Momentum calls on Labour to publish Panorama libel case legal advice

Elliot Chappell

Momentum’s national coordinating group has issued a statement on the settlement of the Panorama libel case and the apology issued by Labour that calls on the party to publish the legal advice it received.

In the statement this afternoon, the NCG said Labour must be “honest and transparent” with members, who deserve to know “whether or not these settlements were in line with the legal advice the party received”.

It said that the apology and settlement of the case had taken place “despite reports that the legal advice received by Labour said the party would have likely won in court because it had strong legal defences”.

The governing body of Momentum also wrote that “apologies or concessions made” could undermine the ongoing inquiry being carried out by Martin Forde QC into the leaked report on Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints.

The statement highlights that this report contains allegations of “failures by the Labour right in dealing with complaints of antisemitism and islamophobia and argued that factionalism played a significant role in this”.

It added: “Many of these allegations countered the claims made in the Panorama programme… if a Panorama programme on the subject of antisemitism in the Labour Party were made today, it would be very different were it to reflect the contents of the leaked report.”

Labour issued a statement in court on Wednesday morning, in which it said it “apologises unreservedly” to the former Labour staffers and a journalist in the Panorama libel case and agreed to pay “substantial damages”.

Seven former Labour employees who appeared in the programme and the BBC’s John Ware claimed that senior figures within Labour had attacked their reputations and suggested they had personal motives to undermine the party.

When the documentary was aired last year, a party spokesperson stated that the programme was a “malicious, selective briefing from disaffected, politically hostile former employees” and complained to Ofcom.

The party statement issued on Wednesday said that these comments had “contained defamatory and false allegations against the whistleblowers” in the documentary – and that it “unreservedly withdraws these allegations”.

The settlement is believed to have cost the party between £600,000 and £750,000 – with around £200,000 in damages agreed for the eight individuals.

Former leader Jeremy Corbyn has criticised the move to apologise and settle the case, calling it a “political decision, not a legal one”. He argued: “Our legal advice was that the party had a strong defence.”

Momentum founder and former chair Jon Lansman also commented on Labour’s statement yesterday. He said: “I tweeted something similar based on the party’s advice and assurances and also apologise to the former staffers.”

Below is the full text of the statement issued by Momentum’s NCG today.

Labour has made apologies over last year’s Panorama programme, despite reports that the legal advice received by Labour said the Party would have likely won in court because it had strong legal defences.

Labour must be honest and transparent with its members by publishing this legal advice. Labour members deserve to know how much of their money has been spent in these settlements and whether or not these settlements were in line with the legal advice the Party received.

Any apologies or concessions made while the inquiry into the leaked report, led by Martin Forde QC, is ongoing, could run the risk of undermining that inquiry.

Members are still waiting for answers and justice over the contents of the leaked report. This includes allegations of racism, sexism, ableism and abuse towards Labour MPs and pro-Corbyn staff, and allegations about attempts to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and work against a Labour victory in the 2017 General Election.

The leaked report also made allegations about failures by the Labour right in dealing with complaints of antisemitism and islamophobia and argued that factionalism played a significant role in this. Many of these allegations countered the claims made in the Panorama programme and it is clear that, if a Panorama programme on the subject of antisemitism in the Labour Party were made today, it would be very different were it to reflect the contents of the leaked report.

Today’s news is another example of why it is so important that we elect representatives to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) who will be a strong voice for grassroots members and fight for justice over the leaked report.

We urge members to stay in the Party or rejoin if you have left or lapsed and vote for the Grassroots Voice candidates for Labour’s NEC. It is only by staying in the Party that we can prevent a repeat of the injustices exposed in the leaked report.

From advocating socialist policies that are hugely popular with the public, to tackling endemic racism and sexism in Party workplaces alleged in the leaked report and preventing a return to past purges and stitch ups by the Labour Right, these six candidates will fight for the future we need.

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