Michael Doyle – The Labour Files: lessons unlearned

Al Jazeera’s documentary The Labour Files uncovers the vicious campaign to destroy Jeremy Corbyn when he was Labour party leader, but has been ignored by not just by the right-wing of Labour, but by the left as well

Cross-posted from Conter

Picture by Duncan Cumming

As Labour gathered for its annual conference, the first two parts of the long-awaited Al Jazeera documentary titled The Labour Files had already aired. Yet, despite the Files’ disturbing content – a work of serious journalism, systematically laying out a damning indictment of the Labour right’s cynical deployment of anti-semitism smears against Corbyn and the left – the documentary has been met with near silence.  It is not surprising that the Labour right has not responded. The evidence is so damning and irrefutable, it was best for them to stay silent and hope the week’s conference announcements overshadowed it, aided by a compliant media.  What is more puzzling and, to put it bluntly, pathetic, is the silence of many leaders of the Labour left. 

Not one Labour MP in the socialist campaign group (SCG) has tweeted about the documentary. This despite it vindicating the claim of Labour left members that the antisemitism saga was viciously weaponised and laced with lies which did considerable damage to the mental health of the members targeted.

Labour Files

The documentary series is harrowing, demonstrating the malevolence of the Labour right and the tactics they were prepared to adopt to destroy the Corbyn project. When the Labour right failed in its attempts to oust Corbyn through leadership contests, and when smears of everything from being a misogynist to a Czech spy fell flat, the Labour right and the establishment media used Corbyn’s strength and turned it into a perceived weakness: his antiracism.

They were not alone. The Labour party establishment is not a class apart, but and intrinsic part of the networks of power and social influence that structure metropolitan life in Britain. They were aided by the media and this too is ruthelessly exposed in the Files.

In particular, the Panorama documentary televised in the summer of 2019 titled Is Labour Antisemitic? is exposed for the sham journalism it was. The credibility of the ‘whistleblowers’ is shredded by investigative journalism that once had a place in the British media but has now given way to performative ignorance and real incuriosity.

Files shows how in 2020, Starmer’s Labour ignored its own legal advice and settled with former party workers who appeared in the Panorama programme, as well as a BBC journalist, to the tune of £600,000 in a costly bid to smear yet more mud on Corbyn.

But even more galling are the treatment of the many perfectly innocent party members, many of them Jewish. One Holocaust surviver was infamously smeared as an antisemite by the media. In another harrowing revelation in Files, an elderly woman who was expelled because she was ‘antisemitic’, who died very shortly afterwards. Rather than expressing regret, a senior Labour staffer said “oh look, we are antisemite killers now” to which fellow staffers laughed.

Taken as a whole, the films flatly affirm the ‘weaponisation’ thesis advanced by Corbyn. In one sequence, we are shown the ‘offences’ for which Labour members are investigated and sanctioned. There are example after example of simple statements of solidarity with the Palestnian cause, which no one, no matter how motivated, could reasonably asses to be antisemitic.

As Peter Obourne (and it is notable that some of the few journalists to avail themselves well on this scandal have come from the right, motivated by a traditional, but waning, journalistic interest in the truth) said in the documentary, these cynics and aparats behind the witchunt may soon be in charge of the state apparatus. Files even uncovers that the Labour party conspired to keep relevant documents out of court proceedings.

Still Refusing to Fight Back

One of the most striking aspects of the Al Jazeera documentary is the level of hatred the right of the Labour Party has for the left. The language used by senior officers in the party towards Corbyn and his allies was violent and menacing. It is startling to think that Corbyn took Labour to a 40 percent share of the vote in a general election (which has conveniently been memory-holed by the establishment media) when the senior members of the party’s staff were intent on hindering him at every turn. It is perverse for the main opposition party to try and throw an election to keep the Conservative government in power.

The rage of former party activists is completely justified. But have lessons been learned among the existing parliamentary leadership of the Labour left?

Some have. They are chastened and quietist in the face of years of attacks from Starmer, the party establishment and the media. There are several clear characteristics of this retreat: the refusal to speak out on Britain’s war policy, sanctions regime, and much foreign policy in general.

Second, a feigned historical ignorance. Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell simply pretends that the Corbyn project itself never existed. Hundreds of thousands of activists, including many unfairly targeted and purged on bogus accusations, have left and are also apparently forgotten. What chance did they have when Corbyn himself is cold-shouldered?

And third, boosterism for the Starmer project itself. ‘Critical’ endorsements have been offered to the very people who pummeled the left. Some even praised Starmer’s speech, which included another attack on the left for supposed antisemitism.

Media commentators have also joined in. Novara Media’s Michael Walker, conceding the brutality of the smear campaign, described Starmer’s Labour as a “reasonably social democratic Labour party on the brink of government”. Yet it is not social democracy of the kind that defined ‘old Labour’. It is emptied of its working class content and pursuing a conservative political orientation.

When faced with opponents of this kind, it is no wonder the Labour right has retaken the party with such ease. Files exposes the ruthlessness, even amorality, with which they pursued their aim of reclaiming the party. That should be the lesson learned from this sorry episode

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