QC finds Labour staff had worked to hinder Corbyn

Long-awaited Forde report tells how anti-semitism was ‘weaponised’

Friday, 29th July — By Richard Osley


While Sir Keir Starmer sacked his shadow transport minister Sam Tarry for appearing at the RMT’s picket line at Euston on Wednesday and urged others not to do the same, Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn had no doubt about joining the striking railway workers. Members of the Islington North Constituency Labour Party and John McDonnell joined him outside the station. Photo: Simon Lamrock

MEMBERS of the Labour Party’s own workforce acted to hinder Jeremy Corbyn’s chances of winning a general election during his leadership, an investigation has found.

His supporters have often claimed that the Islington North MP’s time in charge was sabotaged from within, often only to be dismissed as obsessives or fantasists.

But the long-awaited Forde report laid bare what was described as a “straightforward” attempt to hurt Mr Corbyn’s chances of forming a Labour government.

The findings, compiled by Martin Forde QC on the request of Mr Corbyn’s successor Sir Keir Starmer, also said that on anti-semitism, both sides of a factional divide could be accused of “weaponising the issue and failing to recognise the seriousness.”

Mr Corbyn lost the parliamentary whip when he suggested that the scale of the problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media” after the publication of a separate Equalities and Human Rights Commission report into the party’s operations.

Mr Starmer has said he must apologise for these remarks if he wants to stand for Labour again at the next general election – a stance which has been the source of ongoing tension in Islington.

Mr Forde reported that a “toxic” atmosphere had developed in Labour’s headquarters during Mr Corbyn’s time in charge.

“Members of the SMT [Senior Management Team] Whatsapp groups were focussed on what they saw as protecting the party from Jeremy Corbyn rather than helping his agenda,” his report said.

“Some comments do appear to show straightforward attempts to hinder LOTO [Leader of the Opposition]’s work (in their view, for the party’s greater good).”

Mr Forde found that some staff – a “handful” – had not put through leaflet printing cash for pro-Corbyn candidates standing for Labour in winnable seats, but did so for those on the opposite wing of the party.

The transcript of messages swapped by staff hostile to Mr Corbyn showed one saying they were “ashen-faced” when an exit poll after voting for the general election in 2017 showed the party had foiled Theresa May’s attempts to gain a Commons majority.

The inquiry also found evidence of “overt and underlying racism and sexism” apparent in some of the content of the Whatsapp messages between the party’s most senior staff.

Islington’s council leader Kaya Comer-Schwartz has demanded a robust response from the party to deal with this.

Mr Corbyn said in response: “My election as leader in 2015 was a major shock in British politics. It wasn’t about me, but a popular demand for anti-austerity politics following the 2008 financial crisis and 35 years of market fundamentalism.

“Despite overwhelming support from members and affiliates, powerful groups in the party found that change hard to come to terms with. This led to a conflict in Labour that created a toxic environment, which the Forde Report lays bare.

“In any party there are groups and factions, but the resistance we were faced with went far beyond that.”

He added: “It included the secret diversion of campaign funds by senior HQ staff in the 2017 election, which Forde rightly condemns as ‘unequivocally wrong’. Whether or not that prevented the election of a Labour government, it was dishonest.

“In a democratic party those decisions should be taken by the elected leadership. Too often the will of the membership was overridden by people who thought they shouldn’t have had a say in the first place.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Forde report details a party that was out of control.

“Keir Starmer is now in control and has made real progress in ridding the party of the destructive factionalism and unacceptable culture that did so much damage previously and contributed to our defeat in 2019.”

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