Labour whistleblowers last night accused Jeremy Corbyn’s office of hijacking antisemitism cases in the party, despite the process being supposedly free from political interference, writes Adam Decker.
The incendiary claims, revealed on Wednesday evening’s BBC’s Panorama programme, represents the first time that the Labour leader has been personally and directly implicated in a process he has always insisted was independent.
The documentary, by veteran journalist John Ware, also revealed that a close Corbyn aide tried to alter the make-up of the panel hearing the case of former Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker.
Ware spoke to seven former Labour officials from the Party’s Complaints and Disputes department, plus another former staffer.
All have now left, four having signed non-disclosure agreements before doing so.
Among the internal messages divulged were concerns by Corbyn’s influential communications chief Seamus Milne, who waded in saying that the supposedly independent team was “muddling up political disputes with racism”.
Elsewhere, the party’s former chief investigator described Corbyn’s office as “angry and obstructive,” and the disciplinary system as “arcane”.
The documentary makers said that “on one occasion there was an order from the Leader’s Office to bring batches of antisemitism complaints from Party HQ to his office in parliament for processing by his aides”. Labour said this was a “staffing” issue and that the person concerned had been seconded to the team.
The accounts of the ex-officials, including the former head of disputes Sam Matthews, also showed discussion by the party’s general-secretary about interference with the National Constitution Committee (NCC), the independent Labour body that has the final say over expulsions.
Walker, who had a history of making offensive comments, has since been expelled, but before her hearing Labour’s general-secretary Jennie Formby is shown emailing that “the NCC cannot be allowed to continue in the way that they are at the moment, and I will also be challenging the panel for the Jackie Walker case”.
Formby’s predecessor Iain McNicol described her comments were “really important” and “should ring alarm bells across the Party,” adding: “The NCC was created in a specific way to remove itself from politics and from political interference.”
A Labour spokesman cried foul, saying the party had only been asked by Ware about the allegations at the end of June and provided 50 pages of answers to his questions. Labour said Ware, a former Sun journalist, has previously expressed “strong opposition” to Corbyn and his politics.
On the eve of transmission the party hit back against the BBC, claiming that the programme was “unlikely to meet the BBC’s obligations of fairness, balance and political impartiality,” and that it “shows clear signs of political interference” and “attempts at undue influence in the current [Equality and Human Rights Council] EHRC investigations into our disciplinary and complaints procedures”.
In a fiery letter to the corporation, sent on Wednesday, Labour said the documentary was “likely to be politically slanted in language, presentation and balance of interviewees” and “relies heavily and one-sidedly on the claims and allegations of politically partisan anonymous/unnamed sources and Conservative-supporting organisations”.
The party’s embarrassment was visceral last night as the documentary exposed the huge increase in antisemitism complaints since Corbyn became leader.
A Labour spokesman said: “We have complained to the BBC at various levels, including at director-general level, about the way the process was engaged in, the lack of engagement with us at an earlier stage and the failure to come to us with a balanced and fair set of questions.”