Aide 'laughed' at idea of Corbyn making pro-Israel speech

Ex-Labour officials say Corbyn and top aides meddled in anti-Semitism probes

Whistle-blowers tell BBC of systemic intervention in disciplinary proceedings by higher-ups who overruled punishments for hate speech against Jews; Labour files complaint to BBC

Britain's opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn looks on, on the third day of the Labour party conference in Liverpool, north west England on September 25, 2018. (Oli SCARFF/AFP)
Britain's opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn looks on, on the third day of the Labour party conference in Liverpool, north west England on September 25, 2018. (Oli SCARFF/AFP)

A group of eight former Labour officials have come forward to accuse party chief Jeremy Corbyn and his closest aides of systemically interfering in efforts to address anti-Semitism within the British party.

Four of the ex-party members, including former Labour general secretary Iain McNicol, broke non-disclosure agreements to speak on the BBC’s Panorama news show on Wednesday night.

The whistle-blowers said that anti-Semitism complaints surged after the far-left Corbyn was elected party leader in 2015, and that his top aides have directly intervened in investigation and disciplinary proceedings.

A series of leaked email chains published by the BBC revealed purported efforts by Communications Director Seumas Milne and General Secretary Jennie Formby to protect party members accused of anti-Semitism.

Emails from May 2018 show Formby sought to influence the selection of the panel for a disciplinary hearing for a party member accused of making racist comments on social media.

“The National Constitutional Committee 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 wrote in an email that was sent to a handful of top party officials, including Corbyn and Milne.

Jennie Formby at the 2016 Labour Party conference. (Wikimedia commons/Rwendland)

In a follow-up email, Formby told the group: “I’ve permanently deleted all trace of the email. Too many eyes all on my Labour address. Please use my Unite address.”

Whistle-blower Dan Hogan, a former investigator on Labour’s dispute team, also accused Formby of overreach. He said that on multiple occasions since Formby’s appointment in March 2018, her staffers have “overruled us and downgraded what should’ve been a suspension to just an investigation, or worse, to just a reminder of conduct, effectively a slap on the wrist.”

In a March 2018 email, Milne called to investigate the party’s review process regarding anti-Semitic complaints, telling Labour’s then-head of disputes, Sam Matthews, that the proceedings were tainted by politics.

“Something’s going wrong, and we’re muddling up political disputes with racism… I think going forward we need to review where and how we’re drawing the line,” Milne wrote to Matthews and several others.

Matthews told Panorama that he interpreted that email as “the Leader’s Office requesting to be involved directly in the disciplinary process. This is not a helpful suggestion, it is an instruction.”

Labour has threatened legal action against Matthews for breaking his NDA.

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain’s opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn and anti-Semitism in the Labour party, outside the British Houses of Parliament in central London on March 26, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Tolga AKMEN)

Matthews’ predecessor, Mike Creighton, recalled on the show that Milne approached him in the Spring of 2016 to ask his advice about dealing with the growing number of anti-Semitism complaints.

When Creighton suggested that Corbyn extend a gesture to the Jewish community by affirming Israel’s right to exist, he said Milne laughed at him.

“I gave him my advice, which as I recall was two things. One was, we should deal with some of the top level anti-Semitic cases much more swiftly and much more robustly,” he recalled. “Second thing I suggested was that it would be the right time for Jeremy Corbyn as leader, to make a significant speech on the issue of the Middle East, particularly saying that Israel had a right to exist.

“He actually laughed at me… I thought he actually wanted to know how we tackle anti-Semitism within the Labour Party,” Creighton said. “I think what he actually meant to say was, how do we deal with the bad publicity we’re getting?”

A Labour party spokesman quoted by the Guardian denied that this conversation took place. “This allegation is false and malicious. Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly expressed his support for Israel’s right to exist and for a two-state solution… so there is no reason whatsoever to laugh at any such suggestion.”

A number of whistle-blowers on the show recalled there was an order from Corbyn’s office that all anti-Semitism complaints be transferred from party headquarters to his office for processing by his aides.

Seumas Milne, the Labour party’s Communications Director, gives an interview in 2014.

The Labour party denied any meddling in the investigations, telling the BBC in a statement ahead of the Panorama show’s airing on Wednesday that “former disaffected employees sought the view of staff in the leader’s office, which was complied with in good faith.

“These disaffected former officials include those who have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it, and have both personal and political axes to grind,” the party said.

Labour admitted that on one occasion Corbyn’s aides ordered the batches of complaints be brought to his office for processing, but insisted it was due to a staffing shortage.

Corbyn — who has himself been accused of anti-Semitism — is under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the British government’s watchdog on racism, for his handling of hate speech and hate crimes within the party.

Hundreds of Labour members, including some 20 lawmakers, have left the opposition party over what they say is Corbyn’s tolerance of anti-Semitism.

On Wednesday, Labour also filed a letter of complaint to the BBC over the airing of the Panorama exposé, alleging the reporting in the show “relies heavily and one-sidedly on the claims and allegations of politically partisan anonymous/unnamed sources and Conservative-supporting newspapers and organizations.”

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