Forde Report Summary (Pt7): (Allegation 3) Factionalism adversely impacted the Party’s work in other areas.
Allegation 3: Factionalism adversely impacted on other areas of the Party’s work in the relevant period.
In this section, Forde takes a look at how factionalism created issues within staffing and recruitment and how it impacted the 2017 General Election. He also mentions issues with media management and fundraising and explains that factionalism “became endemic throughout the organisation.” Fuelled by poor communication and paranoia, whether perceived threat or real, Forde believes that both sides thought the other was trying to sabotage their work and this, he says, resulted in “obstructionist behaviour,” which had a knock on effect on even some of the party’s most basic functions.
In his overview, Forde comes across as exceptionally naïve. He is excessively simplistic in his description of Labour Party ‘factionalism’ and describes the leader’s office as one faction and the “fulltime staff,” who he refers to as “the civil service of the party and enforcers of the party’s rules,” as another faction. First of all, clearly from the evidence already presented in this report, there were people within HQ who did not agree with the conduct of a certain HQ staff engaging in factional behaviour so it’s unfair to label the whole of HQ as one faction. It’s also clear that the factionalists in HQ weren’t really all that concerned about enforcing party rules, given the fact that they were themselves rather preoccupied with finding ways to break rules in order to disenfranchise the left wing membership and undermine the left wing leadership.
Forde starts this part of his report by expressing a view… “It seems to us.. both the left and right factions were substantially focused on shoring up their own power within the party in this period [2015-2019], with electoral success often seemingly a secondary concern.” He then goes on to identify three clear issues that arose as a result.
Forde explains that LOTO chose to recruit some staff from outside, so many were unfamiliar with the “party machinery” and unclear about how certain responsibilities were divided between LOTO & HQ. However, according to Forde, both sides were also trying to block each other’s recruitment choices. Forde admits that “LOTO had no formal role in appointments to HQ” and reports that one LOTO staff member described how HQ staff were being obstructive “from the very outset” and that any staffing & resource decisions LOTO wanted implemented were being “repeatedly kicked into the long grass” by Labour HQ. Then, when LOTO’s decided to appoint two LOTO staff as Directors of the Party, this made “HQ staff more uneasy about their future deployment and employment,” despite the fact that Ed Miliband had done the same thing in 2013. In fact, I’m fairly certain that Tony Blair did something very similar when he took over as leader.
Forde describes how “Toward the end of the Jeremy Corbyn period, this [unease] was aggravated by senior LOTO staff being given clear managerial functions in Southside.” Surely, if the leader’s office decides they want a say over any new appointments then they would be well within their rights to do so, just as previous Labour leaders had done? Also, Forde seems to forget that the leader is elected by the membership and, as such, is given a mandate to ‘lead’ the party and make changes according to his vision. To describe this decision as ‘factionalism’ just seems wrong in my view. However, HQ’s decision to ignore the instructions, laid out by LOTO, that new hires would require LOTO approval, was indeed factional and wholly inappropriate. It’s worth reminding ourselves here, these are unelected staff members defying the wishes of an elected leader… effectively a ‘5th Column’ acting subversively to deny or take control away from the leader and the membership who elected him. Forde explains that LOTO then took the decision to “direct hire” staff to the LOTO office to undertake the work they needed done (presumably because HQ were unwilling to do the work) but that this then resulted in some duplication of roles between HQ & LOTO staff and caused more conflict.
Forde then moves on to the issue of “leaking and hostile briefing” to the mainstream press. Certain HQ staff have claimed that there had been some negative briefing against them in the media and it is assumed by Forde that this was done by a LOTO staff member (or members), but it is unclear if they have any evidence to support this. Forde believes the media were far more interested in Labour HQ leaks about Corbyn and LOTO staff than in the goings-on at Labour HQ so there were far more negative briefings on LOTO than there were on Labour HQ. However, Forde appears to have completely overlooked another likely reason – that it’s also highly probable that there were far more HQ staff putting out negative briefings about LOTO than LOTO staff briefing against Labour HQ. As one LOTO staff member remarked… “I tried to avoid ever writing anything down which was remotely controversial.. or informative beyond the most routine stuff because it ended up, often within days, in the Times or Huff Post Guido or something… the level of leaking was stratospheric.” Another LOTO staff member commented.. “Overheard conversations amongst Jeremy Corbyn’s staff had been leaked to the media so we were conscious we had to be extremely quiet when having conversations about anything that we didn’t want leaked.” It’s clear, from this, that this wasn’t just factionalism. It was more an attempt, by the right, to undermine the leadership and damage Labour’s election prospects.
Forde then speculates why information and resources were not being shared between HQ & LOTO. He believes that, in some cases, this may have been done, deliberately, to undermine the opposition but he also believes that it could have been because people were afraid the information might be leaked and also because there appeared to be a lack of clarity around people’s roles, so it was often unclear if the person requesting the information was authorised to access it. One member of Labour HQ commented that “the distrustful culture” made it almost impossible to function. They would struggle to get sign-off on key planning decisions from LOTO or to organise conference planning meetings. A member of LOTO staff told Forde “Within days it became apparent that many HQ staff were unhappy about the democratic and overwhelming result of the leadership election… within weeks it became clear that resources were being withheld – both staffing budgets within LOTO and budgets for new computers.” They then describe how HQ were bending rules “to allow certain people to speak in meetings while blocking others, calling meetings when they had a majority, and blocking meetings when they did not.” Taking everything into consideration, it’s easy to understand why LOTO felt they could not trust Labour HQ.
Surprisingly, Forde then admits that he has no clear evidence that LOTO staff engaged in obstructionist behaviour because he does not have the equivalent of the leaked Labour HQ WhatsApp transcripts for the LOTO side. However, in the absence of any evidence, Forde opts to speculate as to why Labour HQ were obstructing LOTO and suggests it might have been because LOTO were “making requests that in themselves were outside the party norms and/or were seen as a power grab.”
Forde also felt it necessary to criticise some of the framing of the comments from the WhatsApp group in the leaked report. He gives an example where the leaked report had suggested that a senior manager in HQ, who was investigating the leak of polling results in 2017, had told the polling company “not to disclose information about who had access to the Dropbox from which the leak had occurred.” Forde believes, after reading the full transcript, that the manager was simply “seeking to retain control of the inquiry into the leak” and that he/she was “genuinely concerned” about it and had not intended to prevent LOTO staff from discovering the source of the leak, as it was implied in the report. That said, Forde does believe that HQ staff in the WhatsApp group saw it as their job to protect the party from Jeremy Corbyn and, as such, they had no intention of helping to advance the leaders agenda. For example, they would not offer assistance or guidance to inexperienced LOTO staff, they appeared to be gratified to observe when LOTO had any operational issues and would even act to “hinder LOTO’s work (in their view, for the party’s greater good).”
Forde then moves on to LOTO’s early attempts to work collaboratively with Labour HQ and various regional offices. In his submission to the Forde inquiry, Jeremy Corbyn wrote.. “From my election in 2015 I made it clear that community organising was a priority. It met with nothing but obstruction and delay from head office and most of the national and regional offices of the party.” Another member of the LOTO team also remarked that Labour HQ were intent on blocking and frustrating community organising “because we wanted to bring somebody in who would not be accountable to HQ, therefore would not be told to do things in the same old way that had been done before.” He explains that HQ staff were partly concerned about how this would change the way the party ran elections but it was obvious that they were also worried about “Jeremy’s supporters getting a presence in those offices and creating a separate power base.” This claim appears to be supported by some of the subsequent comments made by HQ staff. Forde tells us that some HQ staff had “firm convictions, borne of years of experience, that the scheme would not be effective and would lead to breaches of electoral law.” An odd thing to say, given that, to the best of my knowledge, nothing like this had ever been attempted before and LOTO were asking for HQ & regional collaboration on the scheme so there shouldn’t have been any concerns of breaches of electoral law.. unless of course HQ never had any intention of collaborating with LOTO (a theme previously established in this report). It would also appear that some HQ staff looked at the scheme as a form of staff restructuring which might lead to their potential dismissal. Apparently, the fact that the Lead Community Organiser role would be based at LOTO and not Labour HQ gave a lot of HQ staff pause for thought. One member of HQ staff remarks, retrospectively, that the Community Organising scheme was costly and a massive failure, given that it was implemented during the 2019 election and that, in their view, was the reason why “we suffered one of the worst results since the 1930’s.” Forde makes no effort here to counter this assertion, which is surprising given that it is a completely unqualified claim, not least of all because the Labour right were working behind the scenes to sabotage the campaign, just as they had done in 2017. The truth is, despite this and despite the fact that the 2019 general election had been framed by the Conservatives and their numerous media allies (and even the Labour right) as a referendum on Brexit, the Labour Party took 10,269,076 votes in 2019, which was more votes than the party had taken in 2015 (under Miliband), 2010 (under Brown) and 2005 (under Blair). Interestingly enough, even though HQ and regional completely refused to support the community organising structure, there doesn’t appear to have been any major breaches of electoral law, which was, after all, the key concern raised by Labour HQ and a major reason why they rejected the scheme.
Forde does however conclude that tensions may have eased and the community organising scheme could have been more effective if “both sides [had] made genuine attempts at collaboration” and if there had been “a greater degree of buy-in from HQ and regional staff” but he feels that LOTO were equally to blame for “failing to secure that buy-in.” Perhaps it might have been easier to secure that buy-in if the HQ faction weren’t so diametrically politically opposed to the Corbyn leadership and hell bent on seeing it fail, or more concerned about holding onto their jobs than they were about actually doing their jobs and aiding the political success of the party. However, Forde believes that both sides were preoccupied with either holding on to power or gaining control of it and were unwilling to compromise. He compares LOTO’s unwillingness to support the appointment of Regional Governance Officers to that of HQ’s and Regional’s objection to the appointment of Community Organisers and he refers to them as “clear examples of operational dysfunction due to factionalism.” Of course some of us might question why it is that a democratically elected ‘leader,’ with an enormous mandate from the Labour Party membership, should be in a position where he is required to ‘compromise’, with unelected administrative staff, on the direction that he wishes to take the party? In fact, in my view, the actions of some Labour HQ staff bear many of the hallmarks of a coup. Frankly, given that these are unelected staff members who were choosing not to recognise the authority of the leadership, it seems wholly inappropriate for Forde to then frame his entire argument around simple ‘factionalism.’
NOTE: The primary purpose of the The Forde Report Summary is to make the Forde report more accessible to a wider audience. We’re also scrutinising some of it’s findings, where appropriate to do so. Spotlight will be publishing the summary report in sections over the coming days and weeks and you can find links to earlier published sections below. Next instalment… Forde Report Summary (Pt8): (Allegation 4) Factionalism negatively impacted the results of the 2017 general election and one faction may have even sabotaged the election campaign..
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