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BTL 2022

Despite its flaws, the Forde Report vindicates Jeremy Corbyn

Former Labour leader was subject to the longest continuous smear campaign in British history

EuropeSocialism

Jeremy Corbyn, former Leader of the Labour Party, speaking at the 2018 Local Elections Launch in Trafford, Greater Manchester, March 22, 2018. Photo by Sophie Brown/Wikimedia Commons.

Jeremy Corbyn is one of the most admirable politicians to appear in a Western liberal democracy in decades, a man who genuinely differentiated himself from the unimpressive sludge of UK parliamentarians with his principled left-wing positions and anti-imperialist foreign policy.

He is also one of the most demonized. The Tories, the Labour right, and the senescent British media (which by and large supported Margaret Thatcher during the Miners’ Strike and Tony Blair during the Iraq War) vilified Corbyn as an antisemite and a Stalinist dictator in the making, attacking him and his political project with a rabid hatred that ultimately contributed to his crushing defeat in the 2019 general election, the return of Blairite leadership to the party, and current leader Keir Starmer’s Bonapartist purge of the Labour left.

Last week, the release of the long-awaited Forde Report on the leaked antisemitism investigation of 2020 totally vindicated Corbyn regarding the tirade of bigotry accusations he endured as leader—cold comfort, of course, given that his opponents in the political and media class long ago neutralized any chance that Corbynism would bring even minimal social, political, or economic progress to the United Kingdom.

Over two years ago, Keir Starmer enlisted barrister Martin Forde to investigate, among other things, Labour Party factionalism during the period of Corbyn’s leadership and allegations that the party’s right-wing deliberately sabotaged Corbyn’s 2017 election campaign. The report also addresses the antisemitism accusations that dogged Corbyn during the latter half of his leadership.

The final report describes allegations of Corbyn interfering in antisemitism investigations as “wholly misleading” and notes that Corbyn and his staff responded to the accusations of antisemitism “reasonably and in good faith.” These false accusations served as the basis of the Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party. When paired with internal anti-left action by the Labour right, these accusations amounted to a political assassination campaign against Corbyn that had the same effect as an actual assassination: the destruction of the target and of the political project they represented.

The Forde Report, however, is frustrating given its tendency to blame a nebulous “factionalism” for Labour’s 2019 defeat rather than the clear anti-Corbynism of senior staff. As Nick Clark writes in the Socialist Worker, “[the report’s] conclusions are equivocal—a broad ‘both sides’ condemnation that works to deflect blame from the right.”

Nevertheless, the report paints a damning picture of racism, Islamophobia, and anti-leftism amongst the party’s anti-Corbyn staff, and outlines the broader issue that led Corbyn to clash so intensely with the entrenched right-wing: Corbynism represented an attempt to “democratise the Party,” in Forde’s words, and this meant that senior staff “were from the start unwilling to accommodate or proactively assist” the new leader. Rather, the Labour right viewed him as an “existential threat” to the party and believed that “the end of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership (be it brought about by [Parliamentary Labour Party] revolt or electoral disaster) would be a good thing.”

Following Corbyn’s leadership victory in 2015, the Forde Report notes that Labour HQ staff were unnerved by the fact that “the majority of the new leader’s hires were not already in the ‘networks’” of the New Labour establishment—in other words, they were progressive outsiders brought in by the democratically elected leader to reinvent the party in accordance with his enormous popular mandate (in 2015, Corbyn received more votes than all other candidates combined). Anti-Corbyn WhatsApp chats showed “a real antipathy towards [Corbyn] by Labour HQ staff after [he] won the Party leadership.” Clark also notes that “Labour staff systematically and intentionally removed votes from Corbyn supporters ahead of his second leadership election” and that they “even had a bell to ring whenever they expelled a ‘trot.’”

The Forde Report found “straightforward attempts to hinder [Corbyn’s] work” by right-wing staffers who “covertly divert[ed] money and personnel” away from winnable seats being contested by Corbynite MPs and toward anti-Corbyn MPs who had little chance of electoral success. When Labour toppled the Tory majority in 2017, one senior party official stated that Corbyn’s success was “opposite to what I had been working towards for the last couple of years.”

Nevertheless, the Forde Report refuses to place blame on the party’s right-wing, instead bemoaning “toxicity on both sides” and “a culture of intellectual smugness…at the extremes of the political spectrum the Party represents.” What the report clearly misses is that Corbyn was elected to the Labour leadership to move the party to the left, while the Blairites, who had no democratic mandate, despised him and often worked against his agenda, which is inescapably an anti-democratic act. There is no correlation between these two factions. When the report’s authors explain that “Jeremy Corbyn’s election marked the first time that the leader was seen as so out of step with the predominant political view of most of the permanent staff,” they might as well be saying: “the permanent staff of the Labour Party were out of step with their popular base.”

Now, the Labour right is triumphant again. It appears not to matter to them that they are losing members at an alarming rate—around 200,000 since Starmer’s election—and that their leader has lower approval ratings than ousted Tory PM Boris Johnson. The hit job against Corbyn, who tried to lead the democratization of the Labour Party, is done, and the mask is off. It hardly matters that the Forde Report has vindicated Corbyn and his supporters. At the end of the day, the anti-democratic right-wing of Labour has reclaimed its party and expelled the leftist rabble from its ranks. When one has no power, being proven right is hardly a consolation.

Owen Schalk is a writer based in Winnipeg. He is primarily interested in applying theories of imperialism, neocolonialism, and underdevelopment to global capitalism and Canada’s role therein. Visit his website at www.owenschalk.com.

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