Labour settled the Panorama libel case yesterday, agreeing to pay “substantial damages” and apologising to seven former Labour staffers and BBC journalist John Ware. Labour said it had defamed the individuals in the aftermath of the documentary, which looked into antisemitism in the party. At the time, a Labour spokesperson had described the programme as a “seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards” and complained to Ofcom. But Labour’s lawyers yesterday said the statements issued following its airing had included “invented quotes”, “flouted journalistic ethics” and were “defamatory”. The settlement is believed to have cost Labour around £600,000, with about £180,000 in damages agreed for the eight individuals.
Plenty of reaction followed. Jeremy Corbyn issued a statement in the afternoon, saying that “our legal advice was that the party had a strong defence” – and criticising the move as a “political decision, not a legal one”. Left figures in the labour movement, such as Ian Lavery MP, expressed solidarity with the former Labour leader – while the Jewish Labour Movement, Lisa Nandy MP and others welcomed the outcome of the case. Longstanding Corbyn critic Margaret Hodge MP called the former leader’s intervention “bizarre“. Meanwhile, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey tweeted that the move was a “misuse of Labour Party funds to settle a case it was advised we would win in court”. Nandy told the BBC that McCluskey was “completely wrong” and said the party is “taking steps today to get it right” on antisemitism.
It’s worth mentioning that all Labour leadership candidates had committed to settling the case during the leadership election, including Corbynite Rebecca Long-Bailey. But since then we’ve seen the leaked report on the party’s handling of antisemitism complaints emerge. The document includes allegations that disciplinary cases were mishandled in order to undermine Corbyn’s leadership, and McCluskey said yesterday that it “tells a very different story about what happened”. This report is itself obviously controversial. Mark Lewis – the lawyer who acted for Ware and the former staffers in the Panorama case – told BBC Newsnight that he has been approached by 32 people who want to take legal action over the dossier. This includes former general secretary Iain McNicol, who the lawyer reported is suing for “being blamed for things that simply didn’t happen”. Lewis added that the document was “incredibly edited, incredibly slanted, incredibly misleading”.
But the problem is that claims made in the document relate to the issues raised in the documentary, and it named some of the Panorama whistleblowers. Some within the party consequently see the leaked report as vindicating the comments made after the documentary was aired. John McDonnell wrote in April that, if true, the allegations suggested “staff not only failed to deal with cases of antisemitism effectively but also covered up their failure”. The inquiry into the leaked report, chaired by Martin Forde QC, has now been delayed and is expected to be completed at the end of the year. Its call for evidence has just been extended by two weeks as well, with the deadline on August 7th at 5pm.
In other news, John McDonnell launched ‘Claim the Future’ in an online Zoom event. Joined by guests including Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, the former Shadow Chancellor urged attendees to join the campaign. He told viewers “there are some who are arguing that this is not the time to be promoting new ideas”, but declared “there is a positive role for many of us to play in instigating a constructive discussion about the society we want to create”. You can read his full speech here. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.