Senior Labour figures have been accused of interfering with the disciplinary process investigating claims of anti-Semitism in a BBC Panorama, claims repeated on the BBC’s News at Ten and website. In the programme which aired on Wednesday night, Jeremy Corbyn allies communications chief Seumas Milne and National Constitution Committee general secretary Jennie Formby were alleged to have interfere in investigating allegations of antisemitism by Party members.
But the Labour Party hit back, denied the claims and complained to the BBC. The Party issued a statement saying that in a politically-motivated broadcast, BBC journalists had edited emails, misquoted and presented a biased “polemic” which breached journalistic standards.
The party accused former Sun and BBC reporter John Ware of being biased. This is not the first time Labour have complained about the presenter. In 2015 he made a documentary, also for Panorama, which was condemned by the party at the time as being a “hatchet job” on Jeremy Corbyn.
A total of eight former Labour officials spoke to Panorama, including Dan Hogan, who was an investigator in the disputes team, and made accusations about Jennie Formby.
He alleged people she had brought in since her appointment “overruled us and downgraded what should’ve been a suspension to just an investigation or worse to just a reminder of conduct, effectively a slap on the wrist”.
Iain McNicol also spoke out against the party on the programme. He was replaced by Jennie Formby as general Secretary.
Former head of disputes Sam Matthews said he interpreted an email from Mr Milne as “not a helpful suggestion” but as “an instruction”.
The BBC reported that, in the email from March last year, Mr Milne said there should be a review of the disciplinary process into anti-Semitic complaints.
“Something’s going wrong and we’re muddling up political disputes with racism,” the BBC reported him writing, “I think going forward we need to review where and how we’re drawing the line.”
But what the BBC did not report was the context, cutting out words that showed he was talking about Jewish members being accused of antisemitism. – What the BBC didn’t report is that the communications chief had been asked his opinion on a case of a Jewish Labour member, with a Holocaust survivor parent who was yet being accused of antisemitism.
In response to the claims about Mr Milne, a Labour Party spokesman said: “This allegation is false and malicious, and our response has been misrepresented by Panorama, throwing into doubt the extent and seriousness of their engagement with the Labour party’s responses.”
Labour, which has been braced for the Panorama accusations, wrote to BBC director-general Lord Hall to complain ahead of the broadcast.
A Labour spokesman accused the broadcaster of “pre-determining” the outcome of its investigation.
The spokesman said: “The Panorama programme and the BBC have engaged in deliberate and malicious representations designed to mislead the public.
“Labour is taking decisive action against anti-Semitism, doubling the number of staff dedicated to dealing with complaints and cases.
“It appears these disaffected former officials include those who have always opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, worked to actively undermine it, and have both personal and political axes to grind.
“This throws into doubt their credibility as sources.
“Our records show that after these officials left and after Jennie Formby became general secretary, the rate at which anti-Semitism cases have been dealt with, increased more than four-fold.”
A BBC spokesman said: “The programme adheres to the BBC’s editorial guidelines.
“In line with those, the Labour Party has been given the opportunity to respond to the allegations.”
The full response by Labour stated:
“We completely reject any claim that Labour is antisemitic. We stand in solidarity with Jewish people, and we’re taking decisive action to root out antisemitism from our movement and society.
“The Panorama programme was not a fair or balanced investigation. It was a seriously inaccurate, politically one-sided polemic, which breached basic journalistic standards, invented quotes and edited emails to change their meaning. It was an overtly biased intervention by the BBC in party political controversy.
“An honest investigation into antisemitism in Labour and wider society is in the public interest. The Panorama team instead pre-determined an answer to the question posed by the programme’s title.
“No proper and serious attempt was made to understand our current procedures for dealing with antisemitism, which is clearly essential to reach a fair and balanced judgement. And Panorama distorted and manipulated the truth and misrepresented evidence to present a biased and selective account.
“We complained in advance to the BBC over the way the programme was put together and its choice of a presenter who has expressed overt personal and political hostility to Jeremy Corbyn’s politics. We will be pursuing complaints at every level.
“The Labour Party will fully investigate any complaints concerning the antisemitic incidents reported by party members in interviews in the programme.
“Labour stands in solidarity with Jewish people and is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations.
“Despite claims made in the programme, Labour is taking decisive action against antisemitism. Since Jennie Formby became General Secretary the rate at which antisemitism cases have been dealt with has increased more than four-fold.
“We will build on the improvements to our procedures made under Jennie Formby, and continue to act against this repugnant form of racism.”
The Labour Press Team Twitter account also reported being hacked shortly after the show aired.
Someone had used it to tweet: “There we have it folks, proof if any was needed that the Labour Party IS institutionally racis and will nbe until Corbyn and his cronies go”