The Inquiry into allegations of bullying, racism and sexism at the top of the Labour Party bureaucracy has finally delivered its Report to the Party’s National Executive Committee. Mike Phipps reports
The Forde Inquiry was established by Labour’s NEC in May 2020 to investigate the explosive contents of the 860-page Leaked Report into the functioning of the Legal and Governance Unit, originally proposed to be an annex to the Party’s submission to the EHRC, as well as its unsanctioned release to the media.
What was originally intended to take weeks has taken much longer. The Panel’s Call for Evidence received more than 1,100 submissions, running to many thousands of pages. Multiple threats of legal action against the Panel further hampered its work. Now more than two years later, Martin Forde QC has finally produced his 138-page Report. What does it say?
We were provided with a wealth of evidence of discriminatory behaviours based on religion, race, gender and sexual orientation, the Report says. This was “shocking and disappointing”. We found “little evidence of mutual respect and a great deal of evidence of factionalism, so deep rooted that the Party has found itself dysfunctional.” WhatsApp messages reveal “deplorably factional” and discriminatory attitudes expressed by “many of the Party’s most senior staff.”
Forde’s Report rejects the assertion that extracts of the messages quoted in the Leaked Report were “cherry-picked” or “selectively edited” such that they had become “unrepresentative and misleading”.
In fact, there was overt and underlying racism and sexism in some of the WhatsApp messages between the Party’s most senior staff, the Report concludes. It talks of a “working environment totally at odds with the values the Party stands for.” This is a damning conclusion.
Factionalism impacted on the 2017 general election. The Report finds the decision by Party officials to set up a covert operation and divert money and personnel to it without the authority of the Campaign Committee was “wrong”.
In the media, the original Leaked Report was widely dismissed as an attempt by supporters of Jeremy Corbyn to defend his record on the issue of antisemitism. Forde’s Report challenges this.
The authors of the Leaked Report were not seeking to play down the scale of antisemitism but to show that the delays in progressing cases were factionally motivated by members of the LGU, it argues. The Report does not find clear and convincing evidence of a systematic attempt by Jeremy Corbyn’s office “to interfere unbidden in the disciplinary processes in order to undermine the Party’s response to allegations of antisemitism.”
The Report is highly critical of the WhatsApp culture established by senior officials to communicate among themselves. WhatsApp groups replaced a proper audit trail of emails, it finds. There was a “real antipathy” to Jeremy Corbyn’s office. The issue of antisemitism was seen as a means to attack the Corbyn leadership.
The Party’s disciplinary procedures are not fit for purpose, concludes the Report. There are problems with the recruitment processes too, with existing officials reluctant to trust people they don’t know. “From an equalities perspective this was a disaster waiting to happen,” says the Report. As the Party’s senior officials became increasingly homogenous, “a degree of ‘groupthink’ appears to have taken hold.”
While others have dismissed the Leaked Report as a factional document by hardcore Corbynites, the Forde Report finds this analysis erroneous. “In our view, the Leaked report’s primary author was not firmly embedded in either ‘faction’, and was far from unequivocally supportive of Jeremy Corbyn despite being on the Left of the Party. We do not consider that any of the Leaked Report’s authors embarked on the task with a preconceived narrative or reverse engineered the evidence to fit it.”
The Report concludes with a series of detailed recommendations about the Party’s disciplinary processes and reforming the Party’s culture. It will be interesting to see whether these ideas are acted upon or go the same way as the Chakrabarti proposals back in 2016.
Much of the media has been quick to endorse the ‘factionalism on both sides’ narrative, ignoring the way a twice-elected Party leader was undermined by unelected bureaucrats. The line taken by Labour spin doctors following the Report’s publication is that this is all in the past and things have greatly improved under Keir Starmer’s leadership.
But many on the left will feel vindicated by the Report’s findings. Hilary Schan, Co-chair of Momentum, said: “The Forde report is a damning indictment of the Labour right’s attempts to destroy from within the Corbyn leadership, and with it the hopes of a radical Labour government for the many.”
“Disgracefully, while tens of thousands of Labour members were pounding the streets to kick the Tories out in favour of a socialist Labour government, these right-wing factional operators were wreaking havoc on the party from within,” she added.
Jeremy Corbyn said the report confirmed his leadership had consistently been undermined by “powerful groups” in the Party and suggested some problems remained. “Toxic factionalism is far from over – nor are persistent problems of racism and sexism – and action must be taken, as Forde makes clear,” he said.
A Labour spokesperson told the BBC: “Keir Starmer is now in control and has made real progress in ridding the party of the destructive factionalism and unacceptable culture that did so much damage previously and contributed to our [general election] defeat in 2019.”
This is frankly risible. Firstly, the regime that Starmer has imposed on the Party is one of the most factional ever, with opponents expelled on flimsy pretexts, Conference rules on parliamentary selections ignored, experienced members left off parliamentary shortlists on arguably factional grounds and affiliated groups paralysed by right wing factional control freakery.
Secondly, the spokesperson’s focus on the 2019 election misses the point entirely. The Leaked Report focused on anti-Corbyn factional behaviour within the Party’ HQ running up to the 2017 general election, a strong result for Labour that many on the right seemed to have worked against at the time and now appear keen to airbrush form history.
Mike Phipps’ book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018. His new book Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow: The Labour Party after Jeremy Corbyn (OR Books, 2022) can be ordered here.
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