Internal report lays bare poor handling of complaints by Labour

Sienna Rodgers

An internal report created by Labour Party staff has laid bare the extent to which disciplinary cases were poorly handled by party staff members, but concludes that there is no evidence antisemitism complaints were treated differently.

The report, seen in full by LabourList, will not be submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission that is currently investigating antisemitism within the Labour Party, Sky News has reported.

Labour lawyers reportedly consider the report to cover a time period and breadth of issues that do not fall within the scope of the EHRC probe, though can be used to improve the party’s own understanding of the situation.

Sam Matthews, who was head of disputes and was one of the staffers who appeared in a Panorama programme about Labour antisemitism, dismissed the contents of the report.

He told Sky News: “A highly selective, retrospective review of the party’s poor record, not deemed good enough for submission by the party’s own lawyers and conducted in the dying days of a Corbyn’s leadership in order to justify their inaction, simply cannot be relied upon.”

Much of the 860-page document focuses on the poor relations between the leader’s office (LOTO) and Labour headquarters (HQ) including the governance and legal unit (GLU) when Iain McNicol served as general secretary and Jeremy Corbyn was leader.

The relationship between HQ and LOTO

The report says it highlights the HQ’s opposition to LOTO because this “disproves allegations that Corbyn’s office had influence over GLU’s work even while Iain McNicol was general secretary, and was responsible for GLU’s failures to act in this period”.

It claims to contain many emails and WhatsApp messages between HQ staffers during this time, which evidence the strong anti-Corbyn views of the top employees.

The report claims to reveal comments from staff members including:

  • Describing Corbynites as “nutters”;
  • Discussion of “hanging and burning” Jeremy Corbyn;
  • Calling LOTO’s Seumas Milne a “total mentalist” and “nutter”;
  • Referring to LOTO’s Karie Murphy as “Medusa”, “crazy”, a “bitch face cow”, “crazy snake head lady” and saying her face “would make a good dartboard”.

The report includes messages allegedly showing how staffers talked about a pro-Corbyn Young Labour member with mental health problems, as acknowledged in the messages, including comments as follows:

  • Hoping that the member “dies in a fire”;
  • Saying: “I wouldn’t piss on him to put it out”;
  • Adding: “Wish there was a petrol can emoji”.

The report also says HQ staff members talked about how they hoped that the Liberal Democrats would win the Manchester Gorton by-election, and called party members and colleagues “trots”.

It claims they discussed how to delay responding to requests about the move to a one-member-one-vote system for Labour youth elections. This reform was known to have the consequence of benefitting Corbynites.

One particular senior staffer described a LOTO staffer as a “pube head”, “smelly cow” and “fat”, according to the report.

It says they discussed ensuring that Rebecca Long-Bailey was not on the selection panel for choosing Labour’s Manchester Gorton by-election candidate, in a bid to prevent the candidate being a Corbynite.

And it claims they strongly advised against putting the Chakrabarti Report on the party website – as requested by LOTO – and against the party reminding members to vote in national executive committee (NEC) elections through social media.

The messages suggest that they made preparations in January 2017 for a succession plan, whereby then-deputy leader Tom Watson would replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, according to the document.

It says they were involved in preparations for proposals to change back from a one-member-one-vote system to an electoral college system for Labour leadership elections, after the OMOV method delivered a Corbyn victory.

Other HQ staff discussed conducting a “Trot hunt” during the 2015 leadership election, according to the report. At this time, new party members were prevented from voting due to having liked tweets by the Green Party.

The report says they discussed the need to “throw cash” at Tom Watson’s seat in particular, the need to “stop digital campaign budgets going to Ben Soffa for approval” in April 2017, and one commented: “Death by fire is too kind for LOTO”.

And it alleges that staffers talked about the “Diane Abbott school of calculus”, mocking the shadow cabinet member during the 2017 election campaign for crying in toilets, and said they hoped that polling would decline after Corbyn’s speech on foreign policy.

The report claims a “secret key seats team” made up of HQ staffers existed, which it says “appears to have been to funnel additional resources into seats of key figures on the right of the party” – including those of Chuka Umunna and Heidi Alexander, who were in safe constituencies.

The failings of Labour’s disciplinary process

The report states: “By the time a new general secretary took over Party HQ in April 2018 there was a backlog of cases that had been ongoing, often for years, with little to no progress, and with information on their status and content scattered across different systems and central and regional offices.

“Some of these were high-profile cases, awaiting decision at NEC or NCC level. There was, further, a hidden backlog of people reported to GLU for antisemitism, but never dealt with or mishandled, many of whom would be re-reported subsequently, or were picked up in spring 2018 as Iain McNicol was leaving.”

The report says there is no record of action being taken on a number of cases including one member who wished for Corbyn’s death and others that involved Islamophobic comments.

According to the document, the GLU “did not properly log complaints”. But it is asserted that antisemitism complaints were not treated differently to other cases – as their poor handling was evident across the board.

The report does express the view, however, that the same delays were not seen where the work “appeared to be factional such as the “validation” operations during the 2015 and 2016 leadership elections”.

It concludes: “The fact that antisemitism complaints were largely not being dealt with, and often were being mishandled or dropped, appears to have been a consequence of the fact that all complaints received by the party were largely not being dealt with, and often were being mishandled or dropped.”

The write-up asserts that “their lack of action could be down to incompetence, mismanagement, prioritising other work and/or lack of motivation to take disciplinary action when there were not factional gains to be made”.

LOTO intervention in Labour’s complaints process

The leader’s office (LOTO) has been accused of interfering in Labour’s disciplinary process that is supposed to be the responsibility of Labour HQ. The report acknowledges that decisions were not isolated in HQ.

However, the report notes that under Ed Miliband’s leadership HQ staff “routinely sought LOTO sign-off on decisions on disciplinary cases involving elected representatives or high profile members of the party”.

It further says that it was “certainly not standard practice for GLU to consult Jeremy Corbyn’s office on high profile cases” – though later describes how LOTO was consulted on the cases of Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker.

The document also says there was a “flurry of communication between GLU-GSO and LOTO” on the handling of sexual assault and harassment cases concerning staffers and Labour representatives such as Carl Sargeant.

  • One case is detailed that was raised in April 2016 with Jeremy Corbyn, who personally passed it on to HQ. The subject of the complaint was alleged to have posted “pro-Hitler antisemitic tweets”. This member was interviewed in relation to the complaint in August 2016 – yet no further action was taken. According to the report, this party member remains suspended.
  • Another example provided is that a case about a man reportedly with a history of “antisemitic comments” was reported in the Jewish Chronicle and raised by LOTO staff. But the report says no case was logged and no action was taken by GLU. The case was raised again in 2019, and the person was then suspended from the party.
  • One case in October 2017 concerned a member who had written and shared Holocaust denial, called Jewish people “cockroaches” and said “never trust anything a jew says”. But a “suspension does not appear to have been discussed or considered”, the report says, and a notice of investigation (NOI) was issued instead.

In a message reported within the document, an HQ staffer said they were entering “dangerous territory where LOTO are demanding disciplinary action against individuals”.

The report notes that these views “contradict GLU’s previous standard practice of seeking the approval of the Leader’s Office under Ed Miliband for decisions on cases involving candidates”.

Ken Livingstone

The report explores the handling of former Labour representative Ken Livingstone’s high-profile case.

  • It says LOTO was unhappy with the decision by the NCC only to suspend Livingstone, and shows that HQ staff were discussing a rumour that the decision not to take stronger action was made to embarrass Corbyn. This was described by the HQ staffer as a “crazy tale”.
  • Assurances that a second investigation into Livingstone would be launched were given by HQ to stakeholders such as the Jewish Labour Movement, the report reveals, but not actioned.
  • Both staff members in HQ and in LOTO expressed support for persuading Livingstone to resign rather than go through another disciplinary case, partly to save the party money.
  • Ultimately, Livingstone was sent a fresh suspension letter and chose to resign.

The report concludes: “GLU opening a new investigation into Livingstone involved writing just two sentences.

“However, for ten months after Livingstone’s April 2017 NCC hearing, no investigatory work appears to have been undertaken, no questions were put to Livingstone and no witnesses were interviewed.”

Jackie Walker

There is also a section on Walker, a party member who was first accused of antisemitism in 2016.

  • The report says it was decided in May 2016 that Walker had not breached party rules when expressing a belief that there was a “Jewish particularism” about antisemitism. It was recommended that her suspension should be lifted.
  • Walker then attended party conference as a member and made comments about Holocaust Memorial Day that attracted press attention.
  • The report asserts that Walker’s case was “deliberately delayed by GLU staff until Jennie Formby became general secretary, and then again by the NCC”.

Walker was ultimately expelled from the party in March 2019.

Moshe Machover

The report confirms that in the case of Moshe Machover, a Jewish academic who was auto-expelled rather than suspended by the party, LOTO actively raised concerns – as opposed to other cases where LOTO was approached by HQ.

It says that LOTO raised concerns with HQ about the auto-exclusion, which was later reversed. It concludes that the case was mishandled because, among other reasons, expertise was sought but not used.

The report says the Community Security Trust was consulted for the cases of both Walker and Machover, but this advice was not shared with LOTO, the NEC or the party staffer who made the decision to lift Walker’s suspension initially.

It says the “GLU could have subsequently brought disciplinary proceedings on the basis of antisemitism allegations [against Moche Machover] but chose not to.”

Labour Against Antisemitism (LAAS)

According to the report, the organisation LAAS raised complaints with the party and these were mishandled by the GLU and the extent of this was unknown due to inaccurate information.

The document states the following:

“LOTO was informed that:

  • All LAAS complaints had now been dealt with – more than 300 of them.
  • The vast majority of their complaints were not about members of the party – only 22%, 73, were complaints the party could actually “do something with”.
  • All those 73 cases were now receiving an NOI or suspension as appropriate.
  • All complaints of antisemitism were being dealt with promptly and appropriately.

None of this information was accurate.”

The report states that members of staff in HQ “repeatedly gave inaccurate figures” concerning antisemitism cases to LOTO and the new general secretary Jennie Formby.

It also says that the unit “effectively operated an “NOI only” policy before March 2018. This was a misapplication of the guidelines agreed by the NEC on suspensions, and contrary to the recommendations of the Chakrabarti Report.”

The document acknowledges that “LOTO was informed of complaints about elected representatives such as Labour MPs, as was the case during Ed Miliband’s leadership”.

Chris Williamson

On the case of Chris Williamson, who had been a Labour MP, the report specifies that Corbyn-aligned general secretary Jennie Formby said in 2019 that he had brought the party into disrepute.

Formby told staffers that she had personally warned Williamson that it was “completely inappropriate for him as an elected MP to campaign with Labour Against the WitchHunt”.

Williamson was suspended and removed as a parliamentary candidate at the 2019 general election.

Conclusion of the report

In placing responsibility for the mishandling of cases with Iain McNicol’s team, the report states: “In 2017 GLU seem to have dismissed well-evidenced complaints from LAAS as “spam”, without any particularly good cause, and simply not processed them.

“Throughout 2019, by contrast, the GLU team has invested considerable resources in not just processing, but also further investigating, complaints from an individual who is highly abusive towards party staff and party members and submits large numbers of poorly formatted and poorly evidenced complaints.”

The text below is the end of the report.

“Finally, the following findings should be emphasised:

1. There is no evidence that, at any point in GLU’s history, antisemitism complaints were treated differently to any other complaints – the problems outlined affected all complaints about whatsoever subject. Whilst the #MeToo movement and allegations concerning MPs involved in sexual harassment led to a new specifically-tailored process for such complaints, a new specific process was then introduced for antisemitism complaints too.

2. There is also no evidence that any individual working for the Labour Party, former or current, has been motivated by antisemitic intent, nor that any complaints were ever treated less favourably because they came from a Jewish complainant or were concerned with allegations of antisemitism.

3. There is evidence that the lack of robust processes, systems, training, education and effective line management had a significant impact upon the thorough, consistent and expedient handling of all complaints. There is also evidence that there was previously much larger scope for human error, without safeguards in place to allow for correction of them.

4. The evidence demonstrates that, particularly from spring 2018 onwards, the Party has introduced appropriate processes, systems, training, education and effective line management to ensure antisemitism complaints are dealt with swiftly and robustly. These safeguards ensure that the past mistakes in the handling of antisemitism complaints cannot be repeated now.

We believe this report demonstrates an unprecedented level of openness, honesty and transparency in confronting our own past shortcomings. Our overriding objective regardless of anything else is to eradicate the virus of antisemitism from our Party and make our Party a safe and welcoming home for Jewish members.

Never Again.”

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