I am only on page 121 (of 851) of the leaked Labour Report into the Party’s Governance and legal Unit in relation to Antisemitism from 2014-2019, and I have already read enough to write at least 10 separate articles about its revelations. It would be easy to find literally anything better to do with the abundance of spare time I have, yet I find myself inebriated with dual feelings of shame and intrigue, disgust and hope, anger and resolution.
Racism, bullying, harassment, incompetence, professional sabotage, stupidity, hypocrisy, pettiness. It is hard to explain how I feel about the report without resorting to incoherent ranting and swearing. It paints a picture of a political party devoid of morality, professionalism, drive and ultimately, a plan to return to government. It reveals a level of intra-party factionalism so acute, so filled with hatred and spite, that actually ideology comes as a secondary issue.
For those of you who haven’t read an 851-page report about the internal machinations of the Labour Party (really – what are you doing with your life otherwise?!), then let me try to briefly summarise it for you.
In the Labour Party historically, there has been a left-wing and a right-wing ever since its founding in 1900. There are Marxists, there are Democratic Socialists, there are Social Democrats, there are Modern Liberals, and there have been Trotskyists, National Socialists and other more far-reaching and extreme ideologues and activists from both wings throughout its 120-year history. This comes down to many historical and political considerations including the collapse of the Liberal Party in the 1920’s and its replacement by the Labour Party as the primary opposition to the Conservatives in what is realistically a two-party democratic state much like the United States.
The reason the Party can hold so many different, and much of the time differing, political persuasions and strands is that it is the only viable left-wing party in the UK that could become a government, so many different strands of left-wing ideology have embedded themselves in this vehicle for the purpose of influencing and driving forward their particular Leftism.
The ‘broad church’ political party has many strengths, which are practically its corresponding weaknesses. The sheer variety of ideology creates a dialectic whereby both wings thrive off of the checks and balances each provide for the other. The veteran former MP Dennis Skinner – a denizen of the Party’s Left – describes it as such:
The only time that Labour wins is when it puts forward a radical prospective and when it ensures that both wings of the party are flying together; because the Labour Party is like a bird, it needs a right wing and a left wing and if they’re not flying in unison, it’ll plummet to the ground
This rings true when considering Labour’s four historic post-war election victories: in 1945 when Clement Attlee became Prime Minister with an 146-seat majority, in 1966 with Harold Wilson’s 98-seat majority and in 1997 and 2001 when Tony Blair won with 179-and-167-seat majorities, respectively.
Attlee’s first cabinet consisted of prominent left-wingers like Aneurin Bevan and Stafford Cripps as well as those on the right such as Ernest Bevin. Around Wilson’s Cabinet table were unabashed Socialists such as Tony Benn and Barbara Castle, and towering figures from the party’s right such as Roy Jenkins and Dennis Healey. Fast-forward to 1997 and 2001, and you have those on the left such as Robin Cook, Margaret Beckett and even John Prescott alongside many stalwarts of the Party’s Right such as Alan Milburn, John Reid and of course Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson.
The Party has always housed its left and its right alongside each other, and has taken strength from that at pivotal moments in its history.
But as I say, the Party’s strength is also its corresponding weakness. Hatred, bitterness and spite dominate the factional disputes between the wings of the Party, as we see in the report. However, what I took away from reading parts of the report is that what I was reading wasn’t an account of factionalism. It wasn’t a battle of ideologies. It was simply a calculated campaign of unprofessional, stupid and twisted sabotage by several individuals at the heart of the party machine.
It would be tiresome for me (and you) to break down every single revelation of the report and share my analysis, but there are several examples of actions and behaviours from many of the senior staff that point to wider issues with the Labour Party as both an organisational unit and as a moral entity in its own right.
Firstly, there is the Racism. Then Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott – the first Black Female MP – was described by senior Labour staff as “revolting”, “truly repulsive”, described by one as “literally (making) me sick” and called her a “very angry woman” – a classic racist trope. Members of the Executive team joked about Abbott crying in the toilets of a Leon in Central London, and one actually alerted Michael Crick, then of Channel 4 News, to her location.
As Yomi Adegoke in the Independent commented, “one can only fathom the level of dehumanisation that has taken place, for peers to gleefully relish in bullying that has brought a colleague to the brink and then contribute to it”.
The report also showed staff members dismissing Dawn Butler’s appointment to the Shadow Cabinet and her concerns about anti-black racism in the Party – “Didn’t she accuse the Labour Party and its staff of being racist this week? Nice”. Clive Lewis, another prominent BAME MP on the Left, was on the receiving end of racism by executive party staffers.
To make matters worse, on the 15th April ITV News broke a story that a group of Labour staffers tried to stop the Unite branch at Labour HQ of sending letters of solidarity to these three MP’s.
Then there is the incessant use of violent, derogatory and inflammatory language. In a socio-political and cultural environment where our discourse is dangerous and hostile, it is the job of the Labour Party to talk the talk and walk the walk of rationalism, community cohesion , mutual understanding and cooperation in our society. Therefore, it is deeply disturbing and disheartening to read some of the language used by senior Labour executives about colleagues and comrades.
“Death by fire is too kind for LOTO”, talk of “hanging and burning” Jeremy Corbyn, calling him a “lying little toerag”, claiming that any Labour MP who nominated Corbyn in 2015 should be “taken out and shot”, hoping a Labour Left member “dies in a fire”. This is but a snippet of the vile, abusive language used by staff in Labour HQ.
Now, you might say that well, this is but silly and over-exaggerated banter within a Whatsapp group of friends and colleagues and that these are not real, serious threats of death and harm. Well, this defence is not good enough. Our political language has become enflamed since 2010. A Labour MP, Jo Cox, was stabbed and shot dead in 2016 by a far-right, neo-Nazi terrorist who shouted ‘Britain First’ as took her life, and another neo-Nazi is now in prison for plotting to assassinate another Labour MP, Rosie Cooper. This is the result of a heightening of political tensions taken to an extreme level. People who work in politics, and especially people who work for the Labour Party, have a duty to talk and act responsibly, not add fuel to the fire.
The third and final thing I’d like to raise, to avoid being exhaustive is the sheer unprofessionalism of those implicated in the report. These are people hired by the Labour Party to strengthen the Party in whichever way they can and with the ultimate goal of taking Labour into government, no matter who is leading it. That doesn’t mean they cannot have their own personal, privately held views about politics. But there is the crux of it. What these people have done is use their positions of authority to professionally undermine the party’s efforts to get into government and to build and strengthen the Labour movement.
Using secret Whatsapp groups created for work purposes with titles such as ‘Forward Planning’ and ‘Senior Management Team’, and also using their work email addresses, these people engaged in a coordinated campaign of sabotage. When Corbyn was elected leader, one staff member proclaimed the need for “a poll – that shows that we’re like 20 points behind”. They boasted of “coming into the office and doing nothing for a few months” and “hardly working” during the 2017 general election – “tap tap tapping away will make us look v busy”.
They refused to share key information with the Leaders Office, and created a secret group to coordinate election funding to seats with MP’s from the right of the party. When the exit poll came out on election night predicting a hung parliament, the then-General Secretary Iain McNicol and other senior staff talked of hiding their disgust at the result, saying they needed to “not show” their true feelings and “smile”. This is the GENERAL SECRETARY of the Party. Its totally astonishing.
These are people that actually thought Iain Duncan Smith was “better than most of (Labour’s) Shadow Cabinet” and actually raised the possibility of voting for Theresa May over Jeremy Corbyn. Words cannot do justice to the kind of political operators these people are.
As the Independent and other have reported, Labour were only 2,227 votes away from forming a coalition government. Imagine where we could be right now if the people implicated in this report hadn’t engaged in such cruel and unnecessary acts of sabotage.
Reading the report makes me fear for the future of the Labour Party. How could an organisation knowingly let this take place? How could it even hire people like this to run the party? No wonder being a member has often felt like being a member of a sinking ship. However, the most depressing thing about the consequences of their actions as outlined in the report is that they’re not confined to the Labour Party. After all, this is a report into the Party’s handling of Antisemitism.
As I have written before on this blog and on my Twitter feed, it was always a perfectly viable argument to say that Antisemitism does exist on the Left and within a fringe of the Labour Party AND that that has been weaponised by certain factional elements to undermine the leadership’s attempts to deal with it effectively. Both of those things can be true at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive.
And so the Labour Party’s handling of its Antisemitism cases, a dreadful, reprehensible ordeal that continues to this day, has been kicked around like a political football for factional purposes. Where does that leave the Jewish community? How do we think they feel about being used in this gross, intra-party civil war like pawns to be bartered and fought over?
It is a stain on the Labour Party and this report not only deepens this crisis of moral legitimacy, but depicts a political party with a an unforeseeable journey back to being a credible, governing party. How the Party makes amends with the Jewish Community, with its BAME members and communities in the public-at-large God only knows. If it cannot, or will not, it won’t deserve to be the political force it once was.