In the rock mockumentary All You Need Is Cash, about a fictional band called The Rutles (a spoof of The Beatles), viewers are told of how the group’s last days descended into acrimonious infighting: “amidst all this bickering, Let It Rot was issued as a film, an album … and a lawsuit”. The BBC Panorama broadcast titled “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” looks very much as if it has become that album’s real-life equivalent.
But while The Rutles was played strictly for laughs, the legal actions launched against Labour have been anything but. And last week, when rumours circulated suggesting the party was going to settle the case, the unease among those on the left grew exponentially as the Guardian told readers “Any apology will prove controversial among Corbyn loyalists, who questioned whether settling it is a good use of party funds”. There was more.
“The Guardian understands legal advice provided to Labour under Corbyn’s leadership suggested the party could win the case. One Corbyn-supporting former member of its ruling national executive committee said: ‘It was clear advice: we were told that the Labour party would win the Panorama case. Then Keir came in and he seems to have decided to settle. If the legal advice has changed, it should be shared with the NEC”.
Well, now Labour has settled, and paid out the thick end of a million notes to do so. The Guardian once more: “The Labour party has apologised 'unreservedly' and paid out a six-figure sum to seven former employees and a veteran BBC journalist, admitting it defamed them in the aftermath of a Panorama investigation into its handling of antisemitism”.everyone in the party was supportive: “Key figures in Labour when Jeremy Corbyn was leader are mulling a challenge to the party’s settlement with a BBC journalist and seven of its former staff over a libel case relating to a Panorama programme last year about its handling of antisemitism. It is understood the former Labour leader himself as well as his former director of communications Seumas Milne have taken legal advice”.
Quite apart from the expense involved, the question has to be asked - if legal advice had been received clearly stating that Labour would win the case, why abandon it now? Moreover, the idea that this will draw a line under allegations of anti-Semitism is for the birds: the settlement is being claimed as proof that Labour was an anti-Semitic party.
Add to that the deep unease among the party’s left wing at what appears very much like former leader Jeremy Corbyn, along with Milne and former General Secretary Jennie Formby being thrown under the nearest bus, and there is real danger of a damaging schism appearing - or a sudden and substantial reduction in membership.
Keir Starmer may have good reason for acting as he has. His problem, and that of his party, is that rather a lot of its supporters find the U-Turn exasperating and bewildering.
But many of them do know that they are deeply unhappy. I’ll just leave that one there.