The Labour Party risks spending up to £5 million if it loses claims arising out of anti-Semitism allegations, The Telegraph can reveal.
Sir Keir Starmer, party leader, is facing scrutiny over the spending at a time when Labour has recorded a £4.8 million deficit in the party’s finances.
Questions have also been raised about his commitment “to rip out anti-Semitism by its roots” after taking over as Jeremy Corbyn’s successor in April 2020.
Details of the amounts that Labour has so far spent will be revealed at a hearing at the High Court in London on Tuesday.
The party is being sued by nine whistleblowers who made complaints of anti-Semitism to Labour. Their personal details were subsequently leaked in a report intended as a submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission investigation into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
In October 2020 it concluded that the party had been responsible for “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination” against Jews.
However, the potential cost of the legal battle has prompted concern from charities, peers, and MPs about Labour’s spending as it pitches itself to be the next government, as well as warnings that the spectre of anti-Semitism is continuing to linger in mainstream politics.
It is also understood that MPs are due to raise questions around Sir Keir and his party’s spending on legal cases ahead of Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
Baron Austin of Dudley, a former Labour Party member who quit citing anti-Semitism under Mr Corbyn’s leadership and who now sits as a life peer in the House of Lords, described the figures as “further evidence of the dreadful damage caused by Corbyn and the hard-Left’s terrible time in charge”.
“It is shocking to see good money being thrown after bad on these cases and it is appalling that when Keir Starmer keeps saying he has torn anti-Semitism out by its roots, the party is refusing to accept claims made by the brave whistleblowers who stood up when so many politicians who are supposed to provide leadership failed to,” he said.
Baron Austin, whose Jewish father came to the UK as a refugee fleeing the Nazis, added: “Perhaps, if more politicians had shown more bravery and principle before, the staff would never have had to take these risks and this whole scandal, all the damage it caused and all the costs could have been avoided.”
The 850-page anti-Semitism report, which never was submitted to the equalities watchdog, was leaked shortly after Sir Keir replaced Mr Corbyn.
The whistleblowers launched legal action for breaches of data protection, confidence and privacy, claiming that as a result of the unredacted report being made public, they have been targeted by both far-Left and far-Right trolls.
Claim and counterclaim
The Labour Party is defending the claim and in turn has issued a counterclaim against five former staffers it alleges leaked the report. The five are two of Corbyn’s most senior advisers, Karie Murphy and former Guardian journalist Seumas Milne, as well as Georgie Robertson, Laura Murray and Harry Hayball. They have all instructed media law firm Carter Ruck to defend the counterclaim.
An Information Commissioner’s Office’s inquiry into the potential data breach from the leaked report, after Labour self-reported to the watchdog, is ongoing.
Sources linked to the lawsuits told The Telegraph: “Keir Starmer promised the Jewish community he would rid the party of anti-Semitism.
“How has he now become embroiled in sordid litigation against the very people who worked so hard to report anti-Semites? The very people he should be thankful to. How can he justify spending so much money defending this when his party is in debt.”
The Telegraph understands that Carter Ruck’s projected legal fees could amount to more than £2 million and that Labour’s legal costs are likely to be of the same magnitude.
If the Labour Party loses on every aspect of the claim and counterclaim, it will be liable to pay up to £5 million.
Dame Margaret Hodge, 78, the Labour MP for Barking, who is Jewish, received a barrage of anti-Semitic abuse after criticising Mr Corbyn during his tenure. She described the potential legal costs Labour could incur as “a tragic waste of money... we should be spending trying to win the general election”.
“I think it really reflects what the party was like in 2017, 2018 and 2019,” she said. “It’s a tragic waste of money but Keir’s doing it from a principled [stance], and I think they think they’re going to win.”
Joe Glasman, head of political and government investigations at Campaign Against Antisemitism, described the legal costs as “eye-watering”, adding that they reflected “Labour’s history of anti-Semitism denial, which is to demean victims and gaslight whistleblowers who have revealed the depth of anti-Jewish racism in the party”.
“Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour became morally bankrupt, and these figures show that financial bankruptcy is still a risk that Labour is willing to take to conceal that rot.”
‘Keir inherited a broken party’
Baroness Smeeth, a former Jewish Labour MP who has spoken out about the abuse she has received because of her faith, said: “No one wants to see Labour Party funds spent on legal fees but Keir inherited a completely broken party, where victims of racism were treated with contempt, which we are all now trying to fix.”
She called for “the real culprits held to account for dangerously leaking the data of those who came to the Labour Party, in confidence, to submit complaints of anti-Semitism”.
A Jewish Labour Movement spokesman described the “unlawful” leaking of the report as “reprehensible”, and said that in order to achieve justice, “Labour needs to be able to pursue those responsible for this criminal behaviour”.
A Labour Spokesperson said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on an ongoing legal case.”