Labour's saboteurs? Anti-Corbyn faction undermined 2017 election campaign, leaked report suggests

Lorcan Flahive discusses the shocking findings which may have affected the result of the 2017 general election.

Lorcan Flahive
20th April 2020
Labour’s bid for power in the 2017 General Election was actively undermined by a faction on the right of its own party, who sought to use the party’s failure to trigger a leadership election and oust former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a recently leaked report suggests.

The 860-page dossier is understood to have been drawn up in response to investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). In its whole, it aims to suggest it was this internal fracture that slowed and distracted from dealing with antisemitism complaints within the party. The report is largely a collection of leaked WhatsApp messages and emails from senior officials within Labour.

The report is largely a collection of leaked WhatsApp messages and emails from senior officials within Labour

It claims that many senior party officials were using “go slow” tactics to make the election campaign more difficult for Corbyn’s team specifically, with one senior members jokingly sending “And yes, tap tap tapping away will make us look v busy”. This contempt for 2017’s Corbyn-surge seems most explicit in the messages reportedly following 8th June 2017’s exit poll. The poll predicted (incorrectly) a ‘hung-parliament’ and thus indicated significant gains for the Labour party. One official said of the other party members in Labour HQ; “they are cheering and we are silent and grey faced”. Another apparently complained “it’s going to be a long night”.

One official sthe other party members in Labour HQ "are cheering and we are silent and grey faced”

The report notes that this resentment for the further left of the party did not begin in 2017. From as far back as 2015 a ‘purge’ one staffer titled “trot or not” (referring to followers of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky) seems to have begun to take place. This involved highlighting so-called ‘trots’ by carefully observing social media presence, apparently paying close attention to actions as seemingly insignificant as retweets or sharing posts from the Green Party.

The report also damagingly suggests an underhand re-allocation of finances to support the seats of MPs on the further right of the party. This includes 2017’s so-called ‘Operation Cupcake’ which aimed to finance Labour MP Tom Watson, suggesting him as the interim leader if the anticipated failure of Labour in the 2017 election should trigger a leadership election. This, and the overall tactic of funding ‘safe seats’, was apparently contrary to LOTO’s suggestion of funnelling extra resources into marginal seats. The report claims the momentum which was building around Corbyn in 2017 would have returned votes for these marginal MPs in an overwhelming majority had they received this extra funding.

However, this leaked dossier has been warned against by groups such as the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. They call the report a “desperate last-ditch attempt to deflect and discredit allegations” of antisemitism and ultimately brand it “an attempt to imagine a vast anti-Corbyn conspiracy”. Indeed, whilst this inner turmoil would naturally have been damaging to the functioning of the party, perhaps using it as a complete excuse for the party’s inadequate response to allegations of antisemitism is sweeping the responsibility a little too far under the rug.

There is also a risk of attributing his failure to seize power entirely on this collection of senior officials

Similarly, whilst these apparent efforts to undermine Corbyn’s 2017 election campaign would obviously have some detrimental impact, there is also a risk of attributing his failure to seize power entirely on this collection of senior officials. This again detracts attention away from perhaps more significant factors. The perception of radical policy, flimsy Brexit stance, and of course the allegations of antisemitism which this document is ultimately responding to are all more likely reasons for their successive losses. All of these dragged Labour's campaign in 2017, and each of these returned to haunt Corbyn in the 2019 General election.

In a clumsy shuffle away from the limelight, former General Secretary for Labour Iain McNicol stepped down from his front-bench position in the House of Lords not long after the report's appearance. He oversaw Labour HQ during the documented period until his resignation in 2018.

McNicol's retreat also follows the announcement that newly-elected Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and deputy-leader Angela Rayner have launched a joint investigation into the leaking of this report. This is a defining challenge for Starmer, who campaigned promising to end exactly this kind of factionalism in the party. Uniting Labour is the first step on the road towards any possible election victory. It has been 15 years since their last, and it seems abundantly clear that much work needs to be done.

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AUTHOR: Lorcan Flahive
Comment Sub-Editor, and BA English Literature & History student.

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