The Labour Files documentary is a report on the content of leaked Labour Party files, acquired by Al Jazeera, revealing “a criminal conspiracy against its members”.. “the wholesale hacking of the press”… “a hierarchy of racism.. under Starmer’s leadership” and the physical surveillance of members and their families, including children. In episode 3, Al Jazeera reports that the leaked files reveal that party members were being secretly surveilled, that there is “a hierarchy of racism in the Labour Party” and that the party seems to be happy to tolerate and it has even acted to protect those members engaging in racist behaviour.
The documentary starts with Marcia Hutchinson MBE (former Labour Cllr 2021), who set up The Pipeline Project, an initiative to support black people wishing to enter politics in Manchester. Marcia tells us.. “I have faced more racism in my 5yrs in the Labour Party than I have in the rest of my life combined.” Alex Nunns (Speechwriter for Corbyn, 2018-2020), also tells us that the Parliamentary Labour Party started negatively briefing to the press about Jeremy Corbyn, immediately after he was elected leader.
- In a Zoom meeting of BAME members, a senior party member tells the group that she has experienced racism within the party… “people made it clear to me that I don’t deserve, in their view, to be in their room.. I brought my experience to the party and I found that I was held to different standards to white men… so I’d be asked my opinion, then immediately spoken over as I responded. There was even an hour long meeting discussing me with my line manager about changes that I had implemented, because he’d asked me to, for which I never had any recourse or right of reply. Someone even kicked a piece of furniture next to me because he didn’t like what I was saying. People like me are stuck in this weird purgatory of visibility and invisibility… my skin colour gives me visibility and yet my experience and skills are invisible.. and all these things add up to an exclusive, not an inclusive, culture.” She would later discover that, after she’d made a formal complaint, she would restricted to applying for administrative roles.
Marcia Hutchinson offers her thoughts on the zoom video.. “It’s sickening, we are simply there for set dressing, and if we have the temerity to speak up we are attacked.” In her view, though the party might claim that they believe that black lives matter, in reality, “we don’t, we really do not matter!”
- In 2020, a Whatsapp group of over 17 senior Labour management figures, including Iain McNicol (the then General Secretary) were exchanging derogatory and racist messages. In one exchange, Sarah Mulholland , Emilie Oldknow, Patrick Heneghan, Julie Lawrence, Greg Cook, Tracey Allen and others used derogatory and dehumanising language to mock and ridicule Dianne Abbott, a black MP of 35yrs, simply because she was unable to attend a vote due to illness (Dianne has type II diabetes)…
Nasar Meer (Prof. of Sociology, Edinburgh University) explains.. “dehumanising minoritised people, racialised people, is a profoundly important way in which racism operates.. it’s about power but it’s also about turning them into groups who are ‘not like us’ “
- In another WhatsAp exchange they discuss Shami Chakrabrti (Labour’s Opposition Attorney General. 2016-2020). McNicol tells the group he’s sitting next to Chakrabarti at dinner. In response to this, Tracey Allen posts ice pick emojis accompanied by the face of a brown skinned girl and love hearts…
Given that this sort of behaviour would never be tolerated in the private sector and that the Labour Party have not acted to reprimand the people involved, Dianne Abbott believes that the Labour Party are effectively “colluding with this type of racism.” Not surprisingly, even the recent Forde Inquiry concluded that “The Labour Party is not a welcoming place for people of colour” and adds that some of the content seen in the WhatsApp messages exposed “undoubted overt and underlying racism and sexism.” The Forde report goes on to describe a “hierarchy of racism” where Labour’s right wing faction would prioritise complaints of alleged anti-Semitism, which they could use to undermine the left, but would then completely ignore allegations of other forms of racism and discrimination.
Halima Khan (Investigations and Governance Officer 2019-2022) describes how, when she spoke to colleagues and senior staff and asked them “why we were not tackling Islamophobia and anti-black racism with the same ferocity as we were with anti-Semitism” she always got the same response.. “anti-Semitism is the organisations priority.” She then describes how staff would be instructed to prioritise and even work late in order to deal with allegations that had been submitted by the Jewish Chronicle. By contrast, lists of complaints submitted by the Labour Muslim Network would be left sitting in the inbox.
- The Files then reveal how one party member, Martin Bridgman, had shared several Islamophobic posts on social media, including depictions of the Prophet Mohammed as a paedophile, which is an Islamophobic trope that has been used to attack and ‘other’ Muslims for centuries. Bridgman was not suspended. He was just asked to consider his words and to simply try to be more welcoming toward Muslim members.
Nasar Meer feels the GLU’s response was wholly inadequate. To send Bridgman “a curt email and encouragement to think about inclusivity suggests that the disciplinary process doesn’t see Islamophobia and doesn’t want to see Islamophobia… it suggests that there’s a degree of tolerance of it”
[NOTE: Personally, I would go a step further and suggest that GLU staff hold racist views. If a BAME or Muslim member posted offensive content about white members, the GLU would not respond by asking them to be more welcoming toward white people. Suggesting that white members should be more welcoming of non-white members implies that minority group members do not have equal standing in the Labour party as their white counterparts. Simply put, it is not the place of a white member to welcome a BAME member to a home that belongs to them both]
- The Files also show that journalist Rod Liddle (Associate Editor of the Spectator Magazine) was being investigated for suggesting that in Muslims “the anti-Semitism is visceral, an ingrained part of their unpleasant ideology.”
- Emilie Oldknow writes to John Stolliday (Head of the Party’s Governance and legal Unit) suggesting that Liddle could be suspended for bringing the party into disrepute but that she didn’t want to do anything without consulting with him first. Stolliday replies to let her know that Liddle is “chummy” with MPs Ian Austin and Tom Watson (Labour’s Deputy Leader, 2015-2019) and suggested that they should just “sit on it for now.” It would take 2yrs for Liddle to even be suspended from the party.
Trevor Phillips (Chairman of Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2007-2012) was also investigated for Islamophobia over a documentary he presented in which he asked “What British Muslims Really think.” The program was peppered with far-right Islamophobic tropes and this wasn’t the first time (nor the last) that Phillips would use his platform to push Islamophobic bile.
Nasar Meer comments on the Phillips documentary and explains.. “if you replace the word Muslim with Jew or Black or another racial minority, self evidently, to anybody hearing that, that would be a racist statement.” Meer also asks “What is it that Trevor Phillips, and others, think its ok to make such generalising, disparaging, derogatory statements about Muslims and think it’s just everyday conversation?” In his opinion, there’s a racist agenda here… “identify a minority as a problem… [is] one of the key features in which racism proceeds”
Halima Khan, the Investigating Officer in Phillips case, described the material she had seen on Phillips as straight out of the Tommy Robinson EDL handbook and when Phillips was asked to explain his conduct he refused and simply exclaimed that because he had been the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission that this, somehow, gave him the authority to make such vile statements. Khan is adamant, however, that if Phillips had made such statements about Jewish people he would have been immediately expelled but because he was vilifying Muslims he was just suspended for a year and then sneakily reinstated as a member. Alex Nunns (Speechwriter for Corbyn, 2018-2020), tells us that Phillips “was unsuspended by the Labour Party in a very unusual way.. coincidentally, shortly before he was about to take up a job with Sky News, hosting their flagship Sunday morning politics programme, in which he would be interviewing leading Labour politicians”
On another matter, Mehmood Mirza (Labour party member for Newham, 2015-2021) explains that, despite his constituency having a very diverse community, the CLP and regional executive in Newham, East London, were all white. Carel Buxton (Chair Person, Newham CLP, 2014-2021) explains that Newham’s membership grew significantly in 2016 and soon there was a factional battle going on and it fell along racial lines.
- The Files show that as members started to gather for the Newham AGM, Carl Morris (Regional Organiser for Newham) raised concerns to Amy Fode (Regional Director, 2017-2019) that there was a large gathering of Asian men waiting to go inside. Fode then took pictures of the Asian members gathered outside. Morris files a complaint raising concerns about an influx of Pakistani members working to “infiltrate” Newham CLP…
Halima Khan (Investigations and Governance Officer 2019-2022) feels that this demonstrates that something insidious was going on at Newham. To express concerns about Pakistani members joining the party who were simply wishing to attend the CLPs AGM is a clear example of Islamophobia and then to use words like “infiltrate,” which are designed to alienate and ‘other’ a specific minority group, is a deeply racist thing to say.
- Following this complaint, Obaid Khan (Newham Cllr, 2014-2017), is suspended.
- Local community groups write to Robin Wales (Mayor, Newham, 2002-2018) expressing their anger and dissatisfaction over Khan’s suspension. They believe it was on racial lines and that Wales had “contrived and manipulated the party processes to get him [Cllr Khan] unfairly expelled with trumped up and false accusations against him”
- Wales then emails John Stolliday (Head of the Party’s Governance and legal Unit) and sends him the complaint letter he’d received. Wales argues in his email that the claims they were making were libelous in form and he asks Stolliday about what action he could take against them.
- Stolliday writes back in agreement and tells Wales that he deserves protection. He then asks Wales to provide him with any evidence he has that they could tie to specific individuals.
Halima Khan points out that Stolliday didn’t, for one second, think to ask whether the members claims of racial discrimination might actually be true and, instead, decided to take actions against the people raising the complaints of racism.
Tahir Mirza, (Chair of East Ham CLP) and Mehmood Mirza (West Ham CLP vice-chairman) are two of the Muslim party members accused of libel. Carel Buxton believes that the attitude of the Labour Party was that Muslim men were on a mission to destroy the Labour Party.
[NOTE: I’d suggest that they were more concerned about a predominantly Muslim membership moving in a different political direction (more to the left) and that this would result in them losing right wing control].
Buxton goes on to reveal that once Starmer was elected leader of the Labour Party things got even worse. She describes how.. “we couldn’t debate miscarriages of justice and, quite quickly, I believe, our free speech was shut down. It was a very very unpleasant and toxic atmosphere to be in because you could be accused of all sorts of things. It was like warfare.”
- Newham member, David Gilles, writes to David Evans, Labour’s new General Secretary under Starmer, claiming that there had been “systematic breaches of Labour Party rules and possibly electoral law” by a group of party members from East Ham and West Ham CLPs who he says were seeking to “take control of the two constituencies that make up the London Borough of Newham”
- A secret 100 page dossier is then compiled mostly on South Asian members of Newham and their families. Details include their places of residence, where some of their family members also lived, what other properties they owned, where their children went to school, where they went to work, their car details (including registration numbers and even where they’d seen that person’s car parked), as well as the details of any tenants they might have in their rental properties and whether those tenants were also party members (suggesting they could be open to influence by their Landlord) and it included detailed racial profiling. This dossier was sent to David Evans.
Halima Khan expresses her shock at the level of detail that had been compiled on Newham Party members. Reading the dossier she said that she felt “terrified” on behalf of the members because they and their families, friends and acquaintances had literally been stalked, which presented a “significant safety risk.” Halima sees this as “a serious safe-guarding issue” and goes on to express her concern that the party didn’t even consider it as a safe-guarding issue. She also describes her shock that the dossier included “graphs with a breakdown of dialect members spoke”
Tahir Mirza believes that the document shows that there was “somebody actually working from inside the Labour party against ethnic minorities”
Data Protection Lawyer, Honza Cervenka, disputes the claim that the person who compiled the report did it in a personal capacity and had not been instructed to do so by the party because he would have needed some private data, to start with, that only a party official would have had access to. Carel Buxtion also points out that the party’s data protection rules ensure that only “the secretary and the membership secretary had access to electronic data” so the fact that the author of the dossier had this data would appear to have been a serious breach of the data protection act.
Al Jazeera points out that Labour HQ did not report any breaches to the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). Cervenka expresses surprise at this because Data Protection Laws in Britain require any breaches to be reported within 72hrs and the responsibility weighs heavier if you’re a senior official and you’re aware there has been a breach. As this dossier had been sent to the party’s general secretary, it had, in fact, reached the eyes of the most senior official in the Labour Party.
Nasar Meer finds it highly problematic that the dossier actually uses ethnic and racial profiling to identify new Labour party members and even focuses in on racial tropes and stereotypes as grounds for suspicion… “if you’re using ethnicity to identify people as a problem in your group then that suggests that there is something institutionally wrong”
Al Jazeera notes that the dossier makes the same claims as the complaint letter sent in 4yrs earlier by David Gilles in which he stated that a group of party members from East Ham and West Ham CLPs were seeking to ‘take control’ of the two constituencies that make up the London Borough of Newham.
Tahir Mirza and Carel Buxton are both surprised at the repeated use of the term “take over.” Mirza points out… “if you have 80% BAME living in those areas and most of the membership are from the ethnic minorities, that word ‘take over’ is completely wrong!” Mirza feels, understandably, that whoever was behind this dossier, must have had an issue with ethnic minorities. In Carel’s view this is a clear example of “victimisation and weaponisation of Islamophobia.” Mehmood Mirza agrees with this view because it’s very clear that they were “singling out the Muslim community and Asian Community.” For Mehmood, this has been a frightening experience.. “I’m scared, more scared now, after seeing this. The level they can go to. If somebody’s following your children to school, it’s not normal is it?”
Peter Oborne was equally surprised at the contents of the dossier which he likens to a “far-right tract by some demented American right winger.” The fact that this has been produced for the Labour party, in Oborne’s assessment, is nothing short of “terrifying.” Oborne adds.. “it’s utterly shaming… it’s against everything the Labour Party is supposed to believe in.” Oborne believes there’s even grounds for a police investigation because, from what he’s seen, it looks like “the Labour Party has been breaking the law.”
The dossier recommends to the General Secretary that he suspend all of Newham’s labour parties and it’s Muslim leaders.. “only a rigorous process of this sort will ‘clean up’ the membership of both CLPs” Shortly after the dossier is sent to David Evans, Mehmood Mirza is suspended from the party and the suspension happens just hours before the party members were gathering to select candidates for their local councils. Mehmood was the overwhelming favourite to have won that selection but was blocked from the selection as a consequence.
Both Mehmood Mirza and Tahir Mirza are considering legal action and have submitted Subject Access Requests (SARs), demanding that the party releases any personal data they have on them. Under British data protection law the party is legally required to release this information when it’s requested. Mehmood Mirza reports he put in a request 2yrs ago and still hasn’t had any response. Tahir Mirza reports he’s asked them twice now and still hasn’t had a response. Data Protection Lawyer, Honza Cervenka, explains, failure to comply within 90 days is itself a breach of data protection laws.
Halima reports to her boss that she suspects criminal behaviour in the compilation of the report, especially given the fact that the author had gathered copious amounts of data, some which they shouldn’t have had access to in the first place and some data that the party would not even be required to collect. She also argues against suspending the whole of Newham based on an a dossier who’s author appeared to have been engaged in criminal activity. Halima was immediately taken off the project.
Also, despite numerous concerns being raised, in 2021, the party decided to suspend Newham’s branches and 5000, predominately Muslim, members were effectively frozen out. As Tahir Mirza explains, the party effectively denied the local community it’s democratic right to choose it’s own councilors and its own Mayor.
In Manchester, Marcia Hutchinson tells a similar story of factionalism but where ‘she’ is the target of inflammatory accusations of racism by those on the right of the party (despite the fact that she is Jamaican and her parents were part of the Windrush generation), simply because she decided to support the Corbyn backed candidate in local council elections instead of the sitting black cllr, Tina Hewitson..
- Hewitson pens a formal complaint in which she reports that she is “appalled.. disgusted.. shocked.. infuriated that she [Marcia] had the audacity to think she could come along and interfere by putting someone up against me when I am the sitting cllr…. to me that is uncomradely and racist”
- Cllr Pat Karney sends a group email to his colleagues in which he further attacks Marcia Hutchinson… “Many comrades have brought to my attention that disgraceful attack on the group and it’s members by the above member (referring to Marcia)… it follows this member dancing on the deselection of a working class woman of African Heritage”
- Karney also told 94 other local Cllrs that Marcia was “wealthy and privilaged,” which is completely untrue. Marcia explains that he may have made that assumption simply because she had gone to Oxford after attending a comprehensive school. In fact, she was the first in her family to even go to University.
Marcia feels that her experience proves that racists expect “authentic black people” to be poor and in-articulate… “if you are articulate, then,” in their heads “you are no longer black and you can be ignored.” Marcia was elected Cllr in the end but was made to feel so uncomfortable that she opted to quit her job after just 6 months.
- In another grievance letter, from another senior black woman in the party, we learn that she too was prevented from progressing her career after Starmer was elected leader of the Labour Party… “so here is where my unfair treatment by party comes in.. I apply for… a role that sits within the same team I work in, a side step, remaining on the same grade… a role, objectively speaking, I am over qualified for. I get shortlisted and the role is given to a policy officer with no management experience.” The letter further notes that this lady was instead offered a more junior role, on a reduced salary, which was effectively a demotion. She concludes.. “I am a prime example why so many say the party has a problem with race. It is why you can count on one hand the number of senior black women in the party.”
Ekua Bayunu (Labour Cllr, 2020-2021), is shocked at the finding and can’t understand how the party has managed to circumnavigate UK employment law. In her view, British political party’s have effectively become “lawless” in how they operate. Marcia Hutchinson adds that she feels “viscerally ill, sick in my gut” to hear that this is going on at a senior level in the Labour Party. Its the key reason why she left the Labour Party because she saw that this sort of racism was being done openly by people who “don’t care.. they actively don’t give a damn!”
Halima Khan explains that things came to a head for her when she asked her management whether her job would be at risk if she supported the freedom and liberation of Palestinians. The response she got was “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Khan believes that she was then seen as a trouble maker and when she opposed the party’s decision to re-instate Trevor Phillips, a virulent Islamophobe, she was dismissed from her post after news of his reinstatement was leaked to the media. Khan was accused of leaking the story, along with another BAME colleague, Louis Mendee (Political Assistant, 2018-2022). Mendee explains they were dismissed without any evidence and even refused the right to defend themselves. Halima adds that the party alleged, because she had opened the Trevor Phillips file, that she must be guilty. In other words, they were arguing that she didn’t have the authority to access a file that she, herself, had written.
After Keir Starmer had described the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement as a “moment,” then declared that the toppling of the the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol (a slave trader) was “completely wrong,” actively began to court media attention in order to try and distance himself from the BLM movement and tried to deligitimise BLM activists, a number of BAME members decided to write to the leadership to express their disgust and disappointment.
- The Labour files include a video file of Starmer attempting to explain what he meant when he referred to BLM as a ‘moment,’ to a group of black and Asian staff.
- They also include the memo from Labour’s BAME Staff Network to Starmer and Angela Raynor in which they express their disappointment that they are not being listened to… “for black members of staff, we need to be listened to… we expect the manifestation of our trauma to be understood… Instead, the top line briefed was that Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, condemns the ‘completely wrong’ tearing down of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston”
Ekua Bayunu voices the feelings of many BAME members when she tells us that, in her opinion, Keir Starmer has no political integrity because his only focus is on getting elected to the top job, so he’ll say and do anything that he thinks will win him more votes and get him into number 10.
- Following the letter from Labour’s BAME Staff Network, The Labour Party decides to draft a strategy to try and regain black support (The Black Community Engagement Plan). With one exception, the team drafting the plan are all white.
- Ellie Robinson, Starmer’s deputy political director, emails how she had a discussion about BLM at the Covid Committee and that she is now writing up an action plan for their work, on the subject, going forward. She adds.. “I think our lines to the black community are in a good place”
Halima Khan (Chair of Labour’s BAME Staff Network at the time), tells us that she hadn’t even seen the so-called ‘Black Community Engagement Plan’ until now. It certainly wasn’t sent to the BAME Staff Network. Khan is quite shocked at some of the content and believes this is why it never reached their eyes and ears, especially when it refers to the BLM movement as “a culture war.” In her view, “the involvement of the BAME Staff Network has always been as a window dressing exercise… when they [The Labour Party] are actually planning out their strategy, we are never consulted”
Louis Mendee has also read the plan and notes that the key issue for him is that the party seems to be more concerned about not being seen to be acting on issues of diversity and inclusion, just in case this alienates some of who they believe to be their key (i.e. racist) voters. In his view “there’s very little in terms of coming up with a policy agenda that will tackle institutional racism.” Instead “they’re trying to find a position that will please a liberal urban voter as well as a person in the red-wall seats, who they [the Labour Party] believe to be people who are mostly white and who wont stand for issues that will improve equality in this country”
Alex Nunn explains, Starmer has a perception of so-called red-wall voters – voters who switched to voting Tory in the 2019 election. He see’s them as “reactionary on social issues, that they are patriotic, Union Jack loving, slightly, kind of, possibly a bit racist” and feels that, in order to win them back, he needs to reflect their values.
Al Jazeera’s assessment of the ‘Black Community Engagement Plan’ is that it’s more a plan for trying to win over red-wall voters than it is about engaging with black communities. For example, in one extract, it reads.. “No matter how serious the economic situation gets, the liberal-authoritarian axis is still going to be a key driver of voter’s behaviour over the next 4yrs. Johnson is attempting to get us back into a position on the ‘culture war’ that divides our red-wall voters from our liberal urban voters.”
Ekua Bayunu is clear that, in her opinion, there’s literally nothing in the so-called ‘Black Community Engagement Plan’ “that actually talks about what are the really important issues that we need to address as a political party for those communities to gain, and lives to be improved, by us being the next government.. nothing!”
- The Labour Files also include David Evans’ video interview, with Keir Starmer, when he was applying for the post General Secretary. In the video, Starmer asks Evans how he proposes that the party should re-engage with red-wall voters. Evans’ is clear that winning over the red-wall is “the most important thing to do… I don’t think we’re going anywhere unless we can reconnect”
Peter Oborne concludes that in British politics today we appear to be in “a battle for the bottom, a battle for the sewer between the Tories and Labour, now, for sort of bigoted white votes and it suggests that the Labour Party has lost its way.” In his view, the information contained in the Labour files corroborates “that there is something rather ill, troubling, frightening about the Labour Party”
Tahir Mirza concludes that the Labour Party can no longer be considered a safe option for British Muslims.
Halima Khan feels that the Labour Party took away her sense of feeling and believing that she could belong to something bigger than her. Something that would have allowed her “to advocate for change and a better world”
Marcia Hutchinson explains how her experiences within the Labour Party forced her to take the decision to step down… “it reeks of a culture where anti-black racism is not only accepted, not only tolerated but actively promoted”
The Labour Party denies that there is a hierarchy of racism in the party, as claimed in the Forde report, however, at the same time, they inform Al Jazeera that they’ve set up a working group to address the recommendations of the Forde Report. They also inform Al Jazeera that they will be implementing the Equality and Human Rights Commission recommendations and setting up an independent process to investigate all complaints. They add that they have “implemented codes of conduct on Islamophobia and anti-black racism… and created a diversity and inclusion board.” The party also denies allegations of criminality in how they handled the Newham CLPs or that it is a lawless organisation.
Despite all the evidence contained in the Labour files, a number of individuals mentioned in the WhatsApp group have denied that they were being racist or derogatory towards BAME party members and John Stolliday continues to deny that cases of Islamophobia were being treated differently to those of anti-Semitism.
Spotlight is 100% independent. Our content is free for all to read and share and we also prefer to stay advert free. If you appreciate this content then please consider supporting Spotlight by subscribing or making a one off donation. You can take out a monthly subscription for as little as £1 a month or you can make a one-off donation if you prefer.