In Depth

Labour leak: why Lord McNicol left his role over anti-Semitism report

Former general secretary quits Lords role amid investigation into damning leaked document

Former Labour general secretary Iain McNicol has stepped down as a frontbencher in the House of Lords in the wake of a leaked report into the conduct of high-profile figures in the party during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

McNicol was Labour’s chief administrator from 2011 to 2018 and previously served as a whip in the House of Lords. He is referred to and quoted extensively in the 860-page document, which revealed failings in Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism allegations along with accusations that factions within the party had sought to undermine Corbyn in the run-up to the 2017 general election.

As the New Statesman notes, McNicol's decision to quit his front bench role is “temporary and voluntary”, while an investigation over the leaked report takes place.

Why has he stepped aside?

On Sunday, a lengthy report – entitled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014-2019” – was leaked to Sky News, revealing deep divisions within the party over the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

The report suggested that senior figures at Labour HQ, working alongside deputy leader Tom Watson, were apparently actively undermining the party leadership to prevent success in the 2017 election and topple Corbyn as leader.

The report includes “lengthy extracts of private WhatsApp conversations between former senior Labour staff in which they are scathing about left-wing MPs and advisers – and Corbyn himself”, The Guardian says.

The paper notes that McNicol is repeatedly mentioned in the report – upwards of 240 times – and is one of a number of party figures repeatedly accused of speaking ill of Corbyn’s leadership.

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For example, after a 2015 NEC meeting which decided to allow Corbyn on to the ballot paper for the leadership election – at the time seen as a radical move – McNicol reportedly said: “This is the first time the unions have actually chosen to f*** the party rather than support it.”

But more problematic for McNicol is the report’s accusations that he failed to adequately deal with allegations of anti-Semitism – something which dogged the party for much of Corbyn’s reign.

According to the report, when faced with allegations of anti-Semitism, McNicol repeatedly “insisted that all complaints were dealt with promptly”, “justified delays”, “provided timetables for the resolution of cases that were never met”, “falsely claimed to have processed all antisemitism complaints”, “falsely claimed that most antisemitism complaints the party received were not about Labour members” and, most notably, “provided highly inaccurate statistics of antisemitism complaints”.

The report prompted new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to launch an independent investigation, which in turn precipitated the resignation of McNicol from his House of Lords role.

What else does the report say?

In a summary of its findings, the authors of the report note that Labour Party staff are “employed by the Party rather than as political advisers to politicians” and “are expected to act impartially and serve the Party, regardless of the current Leader”.

In spite of this, the report suggests that “much of the Labour Party machinery from 2015-18 was openly opposed to Jeremy Corbyn” and “worked to directly undermine the elected leadership of the party.

“The priority of staff in this period appears to have been furthering the aims of a narrow faction aligned to Labour’s right rather than fulfilling the organisation’s objectives, from winning elections to building a functioning complaints and disciplinary process,” it adds.

“Labour Party staff based at Labour HQ were not obeying secret directives from LOTO [Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn].”

This faction allegedly worked to “remove supporters of the incumbent leader during the 2016 leadership election” and “work to hinder the leader’s campaign in the 2017 General Election”, while Labour officials, including senior staff, expressed open hostility towards Corbyn and other prominent Labour MPs including Andy Burnham, Ed Miliband, Sadiq Khan, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler.

The report also finds that staff “repeatedly used abusive and inappropriate language” about these members. They reportedly discussed “hanging and burning” Corbyn, called him a “lying little toerag”, said that any Labour MP “who nominates Corbyn ‘to widen the debate’ deserves to be taken out and shot”. One senior member of staff allegedly said they hoped that one Labour member on the left of the party “dies in a fire”. 

The report suggests that the attitude in Labour HQ towards Corbyn “could be summed up in one comment from a senior staff member, who said ‘death by fire is too kind for LOTO [leader of the opposition]’”.

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