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Wed, 5 August 2020

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Jeremy Corbyn claims apology to Panorama anti-semitism whistleblowers a ‘political decision’ amid major Labour row

Jeremy Corbyn claims apology to Panorama anti-semitism whistleblowers a ‘political decision’ amid major Labour row

Len McCluskey and Jeremy Corbyn

4 min read

Jeremy Corbyn has accused Labour of taking a “political” decision to apologise and award damages to party whistleblowers who took part in a Panorama documentary on anti-semitism.

The former Labour leader waded into a major party row after it issued an "unreserved" apology in the High Court and agreed to pay damages to former party staff and a BBC journalist over a documentary into the party's handling of anti-Jewish abuse.

Labour agreed to pay a reported six-figure settlement to seven former staff, saying they had withdrawn "all allegations of bad faith, malice and lying".

It apologised for the "distress, embarrassment and hurt" caused by a 3,000-word press release sent out by the party before the broadcast of the documentary.

The party also agreed to pay damages to BBC journalist John Ware over "defamatory and false" allegations made against him.

But, in a statement of his own, Mr Corbyn said the apology and payments could prompt “misleading and inaccurate allegations” about action taken to tackle anti-Jewish abuse during his time as leader.

His comments came as Unite boss Len McCluskey accused Labour of "misusing" funds to settle the case.

Mr Corbyn said: “Labour Party members have a right to accountability and transparency of decisions taken in their name, and an effective commitment from the party to combat antisemitism and racism in all their forms.

“The Party’s decision to apologise today and make substantial payments to former staff who sued the party in relation to last year’s Panorama programme is a political decision, not a legal one.”

Pointing to a leaked report on anti-semitism complaints, believed to have been prepared for the party’s former general secretary amid an ongoing inquiry by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Mr Corbyn said:  “Our legal advice was that the party had a strong defence, and the evidence in the leaked Labour report that is now the subject of an NEC inquiry led by Martin Forde QC strengthened concerns about the role played by some of those who took part in the programme.”

The ex-party leader added: “The decision to settle these claims in this way is disappointing, and risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle antisemitism in the Labour Party in recent years.

“To give our members the answers and justice they deserve, the inquiry led by Martin Forde must now fully address the evidence the internal report uncovered of racism, sexism, factionalism and obstruction of Labour’s 2017 General Election campaign.”

A spokesperson for new leader Sir Keir Starmer would not comment directly on Mr Corbyn's statement.

But, responding to the comments, Labour MP Neil Coyle told PoliticsHome: "The Labour Party has nothing to learn from Corbyn on tackling the problem and needs a break from the disgrace of the past which left our party with its lowest level of parliamentary representation since before the Second World War."

He added: "Under his catastrophic period, Labour were disgraced and our reputation trashed. Corbyn should respect Keir’s mandate and get behind the new leader.”

'MISUSE OF FUNDS'

Meanwhile Mr McCluskey branded the settlement “a misuse of Labour Party funds to settle a case it was advised we would win in court”.

The Unite general secretary said: "The leaked report on how anti-semitism was handled tells a very different story about what happened."

But, hitting back at the comments, shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the party was right to "say sorry for what we got wrong".

"I would say that I think Len is completely wrong about that and the way a number of party staff, some very longstanding, some very young and new, who had spoken out bravely in an attempt to set it right, the treatment of them was wrong. We got that wrong," she said.

"We should say sorry in full and we should help to take steps today as we are doing to set that right."

She added: "There has been a huge impact on them from this in the last few years.

"They have had to live with this, there has been criticism.

"Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, as well as me, in the leadership contest, we all made a commitment to deal with antisemitism and that includes saying sorry for what we got wrong in the past."

Meanwhile, Mike Katz, National Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement hit out at Mr McCluskey, saying the "real misuse" of party funds had been to hire lawyers to "silence" whistleblowers.

He said: "I think what was a greater misuse of party funds was the Labour Party's initial reaction under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership...who spent lots of member's money on expensive lawyers...to pursue these whistleblowers and other members to silence them from speaking out and to threaten them.

"That is the real misuse of member's money."

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