Keir Starmer Drops Multi-Million Pound ‘Lawfare’ Against Ex-Corbyn Staffers

‘A huge embarrassment for the party.’

by Rivkah Brown

6 June 2024

Keir Starmer looks sad behind a red background that says 'change'
Keir Starmer speaks at a general election campaign event in Lancing, May 2024. Maja Smiejkowska/Reuters

After four years of bitter conflict that could have bankrupted the Labour party, Keir Starmer has dropped a legal case against five former Jeremy Corbyn staffers.

The party had alleged that the individuals – Corbyn’s former chief of staff Karie Murphy, his communications director Seumas Milne, and junior staffers Georgie Robertson, Harry Hayball and Laura Murray – were responsible for the so-called Labour leaks, in which an internal party report into Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism and Islamophobia within the party was handed to the media in 2020.

The party claimed the five leaked the report – which suggested that Labour’s antisemitism crisis was deliberately exacerbated by the Labour right – as part of a conspiracy to “disrupt” or “embarrass” Starmer, breaching their employment contracts. Privately, the party’s own lawyers conceded that there was “a strong public interest in alerting the media” to the evidence of internal sabotage against Corbyn.

The party has pursued the five in the courts for several years, despite its own private investigators (paid over £1m) and the Information Commissioner’s Office finding insufficient evidence that the five were responsible for the leak.

The party later admitted in court that “[t]here is … no ‘smoking gun’ … which shows demonstrably and beyond any doubt that a particular individual was the source of the Leak.” One Labour MP and former shadow cabinet member called the suit “a clear case of political lawfare”.

Driving the fruitless legal case has been Labour’s executive director of legal affairs, Alex Barros-Curtis. Previously described to Novara Media as inexperienced and out of his depth, operating with little or no oversight from the Labour leadership, Barros-Curtis has spent nearly £2.4m on legal costs – including half a million pounds on a single hearing – during the litigation.

Only some of the figures involved in the litigation are in the public domain, however – Novara Media understands that Labour’s total bill is likely to be significantly higher than reported.

Starmer, who has said he wants only the “highest quality” candidates for the general election, has rewarded Barros-Curtis with a sewn-up candidacy in Cardiff West.

“The parachuting of Alex Barros-Curtis into a safe Labour seat is a disgrace now we know what he is responsible for,” the former shadow cabinet member said. “This Starmer-appointed official has spent millions of pounds of the Labour party’s money dragging former party employees through the courts for four years, pursuing a pointless and failed political vendetta.”

The 860-page report – intended to be sent to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission as part of its investigation into Labour antisemitism, but blocked by officials at the eleventh hour – showed that party bureaucrats had deliberately obstructed the party’s attempts to deal with antisemitism complaints. Not only this, it indicated that they themselves had been guilty of anti-Black racism and sexism; one called Diane Abbott “truly repulsive”.

The report also showed Labour staff diverted party resources to undermine a Corbyn victory in 2017. The party ultimately enjoyed its biggest swing in any election since 1945 and robbed Theresa May of her majority.

Much of the leaked report was later corroborated by Martin Forde KC, whom Starmer appointed to review its findings. Forde found that there was a hierarchy of racism within the party and that the party had a significant, largely unaddressed problem with anti-Black racism and Islamophobia. Forde also described the party’s litigation against the alleged leakers as a “terrible shame”, saying the report’s authors “were doing their absolute conscientious best”.

The party has expended significant effort trying to bury the report, writing to Google to ask that the company delist websites that had linked to the report (Google denied the request).

Mish Rahman, who sits on Labour’s national executive committee, said: “As with his hamfisted targeting of Diane and other leftwing women of colour, this pointless and vindictive failed lawsuit is another example of Starmer allowing his bully boys to get carried away with their war on the left.”

Rivkah Brown is a commissioning editor and reporter at Novara Media.

We’re up against huge power and influence. Our supporters keep us entirely free to access. We don’t have any ad partnerships or sponsored content.

Donate one hour’s wage per month—or whatever you can afford—today.

We’re up against huge power and influence. Our supporters keep us entirely free to access. We don’t have any ad partnerships or sponsored content.

Donate one hour’s wage per month—or whatever you can afford—today.