Labour staff worked to prevent a Labour government – an insider’s story

JVL Introduction

Joe Ryle was in at the start of the Corbyn leadership, being an early staff appointment in the office of the former Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell.

He has made a submission to the Forde inquiry detailing his personal experience of how those working in Labour’s headquarters on Southside treated then new leadership.

In this article on openDemocracy, he summarises his story.

This article was originally published by Open Democracy on Fri 7 Aug 2020. Read the original here.

I saw from the inside how Labour staff worked to prevent a Labour government

The work of senior Labour staffers to stop Labour winning is only just starting to come out.

Nearly 5 years ago, Jeremy Corbyn pushed open the doors into the spacious and airy Offices of the Leader of the Opposition, overlooking the River Thames on Victoria Embankment. He already had some suspicions at this point, but he could never have fully comprehended what was being plotted against him less than half a mile away at Labour’s headquarters on Victoria Street.

Today is the deadline for submissions to the internal Labour inquiry, chaired by Martin Forde QC, which is examining the past behaviour of former senior party staff. I’ve just written to the inquiry and these were my experiences.

As one of the first staff appointments in the office of the former Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, I worked on the same corridor as Corbyn’s team. I was new to the Labour Party, with a background in climate activism, and mostly unaware of all its different political affiliations and factions. This was something I shared with many of my colleagues who also weren’t from the world of machine politics. We were in for quite a shock when we were confronted with the machine of Labour HQ.

When I’d started previous jobs I’d arrive to some kind of handover notes. But when Corbyn and McDonnell walked in on day one, the small team that had joined after working on Corbyn’s leadership campaign turned up to find that someone had prepared for our arrival in a more unconventional way: many of the computers had gone missing and the offices weren’t properly set up.

“The few computers that were in the office were the oldest ones possible and they kept crashing all the time”, a former senior adviser to Jeremy Corbyn tells me. “The situation was so dire that one time after a day on the road with Jeremy I came back to find that a new colleague had taken my screen because he didn’t have one.”

The situation in John McDonnell’s offices was even worse. “When we took up the offices they were completely gutted of their contents. There were only half pulled out staples in the walls and bits of blue tack. The desks were without chairs let alone computers and I had to work off my own mobile and laptop”, my former colleague James Mills, who was John McDonnell’s Head of Communications, remembers all too well.

I don’t remember anyone ever getting to the bottom of where the computers had disappeared to. But the responsibility for ensuring the offices were set up was Labour HQ’s and this was to be a first warning sign.

Some of the behaviour of senior officials at Labour HQ has already been documented in the 860-page leaked Labour report. But there’s a lot more that went on behind the scenes and I think it’s important that people have the whole story.

Another constant battle that took place was over the hiring of staff. Almost every appointment was either delayed, frustrated or blocked by Labour HQ, which had control of the party’s finances. “A full year into Jeremy’s leadership, we still only had around 16 members of staff which was about half the amount compared to when Ed Miliband was leader”, the former senior Corbyn adviser tells me. James Meadway, a former treasury economist and chief economist at the New Economics Foundation, had to be seconded from one of the trade unions to serve as Economic Advisor in McDonnell’s team after the party repeatedly refused to hire him.

Relationships were so strained that colleagues would regularly turn up to meetings with party staff, get back to their desks, and be left feeling horrified on learning that the contents of the meeting had already been leaked to journalists. This became a major headache as it was almost impossible to plan effectively without the ability to share vital information between the leader’s office and party HQ. Senior aides close to Corbyn were regularly forced to withhold information on policy announcements until the very last minute for fear of leaks.

This fear had the effect of putting most people on edge and helped contribute to an office in a justified state of paranoia.

It was in these early days that one Corbyn aide aptly renamed the party’s HQ from its official name – Southside – to the ‘Darkside’, a term which quickly caught on – reinforcing a sense of them and us.

The most shocking sabotage I personally witnessed was an encounter with the notoriously difficult regional offices who were often the most ideologically opposed to the Corbyn regime. At my request, attempts were made to organise a rally for John McDonnell via one of the regional offices. Given that John was one of the most senior members of the shadow cabinet, I expected my request to be met with enthusiasm.

When I found out that the location they had chosen was in the middle of nowhere I was left flabbergasted. I was told this tactic had been used before – apparently to avoid lots of members showing up and being won round by the new regime.

There were hundreds more incidents like this that I’m aware of; press releases regularly blocked from going out, staff members briefing against Corbyn’s office, weekly planning grids leaked including the 2019 General Election grid, an almost constant refusal to share content on the party’s social media platforms and the coordination of staff resignations to damage the party. As a political first, the party’s 2017 manifesto was also infamously leaked.

Perhaps the most kafkaesque example is the bizarre story of party officials designing Facebook adverts to be seen by only Corbyn’s team. A party official helpfully explained the strategy to the Sunday Times:

“They wanted us to spend a fortune on some schemes like the one they had to encourage voter registration, but we only had to spend about £5,000 to make sure Jeremy’s people, some journalists and bloggers saw it was there on Facebook. And if it was there for them, they thought it must be there for everyone. It wasn’t.”

It gets worse. On the night of the 2017 General Election I was in the press team at the party’s HQ. I’ll never forget the deathly silence and the looks on the faces of those staffers that we knew to have been plotting against Corbyn since day one. While we celebrated robbing Theresa May of her majority, party staffers mourned in the room next door: “they are cheering and we are silent and grey faced. Opposite to what I had been working towards for the last couple of years!!, one senior staffer allegedly wrote on WhatsApp that night, according to the leaked report.

They were so confident Corbyn was going to do badly that just before the exit poll results came in, all of Corbyn’s staff had their access to Labour HQ revoked.

It’s important to note that all of the key staff implicated have already moved on from working for the party. But the Forde Inquiry must heed the outcry and astonishment from many of the party’s half a million members. For the inquiry’s recommendations to be seen as credible, a lifetime ban for these former Labour staffers has got to be the bare minimum.

Jeremy Corbyn may have been ideologically further away from his fellow Labour MPs than any former leader, but that doesn’t justify the relentless nature of the attacks. What Corbyn and his team had to deal with behind the scenes went far beyond factionalism and showed a scorched-earth mentality. Not only did they not want Labour to win under Corbyn, they seemed to be actively trying to lose.

Once the dust finally settles on the Corbyn-era, historians may ponder how different things might have been if these Labour staffers, and numerous Labour MPs, had spent their energies supporting their leader rather than working against him.

The number of extra votes in marginal seats that Labour needed in 2017 to give Corbyn a chance of being prime minister was an agonising 2,227. This will forever remain a sore point for many of us. Because as the leaked report exposed – we know that in 2017 party resources never reached many of the winnable seats that they should have, with allies of the small faction in party HQ standing in safe seats seen as the first priority.

We were a young and diverse team, mostly new to electoral politics and passionate about our jobs. Of course we made mistakes. But we came incredibly close to changing this country’s politics for good. Without the actions of this small group of highly experienced saboteurs, I genuinely believe we would now be three years into a Labour government investing in our NHS and public services – an outcome which surely would have better prepared the country for the Coronavirus pandemic.


Comments (26)

  • RC says:

    Similar sabotage was reported from the White House after a handover from one US party to another. I do not recall which was which! The point remains: plainly the staff who behaved in this way do not belong in the same party as those they sabotaged. Do we anticipate continuous Blairite sabotage against any socialist developments that may develop even under new circumstances? “a bourgeois workers’ party” as Lenin put it. The class sruggle seems to have been going on vigorously…

  • Mary Davies says:


  • Martyn Meacham says:

    Their treason has caused so much damage. We could have had a decent government that gave a voice to the people, and one that would work for the people. Instead we have a vile, callous, crooked, corrupt and inhuman tory klepto dictatorship. Labour is now being run by a zionist supporting tory that is posing as labour leader, and the whole front bench are self serving, backstabbing traitors.

  • Why did Jeremy not use the authority entrusted to him by so many Labour members? We gave him the mandate. He could, and should have demanded better conditions for himself and his staff. Although I support Jeremy on most issues I am baffled by his apparent inability to realize when he is being ruthlessly attacked!
    Lenin one said (I do not agree with everything Lenin said) “Politics is a dirty business”. I wonder if Jeremy does not realize this? His enemies have been, and still are, prepared to fight dirty!
    I was shocked when he apologized for the manufactured allegations of A.S. In effect he was apologizing for being lied about! Jeremy makes me think of someone who is trying to play by boxing rules while his opponents are using Krav Maga, which is an Israeli combat method designed to operate in the “life or death” situation that Jews were confronted by in the 1930`s. Some of Krav Maga can inflict serious injury or death. This was a necessity for Jews at that time!
    Maybe Jeremy should take some lessons?

  • Jack says:

    It’s been obvious to some of us, even before Jeremy Corbyn took over, that there was corruption within the bureaucracy of the Labour Party. Iain McMicol led a team of staffers who had no intention of supporting Jeremy. When Chris Williamson was exonerated, those same staffers wanted him to face further investigations and hardly anyone reacted against them! I even saw it in my own CLP where staff had a different agenda to the majority of the members.

    At a function, not long after Jeremy became leader, a couple of us spoke to John McDonnell and voiced our concerns, he shrugged them off as only being the result mischief among a handful of harmless malcontents. Margaret Hodge harmless????

    When the attacks on JC were at their highest, even John McDonnell joined in and said Jeremy had not acted quickly enough against anti-Semites in the Party!

    It would appear from what Joe Ryle and others have said, Corbyn had around him a bunch of amateurs, even worse, some of them were working against him.

    It could have been so different if at the start, a team of true Socialists, professionals who knew the dangers Corbyn was about to face, had been assembled and a plan drawn up to counteract the onslaught from within and without the Party which was 100% bound to happen. Instead, it was hoped that Corbyn’s inate decency would prevail. In the end, it acted against him.

  • Anti-fascist says:

    Labour? A party in the hands of a pack of rats with no hope for itself. No wonder people are leaving,

  • JanP says:

    The problem was not with Jeremy, who fought well and hard against all odds. The problem lies with the – still – entrenched careerists who would do anything to ensure that the Labour Party is not fit for a purpose other than their own. In this sense they are colluding with the Tories.

  • Wonnie says:

    The leadership team has to address the active treason, otherwise the party is lost. We could start by refusing to reward Tom Watson who did more that most to destroy our electoral hopes!

  • Lesley Crompton says:

    As usual – excellent articles making me proud to be affiliated with such a wonderful group of people! Sorry that Kier Starmer is proving to be a disappointment to so many Socialists who stood together and fought for a better world.

  • Dave Hansell says:

    Employed staff at all levels could not achieve such a sustained approach spanning over years without the backing and support of both members of the PLP and senior figures within the Party – including former leaders and Government Ministers along with those in the House of Lords.

    This means that much of the current leadership of the Party along with the Shadow Cabinet are most certainly implicated. A reasonable and gradualist approach, as pursued under Corbyn, clearly does not work. On a whole raft of practical and necessary policies from GND onwards, and even any form of democracy (which is disdained as mere “populism” by these sectarians), it is clear to a blind man on a galloping horse that every single one of these people would prefer to permanently lose – in order to protect current unequal arrangements and their status quo – than risk enacting those policies.

    As journalist Caitlin Johnson alludes to here:

    the rational choice is equally clear for the practical and necessary changes for the health of society to be achieved. The mythical ‘Broad Church’ is not one of ideas but of values. Values which those involved within the Party who are managing the discontent on behalf of the Establishment as the “Loyal” opposition do not share with those who they claim to represent and are prepared to go to war with both the majority of members and voters to pursue and protect those sick values.

    There is no future for a political party operated on such values at odds with what is required for a healthy society. Either all those committed to protecting the status quo in this way are rapidly and systematically removed from the Party or the majority of those who do all the donkey work on the doorstep will simply not bother getting out of bed in the morning to do the business.

    Not when the effort to achieve the practical and necessary policy ends towards a more healthy society is constantly undermined by those with a completely opposite set of values at odds with those seeking those ends.

    The alternative is to proceed on the basis that the current means to those ends has no prospect of ever achieving them. In which case the rational choice is to either find or (re) create another means to achieve that healthy society necessary for individual and social survival.

  • Peter Rowland says:

    I am amazed and shocked by the actions of labour staffers and MPs they should be locked up

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    Jeremy, alas is a victim of his own decency. It was that quality that made him so attractive to people who joined the Party in their thousands. Because he had no experience of leadership he was pitifully slow to realise what he was up against…
    It proved fatal for the Party and the country. I have sympathy with him.

  • Kriss says:

    This makes me furious and I am sobbing, knowing that we were so close and as you said could have been 3 years into a humanistic administration by now….. thank you for the courage to print this…….

  • Emma. G says:

    Such appalling, bad behaviour by those undermining Jeremy Corbyn, so selfish working against Corbyn because he didn’t suit their ideals, they should have put aside their differences for democratic reasons,for the country and its people and respected the choice of members. Instead their arrogance acted out a terrible betrayal of Labour members and the chance of a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn which would have helped this country and its people get back up on their feet after years of Tory misrule, incompetence and cruelty.

  • Allan Howard says:

    Jay, Jeremy’s enemies own and/or control the MSM and, as such, have total control of the narrative. As for apologising, or NOT apologising, perhaps you missed the furore in the MSM and the Jewish newspapers when he DIDN’T apologise when Andrew Neil did a number on him.

    As for the criticism – by both Jay and Jack (who just happened to comment one after the other and both be saying essentially the same thing) – about Jeremy being naive, in effect, well if Jeremy had gone around spending his time in a negative mode of thought trying to anticipate what his enemies were planning next – and as if he could have anyway! – he would NOT have been in the positive mode he needed to be in to do all he could to win a GE.

    In fact the episode re his appearance on the Andrew Neil program is a perfect example, and sums up just how devious and underhand and duplicitous these people are, and needless to say, Jeremy and his team were duped and mislead by the BBC AND Andrew Neil – he of the Kinnock’s Kremlin Connection scam just a few weeks before the 1992 GE – AND Boris Johnson and Tory Party HQ, all of whom conspired in duping Jeremy. But according to those on here like Jay and Jack, Jeremy should have seen through their duplicity and their machinations!

    Jeremy’s enemies amongst party staff deliberately set out from the beginning to create an atmosphere of mistrust and of not knowing who is genuine and who is not, one of the main things being continuously leaking stuff to the MSM. As Joe Ryle says at the start of his piece:

    ‘He already had some suspicions at this point, but he could never have fully comprehended what was being plotted against him less than half a mile away at Labour’s headquarters on Victoria Street.’

    And as he says further on:

    ‘This fear had the effect of putting most people on edge and helped contribute to an office in a justified state of paranoia.’

    Yes!, a state of paranoia that the right deliberately set out to create!

  • Deacon Martin says:


  • Barbara Ellis says:

    Heartbreak and despair that such a decent and good man could be brought down by these cheats and liars. Sad that to win you must be a ruthless, unprincipled war monger like Blair and his deceitful cronies.

  • Allan Howard says:

    So what we have, in effect, is people laying the blame on Jeremy – as opposed to the saboteurs themselves – for not anticipating what the saboteurs would do. And this is EXACTLY the same as people accusing Jeremy of being weak and cowardly for not ‘fighting back’ and refuting the A/S lies and falsehoods, instead of those who participated in the Smear Campaign against him and the left membership, or defending the likes of Ken and Jackie and Chris etc AND ‘appeasing’ his enemies. Needless to say, if Jeremy HAD defended them and denied that they said anything anti-semitic, he himself would of course have been condemned and vilified for doing so, along with bucket-loads of faux outrage. The following is a perfect example of just THAT from a Daily Mail article, referring to the JLMs final submission to the EHRC:

    It sets out in nine examples of Mr Corbyn’s past behaviour which the JLM claimed had acted as ‘signals to party members’ that ‘anti-Semitic views are acceptable’.

    This includes, defending Chris Williamson against allegations of anti-Semitism weeks before he was suspended for those allegations.

    NB And it is of course just PURELY coincidental that the JLM should complete and submit their final submission to the EHRC just one week before the general election AND then ‘leak’ it to the MSM!

  • Brian Hanson says:

    An outrage. Thank you for posting this article which hopefully will convince many more members of the belligerence of the Labour right?
    Can their ever be party unity until those responsible are brought to book? If they are not (as I fully expect) should the party formally split?

  • Allan Howard says:

    In his post Jack claims that at a function shortly after Jeremy was elected leader “a couple of us spoke to John McDonnell and voiced our concerns, he shrugged them off as only being the result mischief among a handful of harmless malcontents. Margaret Hodge harmless????”.

    Jack is playing games with the chronology of events, because as of shortly after Jeremy was elected leader, there had been no claims or allegations of anti-semitism made against anyone, and Margaret Hodge didn’t start playing her part in the A/S smear campaign until at least AFTER Ken Livingstone was suspended at the end of April the following year, just a few days after the Naz Shah ‘story’ broke – ie about seven-and-a-half months AFTER Jeremy became leader. So why would Jack have any reason to have Margaret Hodge in mind at the point when this function he claims happened, happened!

  • Anthony Hagger says:

    As anyone who has been a foot soldier, of no individual importance, in the struggle against the ‘Right’ in all its guises, (which includes, sadly, too many who continue to infest the PLP and those within the Party Machine, i.e. the Bureaucracy) since the machinations of Stalin and the belated warning of an ailing Lenin, it is well known that Political Parties of the Social Democratic type give birth, very quickly, to a bureaucracy which is anti democratic and supportive of dictatorship! That is, rather than being open and honest it is closed and secretive! Becoming a body which controls the Party agenda and/or actually uses the various rules and regulations to paralyse democracy and facilitate rule by elites who, as long as they maintain a bourgeois status quo and ignore the Party Members, other than to use them as voting fodder at election time, no matter how much such members lay down the ‘law’ so to speak, when they come to realise how much they are ignored by those who would do anything to undermine any possible Leader who might have the temerity to actually mention something which even looked like a Socialist policy! The answer, clear out the Right Wing wherever they may be in the Party and run the Party as openly and democratically as the members require!

  • Allan Howard says:

    Correction (of sorts!) re my 08.58 post: The JLMs final submission to the EHRC was apparently submitted to the EHRC in the November, and THEN mysteriously found its way to the MSM exactly one week before the GE. The following are several clips from a JLM piece-cum-explanation posted on December 5th:

    ‘JLM Reaction to The Times and BBC Articles on the EHRC’

    …… we were asked to provide final legal arguments in a closing submission, which was submitted last month. It is this document that The Times and BBC have obtained [and the rest of the MSM et al of course!].

    We take no pleasure in our submission being made public.

    Whilst we would not have wanted our final EHRC submission published by others in this way before the Commission was ready to publish its final report next summer, we have verified that this is an accurate version of our final submission.

  • Jack says:

    Allen Howard, you appear to have an obsessive dislike for anyone who points to the fact that Jeremy Corbyn, as likeable as he is, appeased his enemies and failed to support his friends. I can assure you that particularly in this forumn, there are plenty of our Jewish comrades who will disagree with you.

    As for Margaret Hodge, I didn’t tie her into any particular chronology, it’s your obvious obsesssion which did that. Not whithstanding of course that she has ALWAYS batted for the Zionist lobby.

  • Allan Howard says:

    As we both know Jack, if Jeremy had defended Ken and Co and claimed they didn’t say anything anti-semitic (which would have been true of course), he would have been vilified and condemned for doing so by exactly the same ‘contingent’ who falsely accused Ken and Jackie et al of anti-semitism in the first place. Agreed?

    But you seem determined to blame the victim. So, anyway, are you of the ‘school of thought’ that HAD Jeremy refuted the claims made against himself and others and the left membership and ‘fought back’, that the smearers and the MSM would have backed off and stopped their smearing – ie in standing up to the bully, so to speak, the bully would have stopped their bullying?

    Er, No Jack, of course they wouldn’t have, and there was absolutely nothing that was EVER going to stop their ‘bullying’, even when he was down and out!

  • Allan Howard says:

    PS And what I can’t understand Jack is how anyone who thinks and believes that Jeremy sold out his ‘friends’ and threw them under the bus, AND who they think and believe is weak and cowardly and appeases his enemies etc, could POSSIBLY like him (or say: ‘as likeable as he is’) OR have been someone that they could possibly have supported as of from the point where they started to perceive him that way. It’s not plausible Jack, and it just doesn’t add up!

  • Too sad and unfair for Jeremy from the beginning. The establishments are so powerful and determined not to loose their money and power. They bought so many vile brains and promised their future within their power. Some might have disappointed as they have not got yet and waiting like dog, sit and wait.

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