The first of three programmes produced by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit) on the turbulent five years of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the UK Labour party was aired yesterday. It began by asking: is UK Labour a “lawless party”? Revelations by the I-Unit – which is the same team behind the 2017 series The Lobby and the censored 2018 series The Lobby, USA – confirmed the view of many Corbyn supporters, who believe that the former Labour leader was subjected to one of the most intense political assassinations in modern British history.
Shocking details, revealed in the first hour-long episode of the series called The Labour Files, show how quickly the campaign to block Corbyn’s path to Number 10 moved into gear. Led by the British establishment, the campaign against the long-standing supporter of the Palestinian cause and a vocal critic of Israel, was aided by the right-wing press, as well as self-styled left-wing publications like the Guardian and, most shocking of all, the Labour party itself which, it would later be revealed, sabotaged Corbyn’s chance of becoming Prime Minister.
According to the producers, “The Labour Files covers a period of turmoil in British politics between 2016 and 2021, when Jeremy Corbyn became leader on a wave of popular support, but which sparked an internal rebellion.” The Files are said to be the largest leak in British political history that have been obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit. The leaked data comprises 500 gigabytes of documents, emails, video and audio files from the Labour Party, dating from 1998 to 2021.
The I-Unit has also trawled through thousands of emails and social media messages to expose how unelected party officials undermined Corbyn’s leadership and used the party’s disciplinary system to suspend members and local branches that backed him. The party’s unelected bureaucrats, whose nominal function is to serve the interests of the party and support the elected leader’s vision and policy, attempted to undermine members loyal to Corbyn.
Actions of self-harm by party bureaucracy, which Corbyn had inherited from his predecessors, were exposed in July by the long-delayed Forde Report. Both investigations support the claim of Corbyn supporters, that from 2015-18, Labour Party machinery was openly opposed to Corbyn and that Blairites worked to directly undermine the elected leadership of the party. Their priority, during that period, was to further the aims of a narrow faction aligned to Labour’s right, rather than fulfilling the organisation’s objectives of winning elections.
In the same period, allegations of anti-Semitism were said to have been weaponised to undermine Corbyn. The plan, it seems, was to tarnish Corbyn’s image in the eyes of the British electorate by failing to build a functioning complaints and disciplinary process capable of dealing with allegations of racism. The decision not to develop a system for the swift processing of complaints not only made Corbyn appear incompetent in dealing with what later became a crisis, it also undermined his entire leadership.
Details of how anti-Semitism, in particular, was weaponised, are the focus of the second episode, “The Crisis” which will be aired on Saturday. Nevertheless, yesterday’s episode called “The Purge”, gave a flavour of what is to come. It mapped out the “playbook” used by Corbyn’s opponents to purge supporters of the former leader from the party. “A lie can get round the world before the truth has put its boots on”, is how one former Labour member described the playbook. A second Labour member, interviewed for the Labour Files, revealed that 3rd February,2017 was the day anti-Semitism was used for the first time as a political weapon against a pro-Corbyn candidate.
The purge usually starts with smearing supporters of Corbyn by making false and fact-free allegation of abuse, intimidation and anti-Semitism. The allegations are amplified by his opponents and allowed to snowball on social media without challenge. It is very similar to the way Gish gallop – a rhetorical technique that involves overwhelming your opponent with as many arguments as possible, with no regard for the accuracy, validity or relevance of those arguments – is deployed in modern political and cultural discourse to avoid scrutiny.
It was only after Corbyn’s departure that his critics started to admit that anti-Semitism had been weaponised by pro-Israel groups to silence political opponents. For example, in July Labour MP, Dame Margaret Hodge, and the former Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove, Ruth Smeeth, were exasperated by the group, Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA). Both Hodge and Smeeth featured heavily during the party’s anti-Semitism row under Corbyn, but when the group criticised the current leader, Keir Starmer, Hodge responded saying: “I’m fed up of CAA using anti-Semitism as a front to attack Labour.”
Distraught victims of the hostile campaign against Corbyn’s supporters can be seen speaking at length about the impact of the purge on their health and well-being. The alleged bullying and harassment by radical pro-Israeli, Luke Stanger, were exposed. Stanger is supportive of Sussex Friends of Israel, a local extremist Zionist group, also with ties to the Israeli government.
Most telling in the case of Stanger is how senior Labour officials treated the pro-Israel activist with a velvet glove. Stanger is said to have engaged in harassment and abuse of Labour activists, both in person and online. His behaviour was so extreme that it led to his suspension as a Labour member. Instead of being expelled from the party, as was the case when similar allegations are verified as having been made by a Corbyn supporter, Labour’s right-wing establishment, including lawmakers and other influential figures, wrote to party officials to praise him and call for his reinstatement.
Protection of Israeli lobbyists by Labour party officials is a recurring theme in episode one. While the Labour Party establishment purged left-wing activists and critics of Israel, usually on flimsy or fabricated pretexts, it went out if its way to defend and, in the case of Ella Rose, reward pro-Israel members. A member of the Jewish Labour Movement, Rose, who had worked at the Israeli embassy in London, went on to become a Labour councillor, despite being caught on camera threatening a pro-Corbyn labour member.
If the first episode is anything to go by, the next two should be sensational. It says a lot that the mainstream media have completely ignored the Labour Files, having been instrumental in the campaign to undermine British democracy and silence critical voices.
The Labour Files aired yesterday at 9 pm on Al Jazeera English. There are repeat showings, and there are further episodes to be broadcast on Saturday, 24 September and Monday, 26 September, with all programmes available later via Al Jazeera’s YouTube channel.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.