Documents reveal ongoing racism within British Labour Party
A massive data leak sheds new light on discriminatory actions employed by Labour Party bureaucrats
2 Oct 2022
UK Labour Party officials repeatedly sent racist and discriminatory messages about Black and minority Labour members to each other, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit can reveal.
Details of the remarks are contained in The Labour Files, an investigation by Al Jazeera that examines a bruising split within the party that led to its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, stepping down in 2019.
The leak, which contains documents from 1998 to 2021, covers the period during which an intense battle was underway between centrist party members who wanted to oust Corbyn as leader and those on the left who supported his policies.
The 500 gigabytes of emails, audio files, messages, and other documents is the largest leak in British political history.
Included within it are WhatsApp conversations between party officials disparaging Black and minority Labour members that The Labour Files has revealed publicly for the first time.
There is also a recording of a Zoom meeting in which a Labour Party member described how she was haunted by the racism she experienced within the party.
The woman was victim of a racist attack by a white man in public years ago, and she still bears the scars of that attack.
“He delivered his message that I didn’t deserve to be on the same side of the payment. People make it clear to me that I don’t deserve to be in their room,” she said during the Zoom meeting.
“I still look at the scar because it is still there. But I most often look at it in the workplace.”
“I brought my over 20 years’ experience to the party,” the Labour member said in the Zoom session. “And I found I was held to different standards to white men. People like me are stuck in this weird purgatory between visibility and invisibility.”
“Someone even kicked a piece of furniture in front of me because he didn’t like what I was saying,” she added.
“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.”
The details about the Zoom meeting come after 2020 leak of a WhatsApp group chat in which more than 17 senior management figures had been exchanging derogatory and racist messages.
The Labour Files includes unpublished messages from the same WhatsApp group. It concerns the health of the Black MP Diane Abbott, who later announced that she has Type 2 diabetes.
In one message, a party official said of Abbott: “She literally makes me sick.”
Someone else wrote: “Abbott is truly repulsive”.
“I find this very shocking,” Abbott told Al Jazeera.
“(The writer of the text message) just seems to be expressing her own hatred of a black woman, and it means that the Labour party isn’t necessarily a safe space for black women.”
Former Labour coucillor Marcia Hutchinson told Al Jazeera: “We are simply there as set dressing, and if we have the temerity to speak up we are attacked.”
“It is utterly sickening that this is happening in a party that claims to be anti-racist, that claims that Black lives matter.
“We don’t. We really do not matter.”
“There’s a point at which the people involved in this have stopped regarding people of African heritage as human,” former Manchester City councillor Ekua Bayunu said, after being shown the messages by Al Jazeera.
“And I don’t know how you find your way back from that.”
The former opposition attorney general, Shami Chakrabarti, was one of those mentioned in WhatsApp messages contained within The Labour Files.
In one message the then most senior employee of the Labour party, General Secretary Iain McNichol, who held the position between 2011 and 2018, wrote about Chakrabarti, who is of Bengali-Indian descent: “I’m sitting next to Shami for dinner”.
Another Labour employee, Tracey Allen. replied with an ice-pick emoji, a dark-skinned woman emoji and black heart emojis.
An ice pick was used to murder the Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky in 1940, alluding to the fact the left-leaning parts of the Labour party are regularly alleged to support Marxist theories.
The Labour Files also reveal examples of unusual leniency being applied by Labour to party members who had acted inappropriately towards Muslims.
One member, Martin Bridgman, was found to have shared several Islamophobic posts on social media between November 2018 and March 2019, including a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a paedophile.
Bridgman was not suspended from the party, but was instead asked by officials “can you see how somebody might find your post offensive?”
The files show that Labour’s handling of Bridgman’s case contrasts sharply to the automatic suspensions that apply for members found to have engaged in anti-Semitic behaviour.
Another Labour member, Trevor Phillips, the former head of Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission, was investigated in 2020 for having written that, “to some Muslim men in Germany, basic norms of decent behavior are irrelevant”.
He had also written, “the integration of Muslims will probably be the hardest task we’ve ever faced.”
Philips was suspended from Labour, but was re-instated to the party three months later.
Muslim members disenfranchised
The Labour Files also expose a secret dossier that was used to disenfranchise around 5,000 mostly Muslim members of the Labour party in the ethnically-diverse community of Newham.
Corbyn’s 2015 election as leader of the Labour party had inspired members of the community to join Labour, but the influx of new members from minority groups led to a factional battle based on racial lines.
In 2017, Carl Morris, a white regional party organizer wrote a complaint that British-Pakistani men were attempting to “infiltrate” the party’s Annual General Meeting.
Halima Khan, a former investigating officer for the Labour, told Al Jazeera: “Carl Morris states explicitly that he fears Newham is being infiltrated by a number of Pakistani men, something that I saw as clear-cut Islamophobia, the word infiltrate is quite a loaded term.”
“Especially when you’re talking about a group of Muslims who are trying to engage within politics.”
Former Labour Party member Carel Buxton said the claims from Morris were designed to create the impression that there were “Muslim men on a mission to destroy the Labour Party”.
Further complaints from Labour officials led to the creation of a file on mostly Pakistani members of the party in Newham, which recorded personal details of Muslim members and their families.
“It’s a shocking document,” Tahir Mirza, told Al Jazeera, after viewing his name in the dossier.
“It seems to me that somebody is actually working inside the Labour Party against ethnic minorities,” he said.
In March 2021, East and West Ham Labour Parties were suspended, and more than 5,000 mostly Muslim party members were disenfranchised. This meant that party meetings were banned and local party members were prevented from selecting their candidates for local elections.
Responses by those involved
Responding to the Labour Files, the Labour Party denied allegations of racism but said that it had set up a working party to address the issue. It was implementing recommendations from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission to establish an independent process to investigate all complaints of racism, harassment and discrimination and had implemented Codes of Conduct on Islamophobia and Anti-Black racism, as well as creating a Diversity and Inclusion Board.
It denied that it had been involved in any criminality relating to the Newham constituencies and that it was a lawless organisation; it was a rules-based organisation.
A number of those involved in the Party WhatsApp group denied that this contained any racist messages or material derogatory of BAME Party members.
One former senior official described the suggestion that that cases of Islamophobia were treated differently to those of antisemitism as “nonsense”.