For people serving a party that has been able to pride itself on its openness, transparency and above all adherence to democracy, Labour’s former staff are giving the impression that they have a problem with all three, as resistance among them to publication of the leaked internal report into what happened behind the scenes during the 2017 General Election campaign, and investigations into claims of anti-Semitism, builds to a crescendo.
This has been made crystal clear by those who briefed the Guardian, which has told readers “Labour report 'misused private messages to portray party members as racist’”. One suspects those quote marks are doing a significant amount of heavy lifting there. But do go on. “Labour staffers named in a leaked internal party report that claimed to show their private hostility to Jeremy Corbyn have alleged that the document misused private messages to falsely make them seem racist and sexist”. There was more.
“The report said opponents hampered his efforts to tackle antisemitism in the party, and cited WhatsApp messages insulting Corbyn’s allies. Some of the messages had apparent racist or sexist overtones … In a formal submission to the inquiry, seen by the Guardian, lawyers for the accused officials say the WhatsApp messages were used selectively and edited to give a false impression. They also say the inquiry should be abandoned given the damage already caused by the leaked report”. Do they now. How convenient.
Then comes the giveaway: there has not been any legal action (yet): “[The lawyers’ submission says] the officials plan to take legal action against Labour over data protection issues and libel as well invasion of privacy and, for some staffers, breach of contract and employment, and will seek substantial damages”. PLAN. MIGHT. COULD.
Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe has made the obvious point: “If former officials thought quotes in the report - which are clearly copied and pasted from WhatsApp - were misleading, they would welcome the Forde inquiry having the chance to see the full texts. Instead, they seem to want to stop the inquiry from looking at the evidence because they fear it will confirm the accuracy of the WhatsApp messages”. She is not alone.
Jon Trickett, who represents Hemsworth, was on the same page. “If it was inaccurate, they can simply publish all their messages so we can judge for ourselves”. Diane Abbott was unimpressed. “Officials at the very top of [Labour] said stuff like ‘Abbott is truly repulsive’ ‘Abbott literally makes me sick’ and conspired with media against me. Now claiming remarks taken out of context. So let’s have full publication of all communications”.
They are right to be suspicious: today is the deadline for submissions to the Forde inquiry set up by Keir Starmer. The legal threat amplified by the Guardian could not have been been more deliberately timed in its publication. The impression had been formed by former Corbyn staffers like Joe Ryle that there had been a concerted attempt to hinder them.
The impression that Labour is being told “shine the sunlight in here and we’ll make it very expensive and time consuming for you, so best not bother if you know what’s good for you” is inescapable. For that reason alone, Labour must not buckle before the threats.
Unless this problem is confronted, Labour will not win power. I’ll just leave that one there.
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