28 July 2022
A Tale of Two Factions
by Don Urquhart
I had dinner with Denis. Naturally enough discussion turned to the Tory Leadership contest where we could agree that the two remaining candidates were dismal. But if it came to a General Election he feared that Starmer lacked charisma although he was sure that he was a man of great honesty and integrity.
You hear what you want to hear. The Tory Government is such a mess that you hope against hope that it can be replaced by something better. And I recalled that Denis had also bought the anti-Corbyn propaganda.
After Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party in 2015 I watched people like Alan Johnson, Tony Blair, Lord Mandelson, Liz Kendall, Lisa Nandy and Margaret Hodge traduce their party leader all over the media, print and broadcast. In 2016 the Parliamentary Labour Party held a vote of no confidence in the leader and put up Owen Smith against him in a rerun of the leadership election. It was clear that they and their allies in Labour HQ had moved heaven and earth to keep Corbyn off the ballot paper.
The party did surprisingly well in the 2017 General Election. Corbyn’s opponents in his own party and the media redoubled their efforts to undermine him using anti-Semitism allegations as a handy tool. As the 2019 election approached the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) decided this was an important area to investigate. The BBC took a similar view and broadcast a Panorama about anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
Labour lost the 2019 election and Corbyn resigned. Sir Keir Starmer was a candidate for the leadership, undertaking to continue the policies of the 2019 manifesto, but omitting to mention the massive business sponsorship he was benefitting from. He won the leadership election, disowned the previous leader, withdrawing the whip from him on the basis of that his apology for anti-Semitism in the party was inadequate.
Starmer and his allies in Labour HQ have since then systematically purged the party of anyone expressing support for Corbyn and socialists in general. And he has recently asserted that the 2019 manifesto is irrelevant. He will be developing one from scratch.
In March 2020 an internal Labour report was leaked. This was an examination of Labour Party disciplinary processes in relation to anti-Semitism and was produced as an input to the EHRC investigation. However the Labour Party’s lawyers stopped it being submitted to the EHRC. The new leadership was furious about the leak and in April 2020 commissioned Martin Forde QC to establish how it had occurred.
Since then Labour Party members have urged early publication of the Forde Report and we have seen many promised dates come and go.
Then last week with the media full of the Tory leadership contest and Parliament about to commence the summer recess, Starmer decided it was an appropriate time to publish the report.
The Forde Report analyses the “Leaked Report” of March 2020. It told a grim story of racial, religious and misogynistic abuse as well as deliberate attempts to bring down the party leader Jeremy Corbyn.
So very early in his report Forde tells of threats of legal action if he digs into certain matters and he says also that many people declined to give evidence. Those who testified appeared to be well-rehearsed in their answers.
I am sure that Mr Forde would not knowingly publish inaccurate information but very early on you can see compromise in that he says that both factions weaponised anti-Semitism. So he submits a narrative of two opposed factions with generally speaking equivalent responsibility for the conflict.
Clearly there were two factions with entrenched positions. One is referred to in the Forde Report as LOTO (leader of the Opposition), the other as HQ (the Labour Party General Secretary and subordinates).
One of the criticisms of Corbyn was that his people delayed anti-Semitism cases. Forde rejects this totally and points to HQ’s deliberate policy of blaming delays on LOTO.
And he considers that the authors of the leaked report were not factional. They were simply compiling an analysis for submission to EHRC. In the end the Labour Party lawyers stopped the report from going to the EHRC which has to put in question the value of that organisation’s findings.
LOTO tried to move the cases forward but was obstructed by HQ.
The Leaked Report contains the WhatsApp messages of HQ staff many of which were Islamophobic, racist and misogynistic. It was clear that HQ’s political alignment was with the Parliamentary Labour Party, which was largely anti-Corbyn.
Forde criticises LOTO for employing people to duplicate HQ tasks but says there was no evidence of bullying by LOTO. In fact he says they generally worked reasonably and in good faith.
He goes on to describe a member purging process undertaken by HQ to “deny votes to trots”. They would go through people’s social media looking for reasons to suspend them. For example just mentioning Tony Blair would be a purging offence. Clearly they were trying to reduce the number of party members supporting Corbyn.
Every time someone was expelled they rang a bell in celebration.
Another criticism was that LOTO interfered in disciplinary cases. Forde says there is no documentary proof of this. On the contrary HQ regularly requested LOTO input on cases.
One of the problems says Forde was that the Palestine issue was regularly confused with anti-Semitism. Another anomaly he highlights is the reliance on the Jewish Labour Movement (anti-Corbyn) to express Jewish views, whereas there was and still is an articulate pro-Corbyn Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL).
Another aggravating factor was that HQ used the media particularly the Sun, Guido Fawkes, Jewish Chronicle and Panorama to spread their anti-Corbyn message.
In 2017 HQ had secret funds and a covert operation to promote their favoured candidates to the detriment of LOTO supporters. In the 2017 election they removed all mention of Corbyn from the literature.
The media appear to have bought the narrative that the Labour Party’s problems were just about a dispute between two factions which were equally to blame. The Daily Mirror and Guardian were fast out of the blocks with this as was Nick Watt on BBC’s Newsnight.
Mr Forde wants to allocate blame equally to HQ and LOTO. But in my view he submits compelling evidence that people in Labour HQ were working enthusiastically to undermine their party leader and if you are going to insist on defining the problem as conflict between factions you should also acknowledge that whereas the LOTO faction was trying in 2017 and 2019 to get a Labour government elected, the HQ faction was equally committed to keeping the Conservatives in power.
Starmer is expecting people to forget the shabby way he has treated the previous leader and other socialists in the party. His narrative is that our priority is to dislodge the Tories and we should get behind him as our best option for achieving this.
Forde quotes a lobbying organisation called Labour Together financed by rich sponsors and run by anti-Corbyn MPs. Apparently they are now telling us that factionalism is a bad thing.
But we do not all have short memories.