Politics

Anti-Corbyn Labour officials worked to lose general election

Labour party officials opposed to Jeremy Corbyn worked to lose the 2017 general election in the hope that a bad result would trigger a leadership contest to oust him, a dossier drawn up by the party suggests.

A huge cache of leaked WhatsApp messages and emails show senior officials from the party’s right wing, who worked at its HQ, became despondent as Labour climbed in the polls during the election campaign despite their efforts.

The unreleased report, which The Independent has seen in full, was drawn up in the last days of Mr Corbyn’s leadership and concerns the conduct of certain officials, including some who were investigating cases of antisemitism in the party.

The 860 page document claims that “an abnormal intensity of factional opposition to the party leader” had “inhibited the proper functioning of the Labour Party bureaucracy” and contributed to “a litany of mistakes” in dealing with antisemitism, which it admits was a serious problem in the party.

But the Campaign Against Antisemitism said the document was a “desperate last-ditch attempt to deflect and discredit allegations” and amounted to “an attempt to imagine a vast anti-Corbyn conspiracy”.

Left-wingers in the party called for new leader Keir Starmer to launch an investigation into the behaviour detailed in the report, including “the possible misuse of funds” by officials.

Tactics by anti-Corbyn staff evidenced in the report include channelling resources to candidates associated with the right wing of the party, refusing to share information with the leader’s office, as well as “coming into the office and doing nothing for a few months” during the election campaign.

The report says hostile staff created a chat so they could pretend to work while actually speaking to each other, with one participant stating that “tap tap tapping away will make us look v busy”.

An election night chat log shows that 45 minutes after the exit poll revealed that Labour had overturned the Conservative majority, one senior official said the result was the “opposite to what I had been working towards for the last couple of years”, describing themselves and their allies as “silent and grey faced” and in need of counselling.

Another said: “We have to be upbeat and not show it”, while a third told the group that “everyone needs to smile”, describing the result as “awful”. Another very senior party official said it was going to be “a long night”.

The senior officials keenly watched polls during the election campaign and hoped that the party that employed them would fare badly. When one YouGov poll showed the party up during the campaign, one said: “I actually felt quite sick when I saw that YouGov poll last night”.

A different official argued that the polling bounce for the party was actually “great”, stating: “I shall tell you why, it is a peak, and the polling was done after the Manchester [terror] attack, so with a bit of luck this speech will show a clear polling decline and we shall all be able to point to how disgusting they truly are.”

The report also details large volumes of abusive discussion by senior officials about colleagues and activists from the party’s left wing. In one exchange a senior official said a young activist had “mental health issues”, to which another official chimed in: “I hope [name of activist redacted] dies in a fire”. A third said: “That’s a very bad wish [name redacted]. But if he does I wouldn’t piss on him to put him out.” The second official then adds: “Wish there was a petrol can emoji”.

Some senior staff also joked about “hanging and burning” Jeremy Corbyn, and suggested that another staff member who cheered a speech by the party leader “should be shot”.

In another exchange, one senior official laments that political advisors working for members of the shadow cabinet “have stopped wearing bras” and that there are “nipples out at the PADs [political advisors] meeting and not a single tie”. The official then names the advisor and describes her outfit, before suggesting that a male MP only “speaks highly” of the advisor because of their appearance.

One exchange shows a senior official described another from the left of the party as “pube head”. In another months later they called her a “smelly cow” and comment that she “had the exact same clothes on yesterday”.

Party staff around the unit were also documented regularly describing people, including colleagues they regarded as not sufficiently opposed to the leadership, as “trots” – short of Trotskyites, or disciples of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Chat logs show that some colleagues who denounced “trots” themselves were in turn themselves regarded as “trots” by other staffers for being seen as insufficiently critical.

During the 2015 and 2016 leadership contests a large number of staffers at Labour HQ appear to have worked to exclude those they regarded as “trots” from voting in the election – believing that they would vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

The report says staffers trawled social media to find reasons to exclude voters from the contest, work which was referred to on numerous occasions by numerous staff as variations of “trot busting”, “bashing trots” and “trot spotting”. One staffer described themselves as being “trot smasher in chief”, while another said during the 2015 leadership election that the “priority right now is trot hunting”. In 2015 two officials discussed the fact that they were “playing trot or not” while “the real work is piling up”. A senior official described this work as “saving the Labour party”.

Senior officials from the right of the party spoke of their opposition to policy positions adopted by the party under both Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, but also his predecessor Ed Miliband. In one 2015 exchange, a member of staff said: “Brace yourself. [Shadow chancellor John] McDonnell just called for corporation tax to go up”. Another replied: “You’re kidding me. I can’t quite believe it.”

Commenting after this portion of the report was posted on social media, former shadow health secretary and leadership candidate Andy Burnham said: “Seems right to me. Always felt like the party machine opposed my pro-public NHS and social care policies between 2010 and 2015. Not sure I had even-handed treatment from them in either the 2010 or 2015 leadership elections.”

The report claims that “The partys resources – paid for by party members – were often utilised to further the interests of one faction and in some cases were used to undermine the partys objectives.” Ahead of the 2017 election officials spoke of channelling resources to candidates critical of the leadership, with one telling colleagues “we need to try and throw cash” at the seat of then deputy leader Tom Watson, a persistent Corbyn critic. It is claimed that officials operated a “secret key seats team” based in Labours London region office in Ergon House, “from where a parallel general election campaign was run to support MPs associated with the right wing of the party”.

Officials appeared to try and hide some of their activities, with the same person stating during a different exchange: “We need to stop digital campaign budgets going to [a named left-wing senior staff member] for approval, he can’t see what we are doing with digital spend”.

In 2017 senior officials in the party discussed making preparations for another leadership election, hoping that one might be trigged by the party losing the Copeland and Stoke-on-trent by-elections. Chat logs show one said “if we lose these elections we could have another leadership election. We should set up at some stage a discrete WG [working group] to go over rules, timetable scenarios and staff servicing the process. Just so we’re prepared”. A very senior official approved the process, dubbing it “Operation Cupcake” and suggesting that Tom Watson could be interim leader. The leadership election would have been the party’s third in three years.

Sky News, which first reported the existence of the dossier, reports that Labour party lawyers have decided against sending it to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which is currently holding an investigation into antisemitism in the party. It is understood that the report may have been drawn up help the party understand how its own disciplinary processes operated in recent years and not intended for submission to the EHRC.

A statement from Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism argued that the material should be submitted to the investigation, but said: “In the dying days of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party appears to have invested in a desperate last-ditch attempt to deflect and discredit allegations of antisemitism. Rather than properly dealing with cases of antisemitism and the culture of anti-Jewish racism that prevailed during Mr Corbyn’s tenure, the Party has instead busied itself trawling through 10,000 of its own officials’ emails and WhatsApp messages in an attempt to image a vast anti-Corbyn conspiracy and to continue its efforts to smear whistleblowers.

“It is a disgrace that the 450,000-word report, which itself claims to ‘prove the scale’ of antisemitism in the Party and serves an exhibit of the Party’s failure to address the crisis, is being kept secret. Sir Keir Starmer has the report and should ensure that it is immediately provided to us and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, so that it can be considered as part of the Commission’s statutory investigation in which we are the complainant.”

Labour MP Charlotte Nichols said that “this document should be published in full” and that “Jewish members have a right to know what has happened and to see the evidence”.

Momentum, a group which organises on the left wing of the Labour party, called for a full inquiry into the report, including “the possible misuse of funds”.

“Labour came so close in the 2017 general election. Winning 40% of the popular vote, we were less than 2,500 votes away from forming a government. Had we pulled together, we could have won. A Labour government could have revived crucial public services, built a more resilient economy, and saved lives by giving our NHS the resources it needs,” Momentum national coordinating group member John Taylor said.

“Instead, leaked WhatsApp messages suggest that party headquarters undermined Labours chances in 2017 and were disappointed when the Tories lost their majority. For the activists who gave everything working for a Labour government, and for those whose lives depend on Labour winning power, we can never let this happen again.

“Our party can build a better future. But to do this we need an open, hard working, professional party committed to winning a Labour government. Thats why we’re calling for Keir Starmer to announce a full inquiry into the report, including into the possible misuse of funds. Those responsible must be held to account, and anyone found to have worked against a Labour victory must never again be allowed to hold a senior party position.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Party has submitted extensive information to the EHRC and responded to questions and requests for further information, none of which included this document.”

READ MORE FROM SOURCE: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-leak-report-corbyn-election-whatsapp-antisemitism-tories-yougov-poll-a9462456.html

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