Glyn Ford on inconvenient truths finally revealed by the Forde Report into internal party misdemeanours
Two years after its commission by the NEC, the Forde Report – initially promised in six weeks – has finally hove into party view. It is ugly, fetid and explosive, with neither the party staff nor Corbyn’s leader’s office escaping censure. Commissioned to counter the exposure of the toxic joint enterprise by a rogue group of senior party staff to compromise and sabotage the leader – brought into the open when a report prepared as part of the party’s submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but blocked by party lawyers, saw more than 800 pages of WhatsApp exchanges between a two-dozen-strong clique of party staff leaked – it exposed both a loathsome culture of racism, sexism and bigotry, and a conspiracy against Corbyn. Diane Abbott was described as “truly repulsive” and “literally makes me sick”, while another member of the WhatsApp group hoped others were “run over by a train” and “deserved to die in a fire”.
One might have imagined an immediate reaction to suspend the subversive staff, with swift disciplinary hearings to follow. After all, that’s the custom and practice for party members. No, instead the hunt was on for the whistleblower(s) for exposing an inconvenient truth that shamed the party and should have produced an apology to members. Belatedly, Forde has nailed the prime culprits: the hateful culture and the necessity to ensure ’never again’. For despite being couched in the most careful legalese, giving the benefit of the doubt to every smoking gun, and scavenging for the most mealy-mouthed apologies and excuses, it is the most shattering indictment of the party’s ‘civil servants’ and the Leader of the Opposition’s office it is possible to imagine.
One of the prime objectives of Forde was to settle the question of the July 2019 Panorama‘s partisan programme ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic?’ Actually, the question mark was redundant. Panorama had long made up its mind, having been briefed by the ‘clique’. Forde dissents. There was antisemitism in the party, and the party’s disciplinary procedure was not fit for purpose structurally or operationally; while the leader’s office should have refused to engage in the process despite requests from the party’s Governance and Legal Unit. Allegations of antisemitism were overstated for political reasons and weaponised. Many of the claims about antisemitism that were made public did not, in fact, even concern party members.
Dissembling was all part of a pattern. The same was true of disciplinary procedures, administrative suspensions and the validation of membership. The excuse for the last was purportedly to prevent Tories from joining, but it was used to ‘hunt Trots’. There was the ringing of bells and cheering in HQ every time a suspension or expulsion was agreed. In contrast, after the 2019 defeat, there were no impediments to Change UK candidates in that year’s European Elections slipping seamlessly back into the party.
Most egregious was fear and loathing on the campaign trail, with the expropriation of party funds during the 2017 General Election to run a parallel key seats operation out of Ergon House in support of Corbyn’s critics in the PLP to the tune of £225,000. The embezzlement’s justification was to stop the leadership spending the money instead on more Corbyn rallies or “seats like Canterbury” – which, despite the sabotage, was won by 187. Forde’s contention is that it is highly unlikely these antics cost the party the election.
In the literal sense, Forde is self-evidently right if talking of a Labour-majority government. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine it didn’t alter the outcome. With Corbyn supporters’ enthusiasm for targeting the more difficult marginals, Labour was short of taking back Southampton Itchen by only 31 votes; Preseli, by 314; Pudsey, 331; Thurrock, 345; Hastings and Rye, 346; and even Chipping Barnet was held by the Conservatives by only 353. Another 1,720 votes, and the Tories’ majority would have been cut by 12 – and Theresa May could not have formed a government even with the help of the DUP. Even a couple more Labour MPs would have delivered her version of soft Brexit and forestalled Boris Johnson’s ambitions. The conspirators at HQ – Remainers, one suspects, to a man and woman – have earned themselves a rightful place in Brexit’s pantheon of heroes. One hopes they are justly proud of the perverse consequences of their villainy.
Rather like the PLP, and with even less basis, Labour Party HQ decided it neither wanted a quarter of a million new members nor Jeremy Corbyn, nor electoral success while he was leader. Their heinous sin of commission should see them banished in perpetuity. Corbyn’s was a sin of omission. He neither appreciated the full traitorous nature of the ’stay behind’ team in party HQ, nor was he able to deal with it when he finally did.