Exclusive: The Riverside scandal

Louise Ellman and the war on Riverside Labour Party

This JVL investigation details clashes between Liverpool Riverside MP Louise Ellman and Constituency Labour Party members, including Jews, who say they have been the victim of baseless allegations of antisemitism, wild charges based on a contested interview recording and a scurrilous dossier posted anonymously on a far-right blog. This and much more is revealed in an exhaustive report backed up by 16 appendices including interview transcripts, letters, email exchanges, reports and submissions. For the first time, the silenced voices of members of Ellman’s constituency party can be heard countering the uncorroborated attacks on them in the BBC Panorama documentary Is Labour Antisemitic? broadcast in July.

Louise Ellman, MP for Liverpool Riverside
Photo: MP’s Twitter profile

Louise Ellman and the war on Riverside Labour Party

One of many authoritative voices platformed on BBC1’s Panorama programme, Is Labour Antisemitic? screened on July 10, was that of long-standing Liverpool MP Louise Ellman, interviewed at length describing her three-year battle with bullying, antisemitic, hard-left infiltrators in her Riverside constituency party. Ellman is often featured as one of a number of MPs targeted by leftists either for being Jewish or for standing up to antisemitism.

The Panorama programme provided very little context or background to the animosity between Dame Louise, a prominent pro-Israel advocate, and Corbyn-supporting, pro-Palestinian Riverside activists who include senior Jewish party members. None of them were interviewed by Panorama, just as none of the extensive mainstream TV, radio, online or print coverage of Ellman’s charges against them since early 2016 has examined their viewpoint. Apart from occasional brief quotes in the Liverpool Echo, only the Morning Star has published their views. Panorama did not mention Ellman’s role as former chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, a Zionist affiliate to the Labour Party said to have been revived in 2015 explicitly to counter Corbyn’s influence, nor as Vice-Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, a lobby group for pro-Israel members of parliament.  The group announced her appointment as its chair on 7 August.

What follows is an exclusive Jewish Voice for Labour report detailing what appears in our view to be a systematic campaign by Ellman and her anti-Corbyn allies to disempower and drive out members who back the socialist, internationalist politics of the Labour leadership.

It features:

  • Public denunciation of activists Ellman and her allies accuse of antisemitism, including veteran Jewish socialists who support justice for Palestine. Lengthy investigations by party officials in 2016/17 unearthed nothing deserving sanction. One case of genuine antisemitism arose early this year and was promptly dealt with. But charges of wholesale hostility to Jews continue to circulate. Complaints against those making unsubstantiated allegations have been ignored.
  • Deployment of an anonymous “dossier”, posted on the far-right Guido Fawkes blog in September 2016 denouncing constituency members by name for bullying, intimidation and entryism on behalf of far-left groups. Members’ rebuttals have been given no public airing.
  • De facto suspension of the constituency party by the National Executive Committee for a period pending investigation. The Constituency Labour Party was forbidden to hold its AGM for eight months, until a report was produced but never shown to members of the CLP.
  • Persistent exploitation of their positions by anti-Corbyn CLP officers in order to block discussion and decision-making by members.
  • Misrepresentation of a veteran trade unionist accused of falsifying her date of birth and her parentage.  Expert investigation of the taped radio interview used as source material indicates that the recording had been tampered with.
  • Suspension on April 16 this year of John Davies, chair of the largest branch in Liverpool Riverside CLP and initially the only pro-Corbyn member of the executive committee. He was reinstated on July 23.
  • Inclusion in the Panorama programme of allegations by a member of the national party staff that he was subjected to antisemitic abuse while conducting interviews in Riverside in December 2016. Recordings made at the time, investigated by The Canary, suggest that there was no such abuse. The allegation appears to be based on an innocent question from an elderly Jewish woman member who was unaware that the member of staff concerned was Jewish.

Much of the detail is fleshed out in interview transcripts, statements and letters from members whose voices have not previously been heard on national platforms. They are posted as appendices to this report.


The whole affair began at a meeting of Riverside CLP in April 2016 with a discussion about antisemitism.  Helen Marks, who introduced herself as someone from a Jewish family, suggested that if there had been a rise in antisemitism, particularly in the Labour Party, as Ellman had argued, this might be due in part to the actions of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians.

A local councillor, Nick Small, protested at this suggestion. Neither the chair nor anyone else present suggested anything antisemitic had been said, but two days later Small tweeted about “abhorrent” views in Riverside. He alleged that CLP members had said “Israel set up ISIS” and that Israel was “behind rise in antisemitism”.

The next day he came back with a specific charge of antisemitism and Ellman suggested that the problem was widespread in the Labour Party.

Soon the allegations, with embellishments, appeared in the Jewish Chronicle, quoting Small and referring to comments Ellman had made elsewhere. Riverside members were accused of being antisemitic infiltrators and hard-left activists who were creating ‘an “intimidating and hostile” atmosphere for Jewish members.’

No mention was made of the fact that Helen Marks is herself Jewish. Small’s complaints all referred to remarks made about Israel or Palestine, not about Jews.

John Davies, writer and actor, and at that time the CLP’s trade union liaison officer, asked officers for clarification about the allegations in the media. The chair replied that “a number of complaints” would soon be put before a meeting of the CLP executive.

In May, five members sent a formal complaint to the North West Regional Labour Party [See APPENDIX 1], accusing Small of breaching party rules by making public allegations about a private party meeting, without first raising them internally.

They said Small had made “various false allegations” to the Jewish Chronicle and other media, making the CLP “a very unsafe place in which to conduct legitimate political debate.” His allegations had been “repeated in other press reports and social media exchanges as though they were statements of truth.”

Small himself made a formal complaint [See APPENDIX 2] alleging that three questions addressed to Ellman by Marks and two others in different CLP meetings early in 2016 went “way beyond legitimate criticism of the actions of the Israeli government [using] Israel and Israeli citizens as proxies for attacks on Jewish people.”

One of Small’s complaints referred to Helen Marks’s question mentioned above, suggesting that rising antisemitic attacks might be linked to Israeli attacks on Palestinians. (The Community Security Trust which monitors antisemitic incidents noted a 500 percent rise following Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2014.) Another related to a question about Ellman’s support for airstrikes on Syria. The third was to do with a comment by Ellman about “Gaza terror tunnels”. The questioner pointed out that populations under siege, like Palestinians in Gaza, have often resorted to digging tunnels, and the Warsaw Ghetto was one such instance.

Some of the questions could have been better expressed, but all three of those accused vehemently deny antisemitism. They point out the questions were addressed to Ellman in the only discussion forum available to them – CLP meetings at which the MP read out reports of her activities. Routinely, these failed to mention the Israel advocacy work she does outside the constituency. Hence the questions to her on this subject.

On June 1 the Riverside executive voted to take no action on the complaint members had made against Small, but to forward Small’s allegations to the next members’ meeting.

When this took place on July 1, 2016, the agenda made no mention of the allegations, no executive committee minutes were attached and no discussion of Small’s complaints occurred.

It later emerged that the antisemitism allegations against the three CLP members had been sent straight to national head office without being discussed at a members’ meeting, as the executive committee had originally agreed they would and as was required under party rules.

Davies, then the sole left member of the executive, wrote repeatedly to officers asking for clarification but received no answers. [See APPENDIX 3].


The allegations resurfaced in September 2016, when the Guardian published an interview with Ellman in which she again said that antisemitism was rife in Riverside. Asked for details, she referred back to the Jewish Chronicle piece citing Small.

Later that month the right-wing Guido Fawkes website published an anonymous dossier, titled An investigation into far-left infiltration of the Labour Party in Liverpool since September 2015, [See APPENDICES 4 & 4a] alleging that the “hard left”, organising through the pro-Corbyn grassroots Momentum movement, were trying to take over the constituency with the aim of deselecting Ellman. The dossier accused several activists by name and spun a giant conspiracy theory out of a few emails that had circulated on the left.

It alluded to the same accusations of antisemitism discussed above, providing no additional evidence. It said that veteran trade union activist Audrey White is the daughter of former MP Eddie Loyden. She isn’t (though it is noteworthy that she has been separately accused of claiming that she is in the doctored audio tape mentioned below). The dossier said that Loyden and Jeremy Hawthorn, a current member of the CLP, had been members or supporters of the left-wing Militant grouping in the past. They were not.

The dossier made a point of identifying the three members accused of antisemitism as members of Liverpool Friends of Palestine. The material in the dossier in effect made clear that Louise Ellman faced challenges from the left because of her opposition to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and her support for the state of Israel and its treatment of Palestine and Palestinians – not because of her being Jewish. Nonetheless it was presented as if it revealed a sinister, antisemitic Trotskyite plot, justifying Ellman’s public campaign against members of her own CLP. Media reports persistently suggested that Jewish members were under attack from the left, without acknowledging that several prominent left-wingers were Jews, including one of the three accused of being an antisemite.

No one has admitted authoring the dossier, which was greeted enthusiastically by Councillor Small who tweeted about it within hours of publication.


The story was taken up by the Times and in various forms by the Telegraph, the Liverpool Echo, Sky News and Mail Online, among others. Ellman took to Twitter the same day to say “It is shocking to read that members of the Momentum group have been working to subvert not only the local Labour Party but also to undermine the admirable work of Labour-led Liverpool City Council…”

In late September Sky News quoted Ellman saying she was sending the dossier, now described as “her evidence,” to Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s National Executive Committee. “She insists she will fight any attempts by her left-wing opponents to deselect her,” Sky News said.  The Liverpool Echo reported her calling for the suspension of her own constituency party even as it prepared to host Labour’s national Annual Conference on the Liverpool waterfront.

A formal complaint against Ellman’s behaviour in deploying the anonymous dossier was made to the NEC by Audrey White in a letter addressed to General Secretary Iain McNicol in October 2016 [See APPENDIX 5]. It was followed by a supportive letter from 46 members of the CLP [See APPENDIX 6]. There was no response to either of these.

Far from heeding what White and others were saying on behalf of many members of Riverside CLP, Labour’s NEC Disputes Panel, then dominated by right-wingers, decided not to launch an investigation into Ellman’s or Councillor Small’s behaviour, but into the CLP as a whole. This resulted in its de facto suspension for several months. No AGM could be held and no new officers appointed while the investigation went on. The Corbyn-supporting members who were the focus of the investigation submitted a Contribution to the investigation into Liverpool Riverside Constituency Labour Party [See APPENDIX 7] explaining in detail how anti-Corbyn, Ellman-supporting CLP officers made persistent use of their positions to block discussion and decision making by ordinary members.


In November 2016, six Riverside members, including Davies, White, Marks and Dave Hookes, a Party member of some fifty years standing, were summoned for interview by Ben Westerman, a member of the disputes team staff. Verbatim transcripts of their interviews [See APPENDICES 8-11], based on recordings made by the interviewees, seem to suggest that he struggled to deal with intricacies of the problems he had been sent to investigate. John Davies’s transcript is particularly illuminating thanks to the intervention from veteran Jewish activist Sam Semoff, who accompanied Davies to the interview despite being seriously ill. He died in March 2018.

After her interview, Helen Marks wrote to Ben Westerman with further comments she had not been able to include at the time. Marks explained how distressing it was for her to face antisemitism allegations, given her experience as a British Jew whose ancestors had fled bigotry and violence in Russia and Poland before World War I and whose father had lost most of his extended family during the Nazi Holocaust.  [See APPENDIX 12]. “I feel silencing is what has been happening to people, like myself, critical of Israel’s actions towards the Palestinians, and this has sadly been done by members of the Labour Party who have equated such criticism with antisemitism,” she wrote. Audrey White wrote her own email to the NEC before they gave their ruling on Westerman’s investigation [See APPENDIX 13].

CLP members were never granted sight of Westerman’s report. A leaked version [See APPENDIX 14] was finally published by the Jewish Chronicle, in March 2019, appended to a story headlined “Plot to oust MP Ellman spearheaded by a former member of the Trotskyist Militant Tendency.” The subject of this story was Audrey White – named earlier in the year by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme as one of the “100 most influential women of the century. In the 1980s she had led an industrial dispute against sexual harassment in the workplace. It led to changes in the law and was turned into a movie, Business as Usual, starring Glenda Jackson.

The allegations against White were worthy of a cheap spy thriller – they included that the date of birth she provided to the Labour Party had been falsified by 44 years; and that she had said on a radio phone-in programme that she was the daughter of a former local MP. She affirms that she didn’t and expert investigation of the audio-tape of the interview indicated that it had been tampered with [See APPENDIX 15]. White understands that the doctored recording was sent to Westerman anonymously.

Westerman’s report brushed aside members’ concerns that the investigation gave undue prominence to the anonymous dossier promoted by anti-Labour Guido Fawkes. Davies, White and other leading left members say the report uncritically repeats allegations without factual evidence; disregards their refutations; and also disregards their own charges concerning Councillor Small’s behaviour, and the non-functioning of the CLP Executive.


Westerman’s investigation led to no finding of antisemitism against any Riverside member, including the three accused by Small. 

It did result in a reorganisation of the CLP, imposed by the national executive, taking effect in June 2017. From being a CLP with an all-member monthly General Meeting, it was obliged to adopt a branch structure with a delegate-based General Committee – a move which initially benefited Louise Ellman’s anti-Corbyn faction. (All-member meetings of growing size had been voting with increasing majorities for pro-Corbyn motions.) The imposed delegate-based system facilitated manipulation of delegations from a wide range of affiliated organisations.

For example, one of these organisations, Scientists for Labour, seems never to have fulfilled the requirement of having a functioning local branch qualified to send delegates to the CLP. Its delegate was appointed by SfL nationally.

At the AGM in June 2017, delegates present voted in an anti-Corbyn executive. However, if the shift to a delegate structure was intended to entrench the long-term control of Ellman and her supporters in the CLP, it backfired. Pro-Corbyn members say many affiliate delegates failed to attend or participate once they’d cast their votes at the AGM. As a result the CLP voted in March 2018 to affiliate to Jewish Voice for Labour – a network for Jewish members of the party who support Corbyn’s socialist project.  At the AGM in June 2018, left delegates won the majority of seats on the Riverside CLP Executive.

Media reports continue to assert that Ellman is subjected to “obsessive” monthly interrogations about Israel-Palestine.  In fact, members say, the subject has only been mentioned six or seven times in the last three years.

However, they say Ellman’s own behaviour has unavoidably appeared on the agenda at some meetings because of her persistent defence of Israel’s interests, for example calling for the cutting of British aid to Palestinian schools.

In February 2019, Riverside CLP agreed a motion in support of neighbouring Wavertree CLP, which was also facing antisemitism allegations comparable to those from which they had suffered, which Riverside members considered totally unjust. A Mail Online story with a headline saying Ellman was “tipped to be the next to defect from party amid anti-Semitism row” quoted the MP calling the vote “shameful”.  The Mail said she had been barracked by Corbyn loyalists at the meeting and quoted an Ellman ally, Councillor Malcolm Kennedy, comparing the atmosphere to a “Soviet show trial.”

However, a recording made available by members does not support the allegation that Ellman had been “barracked” at the meeting in question. Ellman gave her report as item 5 on the agenda, after visiting trade union speakers had finished. The recording, which members made because there had been so many inaccurate media reports of previous meetings, indicates that she was asked one respectful question during her report and a couple afterwards.

Ellman’s allies have sustained their attacks on the left. In April this year Councillor Kennedy, a former Mayor of Liverpool, quoted in the Jewish Chronicle, called the left members of the CLP “This assorted bunch of Trotskyites, Communists and outright antisemites.” The main target was John Davies, a former Hollyoaks actor who was briefly suspended from the party, accused of antisemitism and bullying.

On the day Davies heard of his suspension, April 17, 2019, the Jewish Chronicle published a long article about it accusing him of antisemitic behaviour.

Davies says: “Amongst the numerous unsubstantiated allegations it contained was that I had ‘questioned the loyalty of Jewish MPs to the UK’. I have never done this. The most serious allegation was that I was a Nazi apologist.”

The article quoted Ellman’s fellow anti-Corbyn MP Ruth Smeeth saying of Davies: “This man and his vile views have no place in the party that I have dedicated my life too [sic].”

She accused him of “traditional anti-Jewish tropes about dual loyalty and the disgusting justifications of Hilter’s [sic] stance towards Jews.”

Following a Labour Party disciplinary investigation, Davies’s suspension was lifted on July 23. He has enlisted the press regulator IPSO in calling on the Jewish Chronicle to retract Smeeth’s allegations, but the paper has so far refused, saying she stands by her original comment.

“It has failed to produce any material showing why Ms Smeeth came to this conclusion about me. I await a decision,” Davies said.

Ellman is one of many pro-Israel MPs backing an ongoing campaign to exclude Corbyn ally, Derby North MP Chris Williamson, from the party following his suspension in February. In June she was among those who successfully demanded the overturning of a disciplinary panel decision to lift his suspension. The furore about his reinstatement was a matter of grave concern to party members. Riverside’s Left Executive, however, took care to abide by an edict from the General Secretary warning CLPs not to discuss live disciplinary cases. [See APPENDIX 16]


Davies and others on the left do not dispute the presence of some antisemitism in Labour’s ranks, including in Riverside. There has been one case, in a 2,500-strong constituency, which occurred earlier this year and swiftly resulted in disciplinary action. They vehemently deny allegations made against them over the last three and a half years, of antisemitism, bullying, intimidation and entryism. These allegations were repeated yet again in the Panorama documentary in July as though they were fact.

They are most incensed about former staffer Ben Westerman’s charge during the Panorama programme that, as the only Jewish member of the party’s disciplinary staff, he was subjected to antisemitic questioning at the end of one of his interviews while investigating the CLP. Although he has made no formal complaint against any of those present, Westerman told Panorama reporter John Ware he had been asked if he came from Israel. About 21 minutes into the programme, Ware says Westerman was “confronted with the very antisemitism he had been sent to investigate.” Riverside members who were at the interviews, either as interviewees or witnesses, have provided recordings and transcripts as well as a video explanation supporting their testimony that no such question was asked by any of them before, during or after any of the interviews. None of them had any idea that Westerman was Jewish. There was one conversation towards the end of Helen Marks’s interview which bore some resemblance to the incident Westerman described to Ware. An elderly Jewish woman, acting as a silent friend for Helen Marks, asked Westerman conversationally which Labour Party branch he belonged to. He declined to answer. Neither the recording nor the recollections of Riverside members present bear out the suggestion that any reference to Israel was made. Helen Marks contacted the BBC seeking to put the record straight, given that the allegation had been broadcast without any attempt at corroboration. She was told that was how Westerman recalled it and the programme makers accepted what he said.

“For this innocent incident to be turned into an entirely groundless allegation of hostility towards someone because he was Jewish, and for it to be broadcast by the BBC without any corroboration, demonstrates how the one-sided narrative of Louise Ellman and others who share her perspective has come to dominate debate about Labour and antisemitism,” said Davies.



APPENDIX 1 – Complaint against Nick Small from five CLP members

APPENDIX 2 – Cllr Small’s allegations of antisemitism and members’ responses

APPENDIX 3 – Emails between John Graham Davies and CLP officers

APPENDIX 4 – Anonymous dossier alleging far-left infiltration – main

APPENDIX 4a – Anonymous dossier alleging far-left infiltration -appendix

APPENDIX 5 – Audrey White, Letter of complaint to NEC October 2016

APPENDIX 6 – Letter of complaint to NEC with multiple signatures

APPENDIX 7 – Members’ Contribution to the investigation into Liverpool Riverside CLP

APPENDIX 8 – Labour Party Compliance Unit interview with John Davies, Riverside CLP

APPENDIX 9 – Labour Party Compliance Unit interview with Helen Marks, Riverside CLP

APPENDIX 10– Labour Party Compliance Unit interview with Audrey White, Riverside CLP

APPENDIX 11 – Labour Party Compliance Unit interview with David Hookes, Riverside CLP

APPENDIX 12 – Helen Marks to Ben Westerman after her interview  and his response

APPENDIX 13 – Audrey White, email to Iain McNicol and the NEC, 11 January 2017

APPENDIX 14 – Westerman’s report to NEC leaked to media

APPENDIX 15 – Expert Audio Analysis

APPENDIX 16 – Emails showing CLP did not discuss the Chris Williamson case



Comments (19)

  • Andy Coombes says:

    Great work. Thank you from one of the purged.

  • John says:

    Very good but how are you going to get the BBC to take any notice and odd statements such as Jewish actors should speak out against Israeli policies in Gaza [ Derek Hatton ] If I was Catholic or Protestant actor should I make comments on Northern Ireland ? This is just pushing a religious agenda: what Israel wants. It should not matter what religion people are. Israel is a secular state and should be judged as such as Chomsky argued Israel is not a Jewish State. People should not labelled Jewish actors – that is a religious argument, not secular.

  • John Middleton says:

    If members have lied to create a totally false and damaging description of other members then they must be disciplined. This cannot be allowed to rest.

  • Ruth Appleton says:

    The conclusions drawn by Ellman are baseless and extrapolated from unfounded suggestions and after all the time she has had to find the evidence I can only say she should not be an MP. Serving in Parliament requires logic and I wouldnt want her logic representing me. She should find some other occupation.

  • Pam Laurance says:

    Very interesting. Very horrible.

  • Paul Allison says:

    Great piece thank you 👍🏻

  • bob cratchit says:

    She’s gone? Oh well, What a shame, never mind!

  • Tim Towers says:

    This is a thorough and, I would think, reliable account of what has occurred, and what will not appear in the media. I have just heard the BBC announce that Louise Ellman has left the Labour Party “due to antisemitism “. Not “alleged” antisemitism. Just statement of fact, with no corroboration or qualification.So it goes on.

  • Tony says:

    ‘…Israel set up ISIS..’

    Someone has possibly confused ISIS with Hamas as I just did.


    Very pleased that Ellman has left the Labour Party.

  • Angelina O'Sullivan says:

    Shame on Ellman and her witchhunt against Corbyn you will be looked upon in time as a shamful representative of the people of Liverpool and the Labour party.

  • Martin Pritchard says:

    Regarding the CLP suspension, would it be worth the members of that CLP individually submitting Subject Access Requests to the Labour Party, then collating what will presumably be redacted responses to piece together the report that mentions them?

  • Richard Samson says:

    Thanks for setting the record straight. Labour is the natural home of antiracists.

    Ellman, the La our rightwing and the MSM have behaved disgracefully, as we have come to expect.

    Shame on them!

  • Dave Kirsopp says:

    An interesting and well written article. The part of this that I personally find so distressing is that the same pattern (of making a given statement without evidence then further promoting that statement as fact) I feel is evident in other strands of the “antisemitism saga”. Equally, I am concerned that the effect of the actions of Ellman and others in using antisemitism in the way they are doing will lead to increased levels of antisemitism within our community: Jews in the UK in modern times have been integrated quite naturally and accepted as British citizens equal to anyone else. Jews have not faced the same issues that some other groups have faced (for example Muslims). I fear that in raising antisemitism in the way it has been raised in turn raises it as a possibility in the minds of some people for whom previously antisemitism had simply not been on their “radar”. Consequent to this I am concerned that we may see a rise in antisemitism not within the Labour Party but within British society as a whole.

  • Someone sent this link to me and I m grateful to them. I hear the rumblings of the next smears and fake accusations against JC at this crucial time and now, I know JVL is working hard, to expose this three year long plot, to bring down,an honest, principled man, who we need, as PM, to rebuild this country for the 99%! Thank you.

  • June Helm says:

    I have always made it clear that criticism of the Zionist Israeli government is NOT antisemitic.
    Everyone should be entitled to criticise a government without being called racist.

  • Pauline Anne Stoker says:

    Thank you JVL. How can the full report be disseminated throughout the land except by a leaflet drop to every household. The state controls all media by one means or another unfortunatly. You have done an amazing job with this report, very well done. Thank you. Xx

  • Ali H says:

    It just doesn’t survive what I call the “swap test”.
    “Might incidents of Islamophobia have increased because of the 9/11 attacks?”.

  • Peter M says:

    The problem with saying “if there had been a rise in antisemitism…this might be due in part to the actions of the Israeli government towards the Palestinians”, may be illustrated by analogy with anti-Muslim bigotry (particularly as one’s primary comment on the phenomenon): leaving open the question – with that sceptical “if” – of whether there even has been a rise in such bigotry, then suggesting that it may be explained by the actions of al Qaeda and Isis.

  • Ann Lawrence says:

    A very frightening account of deceitful manipulation by powerful people. The indifference to the distress and anguish that it has caused to the people involved is incredible.

Comments are now closed.