Starmer faces backlash from some NEC members over the leaked report

JVL Introduction

Labour’s leaked report revealed that some party officials had been sending extraordinarily racist, sexist and otherwise abusive messages.

Last week Labour’s press office provided a statement to journalists covering the story, defending the comments.

It described criticism as “po-faced” and said: “These were messages exchanged between co-workers in the expectation that they would remain private and confidential and the tone of the language used reflects that.”

Just imagine if such a defence were offered to an allegation of antisemitism?

Take the MacPherson approach seriously: record the allegations and investigate them as hate crimes. Whether they are or not is to be determined by the evidence, not by who shouts loudest or who is friends with whom.

It is not encouraging when those in charge of ensuring these appalling messages are investigated have decided in advance they were just harmless fun.

This article was originally published by the Independent on Sat 4 Jul 2020. Read the original here.

Keir Starmer faces backlash from Labour’s ruling committee after party defends ‘racist, sexist and abusive’ WhatsApp messages

Statement prepared by party lawyers said criticism was ‘po-faced’ and that officials had an expectation of privacy

More than a dozen members of Labour’s ruling committee have accused party officials of defending “racist, sexist and abusive” messages about colleagues – and called for a public apology from Sir Keir Starmer.

One third of the National Executive Committee’s members, including representatives from four trade unions, wrote to the Labour leader this week accusing his office of misleading them about how the party dealt with leaked WhatsApp messages by senior officials detailed in a controversial internal report.

The row presents a challenge for Sir Keir, who was elected leader after promising he would unite the party’s different factions under one banner and professionalise its operations.

The messages, which included senior officials saying they wished a prominent Labour activist would die in a fire, calling a left-wing staffer “pube head”, and commenting that female advisers had “stopped wearing bras” in meetings, provoked widespread anger in the party when they came to light earlier this year. The party’s NEC ordered an investigation, which is still ongoing.

However, last week Labour’s press office provided a statement to journalists covering the story that defended the comments, describing criticism as “po-faced” and stating: “These were messages exchanged between co-workers in the expectation that they would remain private and confidential and the tone of the language used reflects that.”

The comment outraged NEC members, who called for an apology and retraction at a meeting of the body on Tuesday, but Sir Keir’s office is understood to have told them that the statement was not intended for publication and said it had been provided by the party’s lawyers.

But the offending statement, which The Independent has seen in full, was sent to journalists at the OpenDemocracy website from the Labour press office’s main email account and refers to “the party’s lawyers” in the third person. Although clearly written in legal language, it has the subject line “Re: URGENT: Right of reply offer pre-publication”, suggesting it was issued in response to a request for comment.

In their letter to Sir Keir, the 13 NEC members said: “The Labour Party’s statement was not only inexcusable in defending the racist, sexist and abusive comments in the WhatsApp groups, it also directly prejudged the specific issues that Martin Forde’s inquiry is considering. This prejudices Martin Forde’s inquiry and thereby undermines its independence.

“It is clearly unacceptable for party officials or officials in the leader’s office to politically interfere with or compromise the integrity of the independent investigation that the NEC has commissioned. As members of the NEC, we therefore ask that you issue an immediate apology for this Labour Party statement and retract it completely.”

The NEC members who signed the letter include left-wingers elected by members, but also representatives sent to the committee by trade unions, including the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association – which endorsed Sir Keir for leader – as well as the Fire Brigades Union, Aslef, and Unite. One of the signatories is Andi Fox, the NEC’s chair.

The Labour Party’s statement was not only inexcusable in defending the racist, sexist and abusive comments in the WhatsApp groups, it also directly prejudged the specific issues that Martin Forde’s inquiry is considering

NEC members’ letter

Huda Elmi, one of the NEC members who wrote to Sir Keir, told The Independent: “On Tuesday over a dozen NEC members wrote to Keir and Angela [Rayner, deputy leader of the party] expressing our concerns that Keir’s political secretary had given NEC members inaccurate information about the party’s communication with OpenDemocracy. Now, the release of this email proves that we were lied to.

“We must receive an urgent explanation from Keir and Angela about why members of the NEC were misled by Keir’s office about the party defending racist, sexist and abusive messages in a statement which has prejudiced the Martin Forde inquiry that we commissioned, and undermined its independence. The party must also issue a full, public retraction and apology of this statement, as was promised in the NEC meeting.”

An ally of Sir Keir told The Independent that the response was prepared by party lawyers in response to questions directed at an individual, and not intended as an official party statement. Some of the statement refers to the conduct of one individual, but the quoted passage describing criticism as “po-faced” and saying the officials had a reasonable expectation of privacy does not appear to refer to them directly.

The NEC members’ letter to Sir Keir adds: “Even if the party intended it to be a private, legal response or as a response on behalf of an individual staff member, it is still unacceptable for the party to attempt to minimise or excuse the disgraceful content of the WhatsApp groups, which included racist, sexist and abusive comments. Our concern is not only that the party defended the content of these groups publicly, but that the party would defend their contents at all.

“In addition to retracting the statement and issuing a public apology, we request an explanation as to how NEC members came to be given inaccurate information relating to this correspondence, and why the party would defend the contents of these WhatsApp groups at all.”

Peter Oborne, one of the journalists at OpenDemocracy who worked on the article, said: “We stand by our reporting of the Labour Party’s response to our article. The quote included in our article was unambiguously presented to us as comment for and on behalf of the Labour Party.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “There is an independent external investigation and a series of internal investigations being carried out in relation to the circumstances and contents of the leaked report.

“We take these matters extremely seriously. For the avoidance of doubt, we are clear that the comments that have been quoted do not in any way represent the party’s position in relation to the contents of the leaked report overall and do not prejudge the outcome of those investigations. It would not be appropriate to comment further while the investigations are being carried out.”

Comments (18)

  • Dr Derek Clifford says:

    I can’t help wondering whether these party lawyers are the same (or have any relationship with) the anonymous party lawyers on the GLU who send out Notices of Investigation to Labour left wingers critical of Israel, including Jewish party members such as George Wilders and Jo Bird?
    They certainly seem to have a conservative political agenda, in making such aggressive remarks in defence of obvious racism and sexism.
    It also makes one wonder about previous links
    with the Labour bureaucrats being ‘investigated’.

  • Philip Ward says:

    It sounds to me that at least some of the members of staff in the press office issuing this statement – and indeed the lawyers that provided it – must be used to using language similar (in private) to the appalling stuff in the WhatsApp groups. Why else would they think such behaviour so routine?

  • Christina Evans says:

    Ok a lot of people are nasty and its sad that its an integral part of the human race. Getting accused of been snowflakes and thin skinned. Statements like get a grip its not serious. Where though do we say enough is enough? The labour party are supposed to be better than that. The people responsible need to be held accountable. Enough is enough..

  • DJ says:

    Just trying to brush things under the carpet. Predicable.

  • Mary Davies says:

    I despair over this racist Party led by Keir Starmer and am disgusted with his belittling of Black Lives Matter.

  • Philip Ward says:

    I think it is worth posting a link to the Open Democracy article by Peter Oborne, Justin Schlosberg and Richard Sanders, referred to above. It shows that those in the LP office responsible for all this abuse and plotting are fighting back hard:

    https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/opendemocracyuk/were-labours-antisemitism-failures-really-corbyns-fault/

  • William Johnston says:

    “We take these matters extremely seriously.”

    This is one of those phrases which immediately set off my internal bullshit alarm.

    The other principal contenders are: “Customer safety is our first priority”; and “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims at this difficult time.”

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    When Trump talked privately about “grabbing pussies” he tried to shrug off accusations of misogyny by referring to “locker-room talk”. This defence was rightly dismissed by people on the left. Now what do we see? Labour Party officials adopting exactly the same approach to these vile messages. But worse, in that the term “po-faced” suggests that anyone with a sense of humour would not make a fuss. Disgraceful!

  • Rob Wall says:

    Perhaps the leadership need someone to point out the similarity of the Press Office’s statement to the explanation of Trump’s words about grabbing women by the ….. as “locker room talk”.

  • Brian Burden says:

    Starmer has so far failed in his duty to cleanse his Augean stables.

  • Hilary Wise says:

    Someone should warn Keir Starmer: Once you lose your moral compass you will eventually end up drowning in a bog.

  • michael ryan says:

    “Dianne Abbott should be put in a box” I recall was suggested in the “private” banter. This jumped straight out at me when I read it. I grew up in East London and suggesting someone should be “put in a box” meant one thing only. Maybe I’m reading too much into such a comment, but given the the vicious, unrelenting and ignorant purge of anyone who has dared to utter anything on social media which can remotely construed as anti-Semitic, why should this mob be given the right of privacy, or the benefit of the doubt?

  • ian duncan kemp says:

    if these comments were about antisemitism imagine the fury and outrage.

  • Janet Crosley says:

    I was told , nothing on line is private, especially social media, it could be there forever. Think on opposition front bench. Some of you , grow up!

  • diane datson says:

    yes this is one of the important issues to be dealt with in that report – there are many – and until they are dealt with I will continue to be as vocal as I can be

  • Emma says:

    I await to hear the outcome of the inquiry into the leaked labour report in which some awful comments have been reported to have been said about others with whom they disagreed with such disrespect,such arrogance.Do we really want that sort of behaviour in the Labour party.Should it be ignored,brushed away.Not in my book.we must keep speaking out,highlighting the truth.

  • RC says:

    There is nothing unconscious about Starmer’s bias against the Palestinians and their supporters…whether simply through cynically grovelling to the Zionist lobby or through genuine desire to see the Palestinians ethnically cleansed. I trust the results of this enquiry will be made public…

  • Irene Henson says:

    Remind me why RBL was sacked … Oh! yes re-tweeting a part antisemitic post from one of her own constituents, which she took down … so WHY are these staff members still in post when confirmed antisemitic, racist and threatening posts have been proven in the report???

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