It’s getting dirty. The contest for the constituency places on the national executive committee (NEC) of the Labour Party has hit a new low with the circulation of a dodgy dossier seeking to smear the Progress magazine, and by association, the candidates it is supporting in the elections.
The dossier, the contents of which has been accurate and skilfully torn to pieces here, was posted to every constituency secretary. The envelopes bear a Windsor post-mark. The dossier has been gleefully punted around Twitter and the web by those supporting the grassroots alliance candidates. Few could blame them for that. They saw the chance to denigrate their opponents, and took it. All’s fair in love, war and NEC elections.
The question of provenance is harder to answer. There are still various grouplets around the party’s hard-left: the Labour Representation Committee (LRC), Save the Labour Party, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLPD) and the Left Futures website, which includes Jon Lansman, self-described as a ‘veteran Bennite’ and ‘in spite of his wariness of parliamentary cretinism, he works in parliament for Michael Meacher MP’. But these groups are hardly backwards in coming forwards. If they produce a paper or manifesto, they do so to promote their brand and recruit new supporters. If someone has sat in front of Google, and done a (albeit half-arsed) research job on Progress, they would put their name to it. It would include the necessary socialist analysis and perspectives, laced with a little sectarianism.
Perhaps they have the resources to publish, print and distribute a document to 650 addresses, but why would they do it anonymously? In most detective work, you ask a simple question: cui bono? Or if you’re not a Roman, who benefits? Who has the motive and the means, and who benefits? Unfortunately, I can’t think of anyone, so the trail goes cold.
Dodgy dossiers have a long history in politics. The Daddy is the famous 1924 Zinoviev letter, which brought down the first Labour government, and ushered in the Conservatives. Some historians claim as many as 100 seats changed hands as a result of the ‘red scare’ that the Communists were planning increased agitation in Britain if Labour won the October election. A cabinet committee of the newly-formed Conservative government concluded that the document was genuine. They would wouldn’t they. In 1998, Labour’s foreign secretary Robin Cook ordered an internal investigation into whether the Zinoviev letter was a forgery or not. She had access to the files of both the Russian and British intelligence services, and concluded it was impossible to say who wrote it. The finger points to White Russians operating out of Berlin or Riga.
Chris Huhne knows all about dodgy dossiers. Huhne of course actually won the 2007 Lib Dem leadership election, in the sense of getting more votes than his rival Nick Clegg. By the deadline, 41,000 votes were cast, and Clegg had squeaked home with a majority of 511. But over a thousand votes had been delayed in the post. A Cowley street apparatchik conducted an unofficial count of these late votes, and concluded that Huhne would have won. We might have just lost a deputy prime minister and party leader to the speeding points scandal, had the postal service been a little quicker (or if the Huhnes’ car was driven a little slower).
In the knife-edge contest, Huhne’s team issued a dossier about their rival, called ‘Calamity Clegg’. It should have been required reading before the 2010 election. The document dared to suggest that Clegg was in some way inconsistent, said one thing to one audience and changed his views in front of another, and couldn’t be trusted with the leadership. Huhne had the document waved under his nose live on TV, and subsequently apologised for it. After that, his methods of denigrating a political opponent became less overt.
Did ‘Calamity Clegg’ make a difference? Clegg was probably on course to beat his less telegenic and less personable rival. Many historians argue that Zinoviev didn’t alter the outcome of the 1924 election, which Labour was bound to lose anyway. That’s the problem with ‘what ifs’ in politics.
I don’t know who will win the Labour NEC elections. It will come down to the usual combination of names you’ve heard of, people you know, people that other people tell you to vote for, and some pin the tail on the donkey.
Dirty tricks have the habit of messing up their perpetrators, not their targets.