More legal agonies for Labour

Submitted by AWL on 12 October, 2021 - 4:22 Author: Martin Thomas
Corbyn, supporters and press

Further legal agonies in the Labour Party. Labour HQ is reported by Labour List and the Guardian to be about to name five ex-staff (Seumas Milne and others) as the leakers in April 2020 of the 850-page aborted-draft EHRC submission.

Labour List says that the five, represented by the celebrated high-price defamation law firm Carter-Ruck, may then sue the Labour Party for the naming. Previously, Emilie Oldknow and other former Labour staffers (of another stripe) who are already suing the party over the leaked document have demanded the names. Labour HQ has refused to give what it says would be its (the General Secretary’s, presumably) guess. The court has upheld that stance. Labour HQ said it would give the court the evidence it has to inform a guess. I don’t know what shift the latest news means.

The 850 pages were written in the Corbyn era, when Seumas Milne was running the Leader’s Office, as a submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation of antisemitism in Labour. It was never submitted. The document was leaked in April 2020. Despite its authorship, it denounced “any suggestion that antisemitism is... all a ‘smear’ or a ‘witch-hunt’...” It said that arbitrary and chaotic systems under the old regime (Ian McNicol, General Secretary 2011-18) had been straightened a little under Jennie Formby as GS from 2018.

It also indicted many Labour Party staff for effective sabotage of party functioning in the earlier Corbyn period, and for abusive language in WhatsApp messages and the like. (The Oldknow group’s case is partly based on the publication of “private messages” breaching data-protection law).

Early in the Starmer period, Labour set up the Forde Inquiry into the document and its leaking. Forde’s report has now been delayed indefinitely on the pretext that the Information Commissioner’s Office is also investigating the leak (though not the report).

In some ways this is uncharted territory: only in the social-media era (dating from maybe 2008-9) could much of the stuff in the document, or the volume of complaints, exist. The document as written was surely a mistake: obstructive staffers should either have been indicted in formats that would stand up in public, or quietly eased out (as indeed McNicol was). And two old principles point to ways out of the mess.

• Labour activists should press all those involved to drop their legal cases. Back in 1982-3 we criticised Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal) for running to the courts in their battle against expulsions, arguing for sorting issues out within the movement instead.

The same argument holds, and more so. None of the litigants has been expelled or left a staff job other than voluntarily. Oldknow, for example, has landed on her feet as Chief Operating Officer of the public services union Unison.

• Labour should end arbitrary suspensions and administrative exclusions, first deployed on a large scale against the Corbyn leadership campaign in 2015 and continued since, and replace them by a system of due process.

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