This morning members of the media finally got their hands on the long-awaited Forde report, the 138-page conclusion of the inquiry led by Martin Forde QC. It had been tasked with investigating the contents of a controversial leaked dossier, initially covered by Novara Media in 2020, which examined the handling of antisemitism complaints within the Labour party.
As soon as the report was out, Labour party spinners reached out to favourable journalists. Rather than read the report, and inform their audiences of its contents, several simply repeated the spokesperson’s words verbatim – with the i newspaper’s Paul Waugh even doing so without quotation marks. To the ordinary person, Labour’s claim that the report “completely debunks the conspiracy theory that the 2017 general election was somehow deliberately sabotaged” comes across as Waugh’s own conclusion, rather than the words of a party press officer.
This is ‘churnalism’, where journalists simply repeat the lines of press teams and releases without doing actual work or reporting themselves. It’s one rung below fake news on the ladder of journalistic ethics. For the public, such a lack of professionalism can make it hard to know what to believe, the truth secondary to an information war peddled by certain factional interests who are aided by friendly journalists and pundits.
‘Deplorably fictional, insensitive and at time discriminatory attitudes’.
But cutting through all of the biased coverage is a paragraph that no amount of spin can hope to conceal. It is the knockout punch for all of those who tried to stop the initially leaked report from seeing the light of the day. It should mean the final curtain for several political careers, including that of former party general secretary, Iain McNicol.
On page 25, the report says:
“It has been put to us by a number of witnesses that the extracts of the messages quoted in the leaked report were cherrypicked and selectively edited, such that the quotes that appear in the Leaked Report are both unrepresentative and misleading. Having reviewed the transcripts & considered evidence from many of those involved we do not agree. We find that the messages on the SMT WhatsApp reveal deplorably factional, insensitive and at times discriminatory attitudes expressed by many of the party’s most senior staff”.
In other words, the Labour party’s most senior officials – including McNicol, now a Labour lord, and Emilie Oldknow, who was reputedly Starmer’s first pick to replace Jennie Formby in the top job, as well as Patrick Heneghan MBE and John Stolliday, are guilty of “factional and discriminatory attitudes”.
For all of the media’s response to the EHRC report (which I found to be a largely thoughtful document), Forde’s report – and this moneyshot paragraph – prove wrongdoing by McNicol, Oldknow and others that extends far beyond anything laid at the feet of Jeremy Corbyn or his chosen general secretary, Jennie Formby.
This was the party’s senior management team, and any assessment of wider organisational failings should start with them.
But far from facing political disgrace, Oldknow is today an assistant general secretary at Unison, where Stolliday also works, while McNicol was pictured canvassing with Anneliese Dodds and David Evans last year. He is regularly put forward as a media representative by the Labour party and as recently as April appeared to be on official party business, meeting representatives of the Israeli Labour party in London.
The media is determined to ignore the report’s extraordinary findings.
There are a number of other extraordinary conclusions in the report – all of which would be political dynamite, subject to widespread media coverage, if those targeted weren’t on the left. They include the fact that there was indeed a politically motivated purge of Labour members in both 2015 and 2016, and that the Labour machine tried to rig internal votes. That there are specific barriers for Black people to progress in the party. That Labour officials opposed to the leadership, “covertly diverted election funds away from winnable seats.” And that there is a “real danger” the party could be seen as establishing a “hierarchy of racism or discrimination” if it continues on its present course.
There is even a clear rebuttal to the claim that GLU staff were prevented by the leader’s office from investigating antisemitism complaints, a central assertion in John Ware’s controversial Panorama documentary. Despite questions from Novara Media and others about the veracity of Ware’s reporting, the BBC programme went on to be nominated for a Bafta.
In the report’s foreword, Forde even writes about how “within minutes” of the NEC confirming his appointment he started to “receive emails from some of those named in the leaked report, and lawyer’s letters threatening me and other panel members with legal action.” The document – despite its predictably understated, lawyerly tone – confirms a host of issues that have been minimised and even mocked by much of the media – again, simply because those on the receiving end were on the left. If you are a socialist then it seems you’re fair game for lies, misrepresentation and cheating.
The report’s assessment is that – unlike the senior management team – the leaked document’s ‘primary author’ was not embedded in either ‘faction’ and was “far from unequivocally supportive of Jeremy Corbyn”.
Furthermore, Forde adds how the inquiry does not “consider that any of the leaked report’s authors embarked on the task with a preconceived narrative or reverse engineered the evidence to fit it”. In other words, while the old party management was guilty of unacceptable behaviour, those behind this widely ridiculed report were trying their best to create a fair piece of work. If I said that on the BBC or Sky I would be laughed at, not just by the other guests but by the host too. And yet that’s the conclusion of a QC-led inquiry. It certainly makes you think about how the media reports stories like this.
The major takeaway from the report, alongside the unacceptable behaviour of leading party bureaucrats, is the complete failure of the media to report both sides of the story. Had it not been for Novara Media – and other independent outlets – the leaked dossier, and this outrageous conduct, would never have been exposed. It shined a light on the ugly side of the Labour party – and legacy media has spent two years trying its best to cast a shadow.