consists of the deliberate attempt taking place within the Labour machine to generate false accusations to blacken Corbyn’s name and side with the rightwing establishment, the Telegraph also focuses on the fact that Corbyn supporters have been “accused of putting unredacted details of anti-Semitism whistleblowers into the public domain” (April 14).

While the rightwing, pro-Zionist so-called Campaign Against Anti-Semitism labelled the leak “a desperate, last-minute attempt” by Corbyn supporters to “deflect and discredit allegations of anti-Semitism”, elements of the Labour left have, as I have stated, begun to prepare for the expected renewal of a second wave of purges under the new leadership.

On April 14 Labour Against the Witchhunt held a useful online meeting attended by around 70 supporters. Incidentally, LAW features not a few times in the leaked document. Anyway, while, perhaps understandably, a minority now wants to give up on Labour, a clear majority considers it vital to stay and fight - to take advantage of these latest developments, and the fact that, for the moment at least, the Labour right has been put on the back foot.