The Tory press are playing games again. We must not let it distract us

John Mills

Telegraph and Mail front pages

Over the last few days I have had another painful insight into the lengths that some papers in the UK will go to get a story, even if one doesn’t exist. I have been a Labour Party supporter for more than 40 years. I served as a Labour Councillor in Camden for almost continuously from 1971 to 2006, and have since then played a role in supporting the party as a donor and by contributing to policy discussions. I am very passionate about the Labour Party, and believe in the role it can play it helping us realise a more equal and prosperous society. Yet it seems that my long track-record as a supporter of the party and its mission will not stop some papers from trying to stir up stories and create damaging – false – rumours.

Since Jeremy Corbyn’s victory, it has become clear that the Tory press is looking for a story – any story – that suggests the Labour Party might be in disarray. Over the last week, people across the piece, including donors, long-term activists and supporters, have been contacted to see if they are willing to say anything controversial and newsworthy. They must have found it difficult, because on Monday morning The Telegraph put out mischievous claims that I would stop funding the Labour Party, and even fund a group they called “The Resistance” which is absolutely untrue. Unfortunately, in spite of my immediate statement about the inaccuracy of these claims, these rumours have now been repeated by The Times.

Over last weekend I was contacted by many journalists who wanted to my take on the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party. One of these journalists was Ben Riley-Smith from The Telegraph, who asked for my reaction to the leadership result. I told him, as I did to other reporters on the same day, that we needed to recognise the scale of the victory that Corbyn secured, and that although we had differences of opinion on policies – like economics – people needed to acknowledge the strength of support shown for him across all the different parts of the party. I also said I would work within the party to continue to campaign for the policies I believed in, and that activists, donors and supporters should stay united.

He also asked questions about how I might donate to the party in the future.  Again, I was clear that a change of leadership would not change the way that I supported the Labour Party. In fact, as is widely known, the Labour Party holds shares in my company, JML, which were donated by me. The party is therefore entitled to collect dividends on these shares now, today, and for the indefinite future regardless of who leads the party. My statements were, thankfully, fairly reported particularly by the International Business Times but also on a number of TV and radio programmes.

When the report came out I was shocked at how The Telegraph had completely twisted my comments. I was most surprised by the totally false claims that I was considering supporting a group, called Labour for the Common Good, which is allegedly planning to oust Jeremy Corbyn. I am not involved with such a group, and I only in fact became aware of its existence when I read about them in the papers along with everyone else. It is worth adding that Labour for The Common Good also denies these claims. Jeremy Corbyn fairly won the leadership election, and he now has a strong mandate from all quarters of the party to lead it.

I made this all very clear in a statement I put out on Twitter on Monday, which is permanently archived online. It has been viewed by thousands of people. I also used an appearance on Bloomberg TV yesterday to set the record straight, and assumed this painful matter was now over with. Unfortunately, yet again, this morning these malicious rumours were reported in The Times.

The real tragedy is that these papers’ obsession with digging up false stories about internal conflicts in the party has distracted us from the failure of the Conservative government to get the UK economy growing – thus fuelling much of the disillusionment which has led to support for Jeremy Corbyn’s policies.  For example, last week new figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed that UK goods exports had suffered their worst month in nearly five years. The manufacturing sector also reported a 0.8% decline in July, meaning that production is now 0.5% lower than a year ago. We are again entering tough times, and the government’s failure to tackle long-term fundamental problems with the UK economy, like the low rate of investment and productivity, will cause misery and unemployment across the country.

I have been attacked by the Tory press before. That is something I have come to accept as unfortunately being part of parcel of being a major donor to a mainstream political party. I am, and have always, been willing to speak on and off the record to journalists, and I always try to answer questions directly. But in return I ask that my comments are fairly reported and without unnecessary ‘spin’. I find it very painful when I feel I’m being used as a rod to attack the party I have been a member of for 40 years, and indeed to which I have devoted much of my life. We must stand strong and united in the face of these attacks and, crucially, we must not let it distract us from the failure of the Conservatives’ misguided and harmful austerity policies.

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