Forde report on claims of racism, sexism and bullying to revive Labour tensions

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The Guardian

A long-delayed report on allegations of bullying, racism and sexism within the Labour party will finally be presented to its governing body on Tuesday, the Guardian understands, in a move that is likely to revive bitter tensions within the party.

Keir Starmer commissioned the Forde report, by Martin Forde QC, in the wake of the leak of a document containing private WhatsApp messages which exposed deep factionalism in Labour efforts to combat antisemitism.

But there have been a number of setbacks to the report’s publication, including legal action against the party by some of those named in the original leaked document, an investigation by the information commissioner into data breaches, and the party’s decision to sue five former staffers who it alleges leaked the original document.

The full report will go to the party’s governing national executive committee (NEC) on Tuesday and then is expected to be published in full.

What led to the Forde inquiry?

An unredacted report on Labour’s handling of antisemitism claims, leaked in April 2020, ignited a row within the party over its handling of disciplinary cases – especially those linked to antisemitism – and led to party members’ suspension.

The 860-page report included hundreds of private WhatsApp messages from named staff members, many of them expressing extreme hostility towards the former leader Jeremy Corbyn and his close allies and bemoaning Labour’s better-than-expected performance at the 2017 general election.

The report claimed that factional hostility towards Corbyn contributed to the party’s ineffective handling of antisemitism complaints and undermined its 2017 election campaign.

The original leaked report was intended to be submitted to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, which was conducting an inquiry into the party’s handling of antisemitism. But after internal concerns were raised, the report was never submitted. Instead it was leaked to journalists.

Labour’s then general secretary, Jennie Formby, reported the leak to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to look into potential security breaches. After Starmer was elected as party leader, he ordered an independent inquiry under Forde.

What is the inquiry examining?

Forde has said his inquiry will focus not only on the content of the leaked report – which contained deeply derogatory messages – but the circumstances of its leaking and the breach of privacy of those involved.

The report will also look at “legitimate and serious concerns” about the party’s structures and culture – and has received more than a thousand submissions.

The inquiry will look at “the extent of racist, sexist and other discriminatory culture within Labour party workplaces, the attitudes and conduct of the senior staff of the Labour party, and their relationships with the elected leadership of the Labour party”.

Why has it been delayed for so long?

The report was originally intended to be published by the end of 2020 but its publication has been fraught with difficulty because of continuing legal battles in the party, and its publication has been repeatedly delayed.

Forde wrote to the NEC in February 2021 expressing concern that his report could prejudice the investigation by the information commissioner into the leaking of the report and the potential serious data breach.

What legal action is still continuing?

Two separate groups of people named in the report are suing Labour. The first group is former staffers named in the report whose private WhatsApps were quoted. The other is a separate group of people named in the report who are suing over a data breach.

Emilie Oldknow, one of the former staffers taking legal action against the party, unsuccessfully tried to force Labour to disclose the names of those it believed were involved in the leak last year.

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But Labour has now launched its own legal action against five individuals it accuses of leaking the document.

It lodged papers at the high court seeking to place responsibility for the leak on Corbyn’s former director of communications Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s chief of staff Karie Murphy, and three other staffers, Georgie Robertson, Laura Murray and Harry Hayball. That case is not expected to be heard until 2023. All five deny the “baseless” claim that they leaked the report.

The ICO is also still conducting an inquiry into the potential data breach from the leaked report.

Last year a senior party official revealed that Labour was now spending more than £2m a year on legal fees. Johanna Baxter, a member of the ruling NEC from the party’s pro-Starmer wing, said costs used to be 10% of that figure, about £200,000 a year.

July 19, 2022 at 03:28PM Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent

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