After two years of excuses and delays the Forde Report was finally published yesterday, and it makes for grim reading. It confirmed what many of us already knew: right-wing Labour staffers used their positions to obstruct and undermine the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, despite his democratic mandate from hundreds of thousands of party members. Perhaps most shamefully, the report also lays bare how the serious issue of antisemitism was used by these staffers as a weapon in their sabotage operation.
The report states that there was a “conviction that the end of Jeremy Coyn’s leadership (be it brought about by the PLP or electoral disaster) would be good for the party” and that members of the senior management team were “focused on what they saw as protecting the party from Jeremy Corbyn” and engaging in “straightforward attempts to hinder [the leader’s office] work”.
This included attempts to shape the leadership election outcomes against Corbyn in 2015 and 2016 through vetting Corbyn supporting members – or “trot hunting” as staffers called it – and peaked at the deliberate undermining of Labour’s 2017 general election operations, when senior staff covertly diverted resources to “sitting largely anti-Corbyn MPs”, instead of “pro-Corbyn candidates in potentially Tory winnable seats”. This is unforgivable. Whilst members from across the political spectrum of the Labour Party were working day and night to elect a Labour government, these people were undermining us at every turn.
As Forde describes, the obsessive opposition of right-wing staffers to Corbyn’s administration fuelled a toxic and abusive culture where racism and misogyny were commonplace, as evidenced in the WhatsApp conversations exposed in the leaked report. Karie Murphy, a senior staffer in Corbyn’s team, was called a “crazy woman” and a “bitch face cow” and the first Black, female MP Diane Abbott was described as “truly repulsive” and “a very angry woman” – a common slur against Black women. These staffers joked about seeing Abbott “crying in the loos”. The report also finds that during this period, BAME and female MPs were not afforded the same “level of instinctive respect” as their white or male counterparts.
Equally shamefully, Forde finds that the obsession with purging left-wing members led to the mishandling of antisemitism complaints. Labour’s governance and legal unit (GLU) prioritised “suspending members who supported Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 and 2016, over dealing with complaints of antisemitism, Islamophobia or other types of complaints”. Cases were delayed by headquarters (HQ) staff, who sought input on some cases and “refused to proceed until they had it”, only to then weaponise the responses and use them to generate “wholly misleading media reports”, suggesting that staff in the leader’s office had “aggressively imposed themselves on the process against HQ’s wishes”. As Forde confirms, this was a lie.
This is shocking. Yet Forde also finds no evidence “that the effects of factionalism have been eliminated from Party recruitment, management and promotion processes” under the current leadership. Incredibly, Keir Starmer’s team were yesterday quoted as saying that “Keir Starmer is now in control and has made real progress in ridding the party of the destructive factionalism and unacceptable culture that did so much damage previously”. Those of us on the left of the party will know that this could not be further from the truth.
The past two years have focused on continuing this factional warfare, in an attempt to purge the party of the left entirely: the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn, the silencing of Young Labour, the factional blocking of left-wing candidates, and the escalating series of unjustifed suspensions, expulsions and proscriptions. When the right claim that they have transformed the ‘culture’ of the party, what they mean to say is that under Corbyn they burned the house down rather than respect the left’s democratic mandate (‘factionalism’) – and now they are crushing the left (‘unity’).
What should be a time for reflection and accountability is instead being used as an opportunity for chest-thumping triumphalism. What we need from the Labour leadership now is careful consideration of the Report’s findings, guarantees that those involved in this sabotage never again join or work for the Party, and for the delayed implementation of Labour’s BAME structures to be accelerated, to strengthen the cause of anti-racism in Labour. What’s more, Starmer himself should commit to stop disregarding Labour’s rules to benefit his own factional agenda, as he has recently on parliamentary selections.
For all those who were so inspired by the hope of real change that Corbyn’s leadership represented, whose hopes were frustrated at every turn by antidemocratic forces within our own party, we share your pain. Momentum is committed not just to a radical policy platform, but to a democratic party in which members and minorities are empowered. It won’t be quick, it won’t be easy, but united and determined, we can make it happen. We urge members to stay in Labour and join Momentum in this fight. With NEC election ballots dropping on Monday and annual conference nearly upon us, we have an opportunity now to stand up for democracy and the change we want to see. Join us.
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