Labour general secretary Jennie Formby 'deleted emails about anti-semitism', claims Panorama probe

Posted On: 
10th July 2019

Labour's general secretary deleted emails about how the party handles anti-semitism complaints, according to a BBC investigation.

Jennie Formby said there were 'too many eyes' on her Labour email.
Credit: 
PA Images

The Panorama probe uncovered messages Jennie Formby sent to Jeremy Corbyn, his top spin doctor Seumas Milne and chief of staff Karie Murphy.

They related to her concerns about the make-up of Labour's National Constitution Committee, which considers disciplinary matters and has the power to expel party members.

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In particular, she referred to the case of Jackie Walker, who was suspended by Labour over comments she had made about Jewish people.

The email, sent on 5 May last year, said: "The NCC cannot be allowed to continue in the way that they are at the moment, and I will also be challenging the panel for the Jackie Walker case."

In a later email to the same recipients, Ms Formby said: "I’ve permanently deleted all trace of the email. Too many eyes all on my Labour address. Please use my Unite address."

Former Labour general secretary Lord McNicol told the programme: "The emails that you’ve shown me are really important… the issues that are raised within them should ring alarm bells across the party.

"The NCC was created in a specific way to remove itself from politics and from the political interference.  So, to try to interfere politically within the NCC is just wrong."

A Labour spokesperson told Panorama that Ms Formby had temporarily stopped using her party email because of concerns a political opponent had access to it.

The programme also claims that Mr Corbyn's office interfered in the party's disciplinary procedures, with Seumas Milne saying there should be a review of how it handled anti-semitism complaints.

In an email on 10 March last year, he wrote: "Something's going wrong, and we're muddling up political disputes with racism... I think going forward we need to review where and how we’re drawing the line."

Staff at Labour HQ were also ordered to bring batches of anti-semitism complaints to Mr Corbyn's office in Parliament to be processed by his aides, the programme claims.

A party spokesperson said that had been a "staff resourcing matter" and insisted that it did not mean that the cases were not handled independently of the leader's office.

Eight former Labour officials, seven of them from Labour's complaints and disputes department, took part in the Panorama investigation.

Four broke gagging orders in order to break their silence, leading to threats of legal action from the party.

It has emerged that Labour called on the BBC to suspend broadcasting the programme amid claims it was biased against the party and ignoring accusations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

In a statement, a Labour spokesperson said: "The Labour party at all levels is implacably opposed to anti-semitism and is determined to root out this social cancer from our movement and society. Labour stands in solidarity with Jewish people and is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations.

"Jeremy Corbyn has a long and principled record of solidarity with the Palestinian people and it is false to claim that he has associated with extremist groups. Jeremy Corbyn has proactively addressed anti-semitism within the Party in direct communications to the party membership, in articles, speeches, videos and interviews."

DISGRUNTLED

The spokesperson insisted Mr Corbyn's office "did not intervene" in anti-semitism complains and said the programme was based on comments from opponents of the party leader.

"These former disaffected employees sought the view of staff in the leader’s office, which was compiled with in good faith," the spokesperson said.

"These disaffected former officials include those who have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it, and have both personal and political axes to grind.

"It is simply untrue to say that there were any significant number of disagreements about what constituted anti-semitism.

"The emails… are simply about ensuring the NCC is held accountable for the length of time they take to hear cases and about protecting the party against any successful legal challenge on the basis of perceived bias if the same panel is used in high profile cases.

"Labour is taking decisive action against anti-semitism, doubling the number of staff dedicated to dealing with complaints and cases. And since Jennie Formby became general secretary, the rate at which anti-semitism cases have been dealt with has increased four-fold."