Labour leadership race turns sour with alleged data breaches

Sienna Rodgers
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If the Iowa caucus results that threw the US Democratic Party presidential primaries into chaos weren’t enough of a political rollercoaster for you, we now have the historic outcome of the 2020 Irish general election. It was not Brexit but the housing crisis, failures in the health service and other domestic issues that dominated the campaign, which allowed Sinn Féin to win the most first preferences. The Labour Party was squeezed by their success, and did poorly, still tarnished by its associated with austerity. We don’t yet know how the parties will negotiate with each other to form a coalition government, but the developments are well worth following – in the long term as well as over the next few weeks, because support for a border poll appears to be very popular among young Irish voters.

The UK Labour Party is having a very interesting time of its own as the leadership race has turned sour. Over the weekend, the party apparently reported Keir Starmer’s campaign team to the Information Commissioner for an alleged data breach, and this letter was then leaked to the BBC. The claim that they hacked into a party database and illegally obtained information on members was described as “utter, utter nonsense” by campaign chair Jenny Chapman yesterday. So, what happened exactly?

Team Keir say they were alerted to emails sent out by Rebecca Long-Bailey’s campaign that included links to Dialogue, Labour’s phonebanking system. This took place at the start of the month. It appeared that the candidate had been encouraging supporters to use party membership data, to which none of the contenders should have access until nominations close on February 14th. Team RLB said they were simply using resources from the 2019 general election campaign that had not been updated. An understandable mistake. It’s not as if the problem with their campaign is lack of data anyway – they have plenty of that thanks to Momentum.

Starmer’s camp then went to investigate the links. Again, understandably, they wanted to have a poke around to see how exactly Dialogue was used and – purposefully or not – promoted by their rivals against the rules. But in doing so, sources say they went further than Long-Bailey’s team by logging into Dialogue, which has led to two members of Team Keir being reported by the party and no members of Team RLB being reported. The whole series of events seems quite ridiculous when it was the party in the first place that should have closed access to Dialogue (now suspended). And it is the fact that the letter was leaked to the BBC, making this dispute public, which has really angered Starmer’s campaign team. Allegations of “dirty tricks” are everywhere now.

In other news, don’t miss our exclusive from Emily Thornberry’s campaign today. The leadership hopeful says she would remove decisions over arms exports from political control and transfer responsibility for them to an independent body of legal experts. Politicians – namely Boris Johnson, Jeremy Hunt and Liam Fox – are the ones who have signed off unlawful arms exports to Saudia Arabia in recent years, after all. She has written a comment piece setting out her policy idea, which would be implemented through ‘The Robin Cook Act’.

Thornberry is the only candidate in either race not to have secured a place on the ballot paper yet. She needs 15 more local parties to nominate her by Friday. Take a look at our rolling list for the latest CLP nominations, which saw Jeremy Corbyn’s own patch of Islington North go narrowly to Starmer rather than Long-Bailey by just three votes. Again, he benefitted from second preferences. It wasn’t a particularly surprising result, considering Starmer is a neighbouring north London MP and the members will have agreed strongly with his stance on Brexit, but it does add to the impression that his lead is now unassailable.

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