Unprecedented leak reveals the inner workings of Britain’s Labor Party | Survey News
Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) has obtained the biggest leak in British political history, revealing how unelected officials undermined democracy in the Labor Party.
The leaked data includes 500 gigabytes of Labor Party documents, emails, video and audio files dating from 1998 to 2021. The I-Unit will release a series of reports on the leaked files over the coming week.
The data reveals how party bureaucrats, whose nominal function is to serve the party’s interests, tried to undermine members favorable to Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Labor from 2015 to 2020.
Until his election as party leader in September 2015, Corbyn was a little-known figure in British politics, active in grassroots activism, from the anti-war movement to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The party’s first unequivocal socialist leader since the 1980s, he rode a wave of popular discontent against the political establishment, standing on a platform of public ownership of key industries, a strengthened welfare state and an end to the austerity measures imposed by the Conservative government at the time.
The Labor Files show, however, that within Labor discontent was simmering, leading to internal battles over which side of the party – the left-wing ‘Corbynites’ or the pre-2015 centrists – would have control.
The party bureaucracy, which Corbyn had inherited from his predecessors, played a significant role in these battles.
At the time, this bureaucracy was headed by Iain McNicol, who had served as general secretary of the Labor Party since 2011.
Labor records show how, before McNicol was replaced by Jennie Formby in 2018, the party was resisting the political path charted by Corbyn.
While the office of the party leader sets the political direction of the party, internal affairs, including the party’s disciplinary process, fall under the purview of the general secretary, the party’s highest non-political position. The party’s disciplinary process is overseen by the Governance and Legal Unit (GLU).
Files obtained by Al Jazeera contain Labor’s disciplinary records from 1998 to 2021 and document their handling by the GLU. They show how some Corbyn supporters were smeared with false accusations of abusive behavior submitted to the GLU, including homophobia and anti-Semitism, with the stated intention of suspending or expelling them from the party.
In several cases, local party branches, known as Constituency Labor Parties (CLPs), have been suspended, preventing local members from holding Labor Party meetings. In other cases, individual members have been suspended or expelled from the party on disputed grounds.
In the CLP of Wallasey, in the North West of England, party members allied themselves with local MP (MP) Angela Eagle, who was challenging Jeremy Corbyn for party leadership at the time. Following Britain’s Brexit vote, members of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet resigned en masse – Eagle then announced its leadership challenge against Corbyn, which it dropped in favor of Owen Smith.
Eagle Wallasey allies have accused pro-Corbyn activists of making homophobic comments and gestures at a party rally in June 2016. Pro-Corbyn activists strongly deny the accusations.
These allegations were later used by GLU officials to suspend the constituency, thereby preventing local members from holding official party meetings.
Emails sent between party staff (pdf) found in labor files show how the CLP was suspended over Eagle’s wishes, with staff writing ‘we have to do what Angela wants under these circumstances’.
Failed mayoral bid
In 2019, Corbyn resigned as leader after the party lost in the general election in December. He was eventually replaced by Keir Starmer, the former UK Director of Public Prosecutions.
Shortly after Starmer became chief in April 2020, Formby resigned as general secretary. She was replaced by David Evans. Labor records reveal that he continued McNicol-era hostility to leftist party members.
At the start of 2021, Liverpool councilor Anna Rothery made a bid to become the party’s candidate for mayor of that city.
A Labor councilor since 2006 and holder of the ceremonial post of Lord Mayor between 2019 and 2021, Rothery was aiming to become the city’s first elected black mayor. She was aligned with Jeremy Corbyn.
After being selected alongside two other advisers to be on the party’s shortlist of candidates, Rothery – and the other two candidates – were unexpectedly called back for a second interview by a five-person selection committee. Rothery describes the second interview as hostile in tone.
In preparation for their second interview with Rothery, David Evans forwarded the panel a letter he received from former Liverpool adviser Alan Dean in February 2021. This letter is included in the labor files.
Dean had been a labor councilor for 31 years and had represented the Princes Park ward alongside Rothery for 12 of those.
In the letter (pdf), he describes her as a “screaming banshee” with a “Jekyll and Hide [sic] character.” The letter also contains deeply personal comments about Rothery’s private life, which Al Jazeera wrote to protect her privacy. Rothery strongly denies his characterization of her and all other accusations in the seven-page letter. .
Dean’s letter also says “support” for Rothery among senior pro-Corbyn politicians was a “huge concern”.
Shortly after the panel interview, Rothery and the other two candidates were removed from the shortlist. The party said it made the decision after “carefully considering the additional information presented to it”.
Rothery has sought an injunction from the High Court to force the party to keep her on the shortlist of candidates. As part of this, Rothery’s lawyers demanded that the party release all documents related to Rothery’s nominating committee. Alan Dean’s letter was never disclosed to Rothery’s lawyer or the High Court, according to documents obtained by Al Jazeera.
Rothery lost his case and had to pay Labor $90,000 in costs. She has now left the party and set up her own independent political group within Liverpool City Council.
Replies to Labor Files
The Labor Party declined to comment on the individual cases that Al Jazeera will present. He did, however, state that it was a rules-based organization that properly followed its own rules and told us that he had no obligation to disclose the Dean’s letter to Rothery’s lawyers or the Court. .
Iain McNicol told us that his only objective had always been to secure a victory for Labor. He denied all allegations made against him and said he always supported his professional staff at the party.
Party officials who responded to Al Jazeera told us that they always acted in accordance with the law, party rules, their job descriptions and appropriate standards of proportionality.