On the face of it, the leaking of a horrifying internal report on Labour’s antisemitism crisis is not the start to his leadership Keir Starmer might have hoped for. But whilst it’s a big dark cloud, it may have a commensurate silver lining.
For those of you who haven’t been following, the document that’s been leaked was compiled by allies of Jeremy Corbyn once Labour submitted to investigation by the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC). It was intended to serve as an ‘annex’ to the main submission on the party’s handling of antisemitism.
The thrust of the report was that Corbyn’s efforts to crack down on antisemitism were hindered by right-wing wreckers, who frustrated them as part of a broader effort to bring down the leader and wrest control of the leadership away from the Left. This case, such as it is, is evidenced by the inclusion of huge reams of private emails and messages between party staffers.
However, Corbyn resigned the leadership before the document could be submitted. Starmer was presented with it, informed that Labour’s lawyers were advising against publishing it (and no surprise), and spiked it.
At which point, somebody leaked the entire thing into the public domain – including people’s unredacted personal data.
This causes a couple of problems. The smaller one is that it’s at the very least an embarrassing set of headlines at a moment when a new leader might have been anticipating some honeymoon coverage. The much bigger one is that Labour now faces an investigation from the Information Commissioner’s Office which could cost it a lot of money in fines, or worse. In data protection terms, this looks like a ‘never event’.
Yet the timing isn’t all bad. This would almost certainly be a much bigger story if it hadn’t broken in the middle of the ongoing coronavirus crisis. If Starmer needs to have a fight with the remnants of Corbyn’s ancien régime – and the socialist Campaign Group have already called for an inquiry based on the report’s allegations – that’s a battle best had when the public aren’t really paying attention.
Furthermore, given whence the leak likely originated and amongst whom the document has been circulating, the new leadership may, if they can demonstrate that Labour’s safeguarding measures were adequate, be able to channel the ICO’s wrath away from the Party as a whole and earth it through the very faction that leaked the report. This would give Starmer a chance to make a public demonstration of his willingness to hold the culpable to account whilst minimising further institutional damage to his battered party.