In the June 2017 UK general election, Labour under Jeremy Corbyn came within a whisker of power. If just 2,227 votes had gone the other way, seven Tory knife-edge constituencies would have been won by Labour, putting Corbyn in a strong position to lead a coalition government.
Labour achieved 40 per cent in the election, increasing its share of the vote by more than any other of the party’s election leaders since 1945. As we noted at the time, it was one of the most astonishing results in UK political history.
A leaked internal Labour report now reveals that senior Labour figures were actively trying to stop Labour winning the general election in order to oust Corbyn as party leader. The 860-page document, ‘The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019’, first leaked to Sky News, was the product of an extensive internal investigation into the way Labour handled antisemitism complaints.
The report includes copious damning examples of email and WhatsApp exchanges among Labour officials expressing contempt for Jeremy Corbyn and anyone who supported him, including other Labour staff, Labour MPs and even the public.
The document includes:
- Conversations on election night about the need to hide internal Labour disappointment that Corbyn had done better than expected and would be unlikely to resign
- Regular sneering references to Corbyn-supporting party staff as ‘trots’
- Conversations between senior staff in Labour general secretary Iain McNicol’s office in which they refer to former director of communications Seamus Milne as ‘dracula’, and saying he was ‘spiteful and evil and we should make sure he is never allowed in our Party if it’s last thing we do’
- Conversations in which the same group refers to Corbyn’s former chief of staff Karie Murphy as ‘medusa’, a ‘crazy woman’ and a ‘bitch face cow’ that would ‘make a good dartboard’
- A discussion in which one of the group members expresses their ‘hope’ that a young pro-Corbyn Labour activist, whom they acknowledge had mental health problems, ‘dies in a fire’
The investigation was completed in the last month of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. According to Tom Rayner, Sky News political correspondent, the report found:
‘“no evidence” of antisemitism complaints being treated differently to other forms of complaint, or of current or former staff being “motivated by antisemitic intent”.’
However, the report did conclude that:
‘factional hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn amongst former senior officials contributed to “a litany of mistakes” that hindered the effective handling of the issue [of antisemitism].’
An unnamed pro-Corbyn ‘senior source’ who worked in Corbyn’s leadership office said:
‘This report completely blows open everything that went on.’
Referring to then Labour party general secretary Iain McNicol, the source added:
‘We were being sabotaged and set up left right and centre by McNicol’s team and we didn’t even know. It’s so important that the truth comes out.’
This is part of the bigger picture that we have repeatedly highlighted of the weaponisation of antisemitism to prevent Corbyn gaining power. The fact that senior figures within the Labour Party itself were actively working to prevent Corbyn’s victory is grim indeed.
The report says that:
‘The party’s resources – paid for by party members – were often utilised to further the interests of one faction and in some cases were used to undermine the party’s objectives.’
In particular, anti-Corbyn party officials conspired to divert funds to Labour candidates critical of Corbyn. Senior management agreed to ‘throw cash’ at the seat of Tom Watson, then deputy leader and a persistent Corbyn critic.
Significant resources were also channelled to a ‘secret key seats team’ in May 2017, without the knowledge of Corbyn or his office. This secret team worked to support MPs, including Watson, who were on the right wing of the party, diverting funds away from marginal seats.
Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani, who has examined the leaked report, gives examples of remarkable exchanges that took place among senior staff conspiring against Corbyn’s leadership. These include Labour managers expressing hope during the election campaign that the most pessimistic polls were correct. Greg Cook, Labour head of political strategy, said on June 4 – four days before the general election – that he hoped the ‘sheer hypocrisy’ of a Corbyn speech would make his views ‘a legitimate topic’ for attack, even referring to the Labour leader as ‘a lying little toerag’.
When a YouGov poll showed Labour’s rating going up during the campaign, Francis Grove-White, the party’s international policy officer, said:
‘I actually felt quite sick when I saw that YouGov poll last night.’
On election night, after the exit poll revealed that Labour had overturned the Conservative majority, Tracey Allen, the general secretary’s office manager, said that the result was the:
‘opposite to what I had been working towards for the last couple of years.’
She described herself and her anti-Corybn allies as ‘silent and grey-faced’ and in need of counselling.
McNicol – recall that he was the party general secretary – reacted with dismay as the pro-Corbyn results came in:
‘It’s going to be a long night.’
The following morning, Allen bemoaned:
‘We will have to suck this up. The people have spoken. Bastards.’
Emilie Oldknow, a senior Labour staffer mentioned above, was scathing about Labour MPs expressing support for Corbyn following Labour’s surprisingly good election results, describing one MP as ‘grovelling’ and ‘embarrassing’.
As Bastani summarises, the leaked report:
‘depict[s] a disloyal, dysfunctional culture at the top of the party – one which held Labour’s twice elected leadership, party members, and any MPs they disagreed with, in contempt. Far from a few “bad apples” the messages expose systematic and sustained efforts to undermine the leadership by multiple figures in director-level positions.’
‘These revelations should end any debate around whether Labour’s senior management team, including McNicol, were serious about a Labour government in 2017. To the contrary what this stunning cache of documents reveals is how McNicol – and a tight, unelected circle around him – made every effort to undermine and denigrate that year’s election campaign, frequently stating how they hoped it would fail while simultaneously planning to replace Jeremy Corbyn from as early as January .’
Although long suspected, it is still breathtaking to see that senior Labour figures essentially conspired to prevent a Corbyn-led government, and that they would have actually preferred the re-election of an extreme-right Tory government.
Film director Ken Loach told the Morning Star that the leaked report was ‘dynamite’. He added:
‘If the evidence – all the emails and the secretive, abusive messages – is accurate, there has to be a reckoning, there must be consequences for this behaviour.’
David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists’ Group said:
‘Many left-wing Jewish Labour members had criticised the Labour right wing for cynically using allegations of anti-semitism as a factional weapon. We believed that the leadership was genuine and principled in its efforts to address any such problem. Perhaps this report will validate us.’
It surely does.
Historian Louise Raw responded to the leaked report via Twitter:
‘It’s sickening to read, even though we all *knew*. Destroying Corbyn was a malicious game. The zest of the wreckers, and their hatred for those us who supported him, hits you like a punch to the gut.’
‘Mainstream’ Media Decree What The Story Should Be
But the utterly damning evidence in the leaked Labour report that Corbyn was undermined by his own party’s senior figures – that they were actually complicit in weaponising antisemitism to keep him out of Downing Street – is not the ‘correct’ story to tell from the perspective of power. Instead, the focus for ‘mainstream’ media has been immediately twisted and deceptively presented as a desperate ‘smear campaign’ against ‘antisemitism whistleblowers’ by Corbyn allies.
Thus, for the staunchly right-wing establishment Times, the required takeaway from the Labour report is this cynical diversion:
‘Jeremy Corbyn’s allies have been accused of a last-minute bid to “smear whistleblowers” and “discredit allegations” of antisemitism in the Labour Party during his tenure.’
Under the headline, ‘Antisemitism “smear campaign” by Corbyn allies’, reporter Eleni Courea features quotes from Gideon Falter, chief executive of the lobby group Campaign Against Antisemitism which played a major role in the relentless attacks on Corbyn:
‘In the dying days of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party appears to have invested in a desperate last-ditch attempt to deflect and discredit allegations of antisemitism. Rather than properly dealing with cases of antisemitism and the culture of anti-Jewish racism that prevailed [sic] during Mr Corbyn’s tenure, the party has instead busied itself trawling through 10,000 of its own officials’ emails and Whatsapp messages in an attempt to imagine a vast anti-Corbyn conspiracy and to continue its effort to smear whistleblowers.’
The Telegraph gave its reporting a similar spin, ignoring the mountain of evidence of internal Labour hostility towards Corbyn, acting to prevent a general election victory. Instead, it led with the trumped-up accusation that ‘supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’ had released ‘unredacted details of anti-Semitism whistleblowers into the public domain’. The Telegraph report, like The Times article, gave prominent space to comments from the Campaign Against Antisemitism.
Clearly singing from the same hymn sheet, the Evening Standard, edited by former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, told its readers:
‘Jeremy Corbyn’s allies have been accused of using a report to “smear whistleblowers” and “discredit allegations” of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party during his tenure.’
Once again, rather than include any of the many damning quotes by senior Labour staff smearing or disparaging Corbyn, the newspaper gave space to the Campaign Against Antisemitism with its chief executive Gideon Falter once again to the fore. It is worth adding here that Joe Glasman, who heads the political investigations team at the Campaign Against Antisemitism, boasted after the 2019 UK general election that ‘the beast is slain’ and that Corbyn had been ‘slaughtered’.
Evening Standard columnist Anne McElvoy was scathing about the leaked report, denouncing it as:
‘a Stasi-like trawl of internal mails and messages in search of disloyalty.’
‘As conspiracy theories go, this one is up there with 5G equipment spreading Covid-19.’
‘We understand the disappointment and frustration that many Labour members will feel with the details revealed in this report.
‘It contains revelation of senior officials undermining the 2017 general election campaign and suggests there are cases to answer on bullying, harassment, sexism and racism.’
To its credit, the Independent later published an extensive follow-up piece with a headline that summed up the incredible revelations of the 860-page Labour report:
‘Anti-Corbyn Labour officials worked to lose general election to oust leader, leaked dossier finds’
But, true to form, BBC News struck its usual pro-establishment ‘impartial’ stance by featuring the omnipresent Gideon Falter of the Campaign Against Antisemitism. However, it did at least permit a tiny hint at the essential awkward truth in a brief line:
‘…some [senior Labour figures] seemed 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”.’
A later piece, clearly meant as a more extensive account but buried deep in the ‘Politics’ section of the BBC News website, had all of seven sentences of ‘analysis’ by BBC Political Correspondent Helen Catt; the crucial one being:
‘it’s the allegation that Labour staff worked against a win for Mr Corbyn in the 2017 election that is likely to be most incendiary, if proven.’ [emphasis added]
‘If proven’. Once again, copious examples of senior Labour staff working against a Corbyn win are excluded from a ‘mainstream’ media report.
And where is BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg? Has she gone into hiding? This is a major BBC figure who, month after month, channelled a one-sided account of Labour’s supposed antisemitism crisis, including an infamous BBC Panorama programme demolished as a ‘catalogue of reporting failures’ by the Media Reform Coalition.
Her silence now on the leaked Labour report is shameful and a kick in the teeth to the TV licence fee-paying public which she supposedly serves. Where are all her tweets decrying the betrayal of so many British voters, and the betrayal of democracy itself? Why is there nothing about it on her BBC blog?
And yet, Kuenssberg was happy to use her influential Twitter platform to amplify a message from Iain McNicol on April 4, less than two weeks ago:
‘Labour’s former General Sec now Labour Peer, Iain McNichol [sic] – “The sad fact that Labour has the lowest number of MPs since the WW2 tells you everything you need to know about the Corbyn experiment. I like, thousands in the Labour party, am thankful that chapter is now closed.”’
Her silence now on the revelations concerning McNicol’s despicable role in thwarting a Labour victory in 2017 is telling indeed.
Likewise, where is Robert Peston, the ITV political editor? Why does his blog have nothing on this scandal? Where are all his Twitter remarks on the shocking truth of the subversion by senior Labour figures of Corbyn’s attempt to win the 2017 general election? According to Michael Walker of Novara Media, reporting via Double Down News on 15 April, Kuenssberg and Peston, along with Paul Brand of ITV and Tom Newton Dunn of the Sun, have not tweeted at all about the report.
The harsh truth is that these journalists have been selectively filtered upwards into their highly influential positions, having demonstrated that they would be safe choices at each stage of their respective careers. In other words, there would never be a serious risk that they would pursue real journalism that truly holds power to account.
And will BBC Newsnight’s ‘lead presenter’, Emily Maitlis, be commenting? On April 1, she retweeted a thread from someone called Dave Rich. The first tweet in the thread all but described Corbyn as a Nazi:
‘Goodbye Jeremy Corbyn. They said you don’t have an antisemitic bone in your body. That may be true, but your brain is full of it. Can we remember all the examples? Probably not but I’ll have a go /1’
This was retweeted by this senior BBC journalist to her quarter of a million followers. Maitlis has interviewed and discussed Corbyn innumerable times over the last five years. Can anyone believe, after reading this, that she was impartial, objective and neutral in so doing?
Perhaps the state-corporate media’s elitist and arrogant attitude to the leaked report can be summed up by the disdainful dismissal from Times columnist Iain Martin:
‘shut up, no-one cares right now.’
True enough: ‘no one cares’ about the subversion of the 2017 general election…if you are a beneficiary of the inequitable system of what passes for ‘democracy’.
As for the relentlessly anti-Corbyn Guardian, a lead player in the propaganda blitz to keep even a moderate socialist out of power, its report by deputy political editor Rowena Mason led with a mild headline merely suggestive of the underlying reality:
‘“Hostility to Corbyn” curbed Labour efforts to tackle antisemitism, says leaked report’
How about ‘Hostility to Corbyn curbed Labour efforts to win the 2017 general election’? That would be more of a fitting headline.
Mason gave no details of the copious examples of anti-Corbyn plotting and loathing we cited earlier in this media alert. But she did somehow find space for a tweet from Ian Austin, a former Labour MP who had left the party because of its supposed endemic antisemitism. Austin called the leaked report ‘unreliable’, adding:
‘In last days of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour trawled through 10,000 emails and messages to produce a report into antisemitism that attempts to shield him and his supporters from any blame, and instead pin responsibility on whistleblowers and former members of staff.’
Unmentioned in the Guardian piece is that Austin is now the UK trade envoy to Israel, a reward for his pro-Israel services.
Compare Mason’s bland piece of ‘balanced journalism’ with the succinct summary offered by former Guardian journalist Jonathan Cook:
‘The Labour party inquiry now being suppressed has a trove of emails – some cited in this article – *proving* that Labour’s top officials plotted to bring down Corbyn and sought to engineer a Tory election win. Their actions probably cost Labour the 2017 election.
‘Don’t forget that the gang of Labour officials quoted here – boasting to each other about how much they wanted Corbyn gone, even if it meant letting in the Tories – were *extremely* close to the gang at the Guardian who led the media’s efforts to sabotage his leadership.’
Adding to the shame of the Guardian’s role in stopping Corbyn becoming Prime Minister, the anthropologist and social commentator David Graeber observed via Twitter on April 12:
‘in Aug 2019 I tried repeatedly to get a piece in the Guardian suggesting anti-Corbyn saboteurs in the LP [Labour Party] were fanning the flames & doing so was itself #antisemitism. Editor told me explicitly I would NOT be allowed to criticise Corbyn’s critics motives’
Graeber shared the relevant text of what a Guardian editor had told him:
‘I understand what you’re saying but we can’t carry an article which reads like an ad hominem attack on people who most prominent Jewish people call allies. It’s too much of a leap from most people’s understanding of this issue (not to say libellous) to declare people such as Tom Watson antisemites – or, at best, manipulative.’
This ‘argument’ from a Guardian editor – whom Graeber declined to name – is nonsensical. As one Twitter user said, replying to Graeber:
‘Readers’ understanding of the issue having of course been formed by the articles The Guardian did chose to print. It is a chilling admission by the paper that it is no longer prepared to print articles that dissent from its editorial line.’
‘yes exactly – this is the circularity that’s amazing. “No one will believe this because it departs from the conventional understandings which we’ve been hammering into them for two years now so you can’t say it.”’
In fact, far from it being ‘too much of a leap from most people’s understanding’, Graeber sets out his case very clearly and compellingly in this new clip titled ‘The Weaponisation of Antisemitism’ from Double Down News (April 12, 2020). In particular, Graeber points to the insidious roles played by such Labour figures as Ian Austin, Margaret Hodge, Tom Watson, John Woodcock, Joan Ryan, Jess Phillips and Tony Blair in promoting a supposed crisis of antisemitism in Labour:
‘What actually happened [was] a group of people, most of whom were not Jewish, going to the media and screaming their heads off, trying to create hysteria, trying to terrify the Jewish population, trying to create an atmosphere of fear, of potential purges within a political party. Because then people are going to think, well maybe there is some kind of conspiracy going on. I mean, it wasn’t as it turned out largely a Jewish conspiracy going on because most of the people doing it weren’t Jewish. And most of the people who were Jewish were hardly representative of the Jewish community at large.’
Graeber has set out this theme at greater length in an article he wrote last year for openDemocracy, titled: ‘For the first time in my life, I’m frightened to be Jewish’.
The newly leaked Labour internal document reveals the fear and disgust amongst many figures in senior Labour Party management towards socialism in the UK. So many Labour figures at the top simply could not bear the prospect of the mildly progressive Jeremy Corbyn reaching Number 10 Downing Street.
Where are the media headlines, interviews and extensive analyses of how senior insiders colluded for Labour to lose a general election? What about the betrayal of all those Labour MPs, staff and volunteers who worked to overturn a destructive right-wing Tory government? What about all those millions of British people who voted for a shift to a more just and compassionate society? A society in which the NHS is truly valued, the welfare and benefits system really does act as a safety net for all, radical carbon cuts in emissions are implemented immediately, and in which foreign policy is no longer guided by outdated and discredited brutal imperialism and the supposed need for a profitable ‘defence’ industry.
Is ‘democracy’ so unimportant – or so repellent – that the UK’s most highly-rewarded and prominent news media, editors and journalists can dismiss the revelations behind the 2017 general election with such superficial reporting or, worse, a disdainful silence? Especially given the present coronavirus pandemic, and the ever-looming climate catastrophe that threatens to overwhelm us all, the implications of stifling a rational leftward shift in British society, and the wilful refusal to examine what happened, are almost too horrendous to imagine.
DC & DE
Note added April 18, 2020:
We’ve removed our reference to an assertion made elsewhere that senior Labour staffer Emilie Oldknow sought to deliberately delay the expulsion of Ken Livingstone to embarrass Jeremy Corbyn, as the claim appears to be inaccurate.