The results of a “nightmare” inquiry into Labour infighting are to be published within weeks in a development that will further erode Sir Keir Starmer’s attempts to unify the party.
Insiders have become concerned that Starmer has created a “major flashpoint” by launching an independent inquiry to examine the commissioning, publication and contents of a highly controversial party report leaked last year. The report, drawn up at the end of Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader, alleges that internal hostility to his leadership hampered efforts to tackle antisemitism and damaged the 2017 election campaign.
Concerns have now emerged over the scale and unpredictability of the independent inquiry, which insiders fear has taken on “a life of its own”. It is understood to have received hundreds of submissions. Party figures said the inquiry was going “anywhere and everywhere”.
Another said: “We have created a real millstone here. This could be sorted out, frankly, in a few weeks, but the inquiry seems to be looking at everything. It’s become a nightmare.”
The leaking of the 860-page document caused anger in the party when it emerged in the spring. The report claimed there was an “abundant evidence of a hyper-factional atmosphere prevailing in party HQ … which appears to have affected the expeditious and resolute handling of disciplinary complaints”. It makes a series of allegations about the alleged funnelling of money towards certain MPs and that others were deprived of it. It also includes disparaging remarks made by staff about Corbyn allies.
John McDonnell, Labour’s former shadow chancellor, has said the report was commissioned by former general secretary Jennie Formby and put together by the party’s governance and legal unit. It was due to be submitted to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission investigation into antisemitism in the party, but that was blocked by Labour’s lawyers.
The left of the party claimed the report showed a toxic culture in Labour HQ, damaging the 2017 election effort. Meanwhile, some of those named are taking legal action, claiming privacy has been breached or their comments misrepresented.
The inquiry into the report is being led by Martin Forde QC, a respected lawyer who advised the government’s Windrush compensation scheme about racial inequality in the UK. It is due to be published before the end of the year. It was originally meant to emerge in the summer.
It comes as the latest Opinium poll for the Observer suggests the renewed row over Corbyn’s suspension and the antisemitism issue may have affected the party’s support. Labour trails the Tories by three points overall. Starmer’s approval ratings have also taken a hit. His net approval has fallen from 17 points to 11 points since a fortnight ago.
Labour is already suffering from renewed internal unrest after Starmer’s decision not to readmit Corbyn as a Labour MP. The former leader has been informed that he will be suspended from the parliamentary Labour party for at least three months.
Corbyn was suspended as a party member for suggesting that allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents and the media. He has since clarified that he did not think concerns about antisemitism were exaggerated nor overstated. His clarification led to his reinstatement as a Labour member, but Starmer has refused to allow him back into the parliamentary party.
Starmer faces resignations should he allow Corbyn back as a Labour MP, with several frontbenchers said to be against it. However, the left of the party is also warning of a mass exodus of members should he refuse to reinstate him.
The inquiry into the leaked report could further inflame internal warring.