Over the weekend, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit aired its three part series The Labour Files, that discloses leaked internal Labour Party documents – what it calls “the largest leak in British political history” – within which a coup by unelected Labour officials “to take over one of the major political parties in Britain” is documented. The documentary lays bare the culture of corruption and conspiracy amongst Labour Party officials, who used smears and intimidation against rivals, to ultimately oust ‘the left’. Much of what is detailed in the first two episodes of The Labour Files is hardly revelation, it was there in plain sight, so why didn’t the UK press investigate? And why, off the back of the Forde Report has the UK press failed to report on some of the heinous allegations of anti-Semitism and racism made within the series?
The series highlights untruths within the BBC’s Panorama documentary Is Labour Anti-Semitic? which aired six months before the snap general election of 2019, amidst the Labour Party coup. Panorama interviewed so-called Labour Party “whistleblowers” – staunch anti-Corbyn staff members who worked actively against the leadership, though the BBC failed to disclose this. The Labour Files presents evidence that Panorama cherry-picked quotes from communication between the leader of the oppositions office and Labour HQ in order to frame it to fit the narrative that the leader’s office was ‘meddling in’ anti-semitism complaints. It also proves that the programme’s participants outrightly lied about allegations of anti-Semitism.
Episode two of the documentary shows that claims of anti-Semitism made by Ben Westerman were untrue. He told Panorama that while tasked with investigating anti-Semitism in Liverpool’s Riverside CLP he was asked whether or not he was from Israel during one of the six interviews he held. However, audio of the interview itself reveals that this was not the case. In 2019, the members of the Liverpool Riverside CLP who had been interviewed by Westerman said they were able to provide recordings of all six interviews that had taken place in order to disprove his claim. This was reported by Evolve Politics as well as by The Canary, who within a week released the same audio of the interview that was aired in The Labour Files.
At the time, this was enough to prove that there had been a fundamental failure in journalistic standards at the BBC. Not only had Panorama failed to adequately investigate serious allegations made by the programme’s participants, but this evidence also called into question the BBC’s assertion that Panorama had offered an adequate right of reply. At the time the programme’s presenter John Ware and the “whistleblowers” were paid a six figure sum for damages by Keir Starmer after they launched legal proceedings against the Labour Party, this was public record
In part two of the series, Truth Defence’s Andrew Feinstein analyses Labour’s disciplinary files, which consists mostly of social media posts and explains how instances of real anti-Semitism were categorised alongside posts expressing solidarity with Palestine or criticising Israel, “to suggest that this is somehow anti-Semitic is simply trying to avoid Israel being called out for its appalling abuses in the occupied territories.” The ‘anti-Semitism cases logs’ reveals that 23% of all complaints made during the Corbyn era were made from one individual and 12% from Labour Against Anti-Semitism. Its spokesperson Euan Philipps, who is not Jewish, assumed the fake name David Gordstein, in order to make complaints against party members.
What The Labour Files lays bare is the Labour Party’s appalling treatment of actual whistleblowers, how under Keir Starmer free speech was stifled and how the press not only failed to investigate or give a platform to real victims of anti-Semitism but labelled them as ‘conspiracists’ and ‘cranks’ – the case log clearly shows how anti-Semitism was being weaponised at the time and how ultimately the BBC participated in it.
Racism and the Press
Throughout the series, there are harrowing accounts of racism and abuse from senior anti-Corbyn Labour staff. It goes without saying that when allegations of anti-Semitism were launched at Corbyn and his supporters, the press began a campaign to remove him without fully investigating these claims. In part one of the series, a Jewish member, who was suspended for anti-Semitism, plays the voicemail she received from another anti-Corbyn Jewish member saying she should “burn in the gas chamber”. The documentary also reveals text messages between senior Labour staff joking about “stabbing” Jeremy Corbyn and attacking the Opposition Attorney General, Shami Chakrabarti. It’s hard to imagine that if the factions were reversed, this revelation wouldn’t have made headlines.
One of the more shocking revelations from The Labour Files is the racial profiling of members and the extent to which Islamophobia was documented and reported without ever being acted on. In Newham, a borough with a BAME population of 71%, there was a coordinated attempt to keep Muslims and specifically the Pakistani community out of local politics. The leaks reveal communications between Labour staff that contains outright Islamophobia, including that the Pakistani community was attempting to “infiltrate” the Newham CLP. One Muslim official in Newham was stalked and a dossier containing information about his children and his whereabouts was produced by a Labour staff member who should never had access to the information contained within it.
Halima Kahn, who was an investigations and governance officer from 2019-2022, alleges that she was told “anti-Semitism is the organisations priority” when she questioned why Islamophobia was not fully investigated and that members would be suspended at the request of the Jewish Chronicle “without even sending them questions” in order to appease the paper. There is a glaring double standard between how anti-Semitism and other forms of racism were handled within the party but also between how allegations of anti-Semitism against those on the left were handled between those on the right.
Despite the enormity of the claims made within the series, including that the ‘Labour Party is a criminal conspiracy against its members that acts unlawfully, libels its members, gives no natural justice to those accused of offences and tears up the rule book on a whim’, the national press has been quiet on the leaks. So far no political editor has commented on what Al Jazeera described as ‘the largest leak in British political history” and no Labour MP has acknowledged the existence of the documentary – the tactic being deployed here seems to mirror that of Labour’s response to the Forde report, to ignore it, not in hope that it goes away but in full knowledge that it won’t be challenged by the national press.
The only corporate news publisher so far to publish anything on The Labour Files is The Express, though their coverage makes no mention to some of the more serious allegations within the programme – ultimately the reporting downplays the significance of the leaks. Guardian columnist Owen Jones called for a “full and complete response from BBC Panorama” and veteran journalist Michael Crick tweeted “Every political journalist should watch the film & decide for themselves.”
What The Labour Files has done is given a voice to those that were silenced by the Labour Party and smeared in the media. The coverage from a publication with the prominence of Al Jazeera means that many previous revelations and communications that were already in the public record are finally being given attention, which further reinforces why national coverage is so important yet unlikely.