By Hallum Cowell
The Labour Party has agreed to the demands of a number of whistleblowers who took the party to court following the party’s response to a 2019 Panorama documentary on anti-Semitism within the party.
At the time the documentary aired, the Labour Party hit back at the allegations from the whistleblowers with a party spokesperson calling those who appeared on the programme “disaffected former staff” and that they had “personal and political axes” to grind.
Following these and other comments, seven of the whistleblowers took the party to the High Court asking for an apology. On July 22 the party, now under the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer, issued an apology and agreed to pay damages to the claimants. Labour also said the whistleblowers were accused of “bad faith” and had been caused “distress, embarrassment and hurt” by the actions of the party.
Panorama’s “Is Labour Anti-Semitic?” and its fallout
The documentary, which aired on the BBC in July 2019 was entitled “is Labour Anti-Semitic?” and featured a number of interviews with former party officials who alleged that senior members of the party had interfered with anti-Semitism complaints. This documentary was part of a wider wave of criticism levelled at the Labour Party during the premiership of Jeremy Corbyn; amongst the complaints was the accusation that the leadership had allowed the party to become a hotbed of anti-Semitism and that the party was not doing enough to root out these elements.
This is unlikely to be the end of the matter however. Jewish Voice for Labour, not to be confused with the official Labour Party affiliate society Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), released a statement shortly after the programme aired that has led to accusations of defamation by the programme’s host John Ware. Jewish Voice for Labour are a somewhat controversial group, being described as an “extreme fringe” by JLM whilst also being accused of having “no real connection with the Jewish community at all” by Jon Lansmann, the founder of left-wing group Momentum.
Corbyn and his response
A majority of the criticism directed at the Labour Party during the accusations of anti-Semitism was directed at then-Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. The whistleblowers claimed that there had been a large uptick in anti-Semitic claims since he was first elected to lead the party in 2015. It was also under Corbyn’s leadership that the debate over racism in the party came to dominate the national headlines.
Mr Corbyn released a statement saying that the decision taken today was a “political decision, not a legal one” and that the decision was “disappointing”. He also mentioned how he wants the upcoming Forde inquiry to “fully address the evidence the internal report uncovered of racism, sexism, factionalism and obstruction of Labour’s 2017 general election campaign”.
The internal report referenced by Corbyn was sanctioned following the leak of a highly confidential report detailing how internal party structures dealt with anti-Semitic complaints. The report blamed a culture of factionalism within Labour HQ for the inability to tackle anti-Semitic claims and contained a number of sexist and racist remarks made by high ranking Labour staffers directed at other members of staff and MPs. In response, Sir Keir Starmer announced that barrister Martin Forde QC would lead an internal inquiry into how the report was made public. The results of the Forde Report are expected to be published later this month.
In response to her former leader, Dame Margaret Hodge, a strong critic of the Corbyn leadership and former Deputy Leader, criticised his statement saying “I’ve seen the statement. I think it’s bizarre, it’s obsessional and I think a little humility shown by Jeremy Corbyn at this point of time would be most welcome”.
What’s next for Labour?
How Starmer has dealt with the seven whistleblowers has been seen by some as his way of trying to put the trials and tribulations of the past five years behind Labour. Upon his election, Starmer promised that he would tackle anti-Semitism within the party and has been lauded by Jewish organisations for his proactive approach over the past few months. Whether or not he can persuade allies of Jeremy Corbyn to drop their opposition to a number of the decisions he has made in order to do so, however, is another matter entirely.Politics Hallum Cowell