Our top news stories of 2021, from Labour legal troubles to internal reforms

Sienna Rodgers

As 2021 draws to a close, with a festive period again characterised by confusion over Covid restrictions, we’ve taken a look back at the last 12 months. The last year has given us local, Welsh and Scottish elections, parliamentary by-elections including a historic Labour loss in Hartlepool and a narrow hold in Batley and Spen, a couple of shadow cabinet reshuffles, several corruption scandals and the ongoing impact of Covid.

What is it they say about living in interesting times? Here we’ll take you through the year as seen through the eyes of LabourList readers, with our most-read news story of each month…

January

Court hears application for Labour documents disclosure in Corbyn case

Our first most-read story of 2021 related to one of the legal actions taken against the Labour Party – this time not an ex-staffer but the former leader. By applying for documents to be forcibly disclosed in Corbyn v Evans, Jeremy Corbyn’s legal team sought to prove there was a deal between himself and the current party leadership over his readmission to the party (in a bid to show it was unfair for him subsequently to be suspended from the parliamentary party, which remains the situation as 2021 ends). Ultimately, the pre-action disclosure application was unsuccessful, and Labour maintains that there was no deal or agreement.

February

Give greater security or face “exodus” from self-employment, Sunak warned

Our stories on how the government treated self-employed workers were widely read this year. In February, trade unions Prospect and Community released a report on the impact of Covid on the self-employed that also offered recommendations for their protection, from ending their exclusion from Covid income support packages to extending health and safety, sick pay and parental leave rights.

March

Labour unveils new selection shortlist of two for Liverpool mayoral contest

Labour had a messy Liverpool mayoral selection race at the start of the year. The party announced an all-women shortlist on February 2nd, suspended the contest on the 17th, reopened it with no previous candidate invited to join on the 23rd, and unveiled a new shortlist of two on March 2nd. Joanne Anderson went on to be selected and win the mayoral contest in May as Labour’s candidate.

April

Exclusive: GMB women lodge dispute with union in wake of sexism inquiry

We revealed this year that women working at the GMB trade union lodged a formal dispute with their employer as they said grievances were not being heard fairly. The exclusive came after an independent investigation found in 2020 that the union was “institutionally sexist”. Staffers who raised grievances with the GMB told LabourList they were being “silenced”, with their complaints dismissed after being heard by members of the senior management team or regional secretaries who are almost all men. Since April, LabourList understands that many have left, with one GMB source saying: “No justice through the grievance system for women, they just leave.”

May

Angela Rayner sacked as Labour Party chair and national campaign coordinator

One of the most explosive Labour moments of the year was Angela Rayner’s sacking as party chair and national campaign coordinator, which happened as the May election results were still rolling in. Many MPs were furious. Keir Starmer undertook a wider reshuffle that weekend, but Rayner ended up with more shadow cabinet roles than she started with, and the party leader only managed to make the changes he really wanted when he did a second reshuffle at the end of 2021.

June

Beckett pulls out of Unite general secretary race and endorses Turner

Over the summer, Unite’s left flank was worried about Len McCluskey critic Gerard Coyne coming through the middle to win the general secretary race against the three left candidates. Howard Beckett thus pulled out and endorsed Steve Turner, assumed to be the frontrunner. In a result that came as a surprise to many, however, Sharon Graham – who had refused to withdraw – won the race.

July

Withdraw party whip from Rosie Duffield MP, LGBT+ Labour urges Starmer

Party affiliate group LGBT+ Labour called for the withdrawal of the whip and suspension of Rosie Duffield from the Parliamentary Labour Party after the Canterbury MP liked a tweet appearing to suggest that trans people are “cosplaying”. The Labour Party said: “This complaint will be fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures.” There has been no update since then.

August

Exclusive: Labour general secretary unveils new party structure to staff

Amid financial troubles, Labour revealed a new party structure designed to cut staff and save money. In revealing that plan, general secretary David Evans ran through a presentation that talked about adopting a “product-mindset using agile ceremonies”, which attracted a fair amount of derision from staffers on the call and from LabourList readers. Many employees have since left the party having taken up the voluntary severance offer.

September

Exclusive: New party rule changes criticised as “bureaucratic power grab”

Surprisingly, our reveal of the first batch of rule changes being put forward by the party leadership to conference was more widely read than any other conference news story. Undoubtedly this was because it was labelled a “bureaucratic power grab” by left-wing group Momentum. The rule changes that came later – around leadership contests and trigger ballots – were more controversial, however.

Other top stories of this busy month included our round-up of which key rule changes were being sent to conference, our write-up of David Lammy’s comments on trans rights, the news of Marsha de Cordova resigning as Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary, and Neil Kinnock urging Labour to “face outwards and attack the real enemy”.

October

Exclusive: Labour to name and accuse five ex-staffers of leaking internal report

More legal troubles in Labourland. In October, we revealed the names of five ex-staffers accused by the party of leaking an unredacted internal report containing many controversial allegations and private data: Seumas Milne, Karie Murphy, Georgie Robertson, Harry Hayball and Laura Murray. They strenuously deny the claim that they leaked the report in 2020. This is the document that has led to multiple investigations including the Forde Inquiry, the results of which still have not been revealed – though Labour’s national executive committee has been promised a look at the January meeting.

November

Shadow cabinet reshuffle liveblog: Starmer’s big changes revealed in full

This liveblog tracking Keir Starmer’s day-long shadow cabinet reshuffle in November is our most-read story of the year, by some way. We get it – you love a liveblog! It kicked off with the news that Cat Smith was resigning, citing concerns over Jeremy Corbyn’s ongoing suspension, continued with rumoured moves including Yvette Cooper becoming Shadow Home Secretary (which was spot on) and ended with the new confirmed line-up in full.

December

Tories get controversial nationality and borders bill approved by majority of 67

Priti Patel’s nationality and borders bill was passed by the House of Commons before it broke up for recess, with 298 MPs voting in favour and 231 against. The government had a majority of 67 votes on its controversial overhaul of the immigration system, which commentators have warned will create a “second-tier category of citizenship”. The legislation gives the government powers to strip a “naturalised” person – someone who secured citizenship after immigrating to the UK – of their citizenship without notice. More broadly, a report from Freedom From Torture concluded that the bill “represents the biggest legal assault on international refugee law ever seen in the UK”.

We’re hoping for better news from 2022…

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