The Truth About Jonathan Ashworth and Emilie Oldknow: An Anti-Corbyn Retrospective

As a trade unionist living in Leicester, I have been organising and writing about socialism for many years. By virtue of the fact that I live in Leicester, whether I liked it or not, I found myself writing a number of articles about our three local Labour MPs, Jonathan Ashworth, Liz Kendall, and Keith Vaz. The following article is a synthesis of some of the reports I have penned about Jonathan Ashworth, which I am publishing today because of this week’s disgusting news about how his wife, Emilie Oldknow, had played a critical role in undermining democratic values within the Labour Party.

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For many years I have been writing and Leicester politics and Jonathan Ashworth has been a regular feature. In October 2013, with Tory cuts to services in full flow, I wrote one of my earliest articles noting how:

“Ashworth is… never going to take… a principled stand against the government’s unnecessary and vicious cuts agenda, as demonstrated by his ongoing willingness to facilitate the privatisation of our schools. This is after all a careerist who was ‘elected in a by-election in 2011, [and] remains on Labour’s influential National Executive Committee, to which he was appointed earlier this year’; a fine fellow of a man, who just this week has been promoted by Ed Miliband to become a member of the shadow cabinet office.”

Around a year later, demonstrating where his allegiances lay, Jonathan then joined most other Labour MPs in voting to back the bombing of Iraq. Then, in January 2015 he once again went along with his fellow New Labour cohorts by voting to cut tens of billions from public services (£30 billion to be precise).

After the 2015 General Election Jonathan, not willing to learn any lessons from history, wrote an opinion piece for the local newspaper, the Leicester Mercury, in which he argued that “Labour must… change. We need to become full-blooded in speaking up in defence of public services.” In practice this sounded nice:

Yet while Ashworth says ‘Labour must… change’ his preferred candidate for Labour’s leadership, Yvette Cooper, does not promise such change. Cooper’s views are in fact quite consistent with those of her husband, Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Ball, who earlier this year famously promised that his party would not reverse the Tories destructive budget of cuts.

“Thankfully, not all Labour Party members believe that further austerity must be inflicted upon the 99% of us. This is why it is so refreshing that local Labour Party members of Ashworth’s Leicester South constituency chose to back anti-austerity realist Jeremy Corbyn as their preferred candidate to represent the interests of the working-class.”

In his aforementioned election ‘analysis’ Jonathan did talk briefly about how sad he was that Labour had performed badly in the Sherwood constituency where “the Tory majority increased from 214 to 4,647”. He failed to mention that this poor result was not entirely unexpected, especially given the fact that when Labour lost their Sherwood seat in 2010, Labour lost 6,552 votes to the Tories, allowing the Tories to gain a majority of 214 votes.

emilie

Jonathan also forgot to mention that the Blairite responsible for the massive 2010 fail was the person he had chosen to marry just a couple of months later (in July 2010).

His now infamous wife, Emilie Oldknow, had at the time been the Labour Party’s Director for the East Midlands, and her selection for this ostensibly safe Labour seat had made national headlines because it was mired in controversy. As The Times (December 6) wrote at the time:

“A woman who had hoped to be the party’s candidate for the Sherwood constituency in Nottinghamshire has pulled out, claiming that the selection process has been skewed in favour of the fiancée of a close aide to the prime minister.

“Helen Holt believes she has been the victim of dirty tricks by supporters of Emilie Oldknow, whose boyfriend Jonathan Ashworth is Brown’s deputy political secretary.

“Holt said: ‘I feel I have been totally stitched up. My face does not fit. I believe I am being used in a process that from the outside looks fair but is a way of parachuting a candidate into the position because she has family links to Gordon Brown.’”

In March 2016, Jonathan failed to attend Parliament to discuss the NHS Reinstatement Bill — a Bill which proposed to fully restore the NHS as an accountable public service by reversing 25 years of marketisation in our health service.

By April, Jonathan had now chosen to throw his voice into the ring to help smear Labour as the party of anti-Semites. And later in the year, he was involved in another minor twitter scandal (“the mystery of the boo”) wherein Jonathan helped fan the flames of a national media frenzy about leftwing Corbynistas destroying the Labour Party.

By October 2016 Jonathan, perhaps because he skilled at hiding his real poltical views, had the good fortune to be promoted to become Labour’s new shadow health secretary.

This is… fantastic news for those who are interested in reclaiming the Labour Party as a political party of the working class, as Ashworth has now had to resign from his former position on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC).”

One year one, Jonathan was still pretending to be neutral on the issue of Corbyn. Thus…

“…even Labourleaders who ostensibly support Corbyn, like local Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth, continue to undermine genuine socialist policies. Thus in his position as Shadow Health Secretary, Mr Ashworth refuses to commit to kicking all the corporate profiteers out of our health service by supporting calls for the full renationalisation of the NHS.

“By contrast, members of Mr Ashworth’s Constituency Labour Party (CLP) are more clued up as to how to win electoral support for Labour. Thus just prior to the Labour Party Conference, against his wishes, his Constituency members passed a motion proposed by the Socialist Health Association which, amongst other things, called for Labour to reaffirm “its manifesto commitment to restore our NHS by reversing its privatisation and halting Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships.”

“This motion with minor amendments was passed unanimously at the subsequent Labour Party Conference.”

In March 2018 Jonathan’s wife, Emilie who had spent the past six years working as the Labour Party’s Executive Director for Governance, Membership and Party Services, quit the Party in an effort to undermine Corbyn’s leadership. Given this week’s past revelations about Emilie’s disgusting behaviour within the Party it is ironic that at the time of her resignation one senior Labour official dubbed her “the brains of the party”. At the time Emilie said she was standing down to “pursue some new and exciting opportunities,” which as we found out a few months later led her to a handy position in UNISON where, with no democratic discussion with the membership, she was anointed as the unions Assistant Secretary General for Resource and Organisation.

Surrounding these turbulent months, in April 2018 Jonathan was making his own contributions throwing further fire on the anti-Semitism debate, yet again.

“Take for instance Ashworth’s current engagement with the anti-Semitism smear being waged relentlessly against Corbyn and his hundreds of thousands of supporters in the Labour Party. Ashworth timed his initial public intervention well, and on the very day that the smear was building to a crescendo – on the day of the planned protest on Parliament Square — Ashworth made the following comment on facebook:

“So I’m ashamed of anti semitism in the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn has rightly apologised on behalf of the Labour Party and affirmed our commitment to facing it down. Anti semitism has no place in the Labour Party or society. It’s ridiculous of anyone to suggest Jeremy is racist or anti Semitic in fact he has a long history of fighting racism and anti semitism. The reality is anyone expressing anti Semitic views is not socialist, does a disservice to the cause we are fighting for and should be stripped of Labour membership.” (Facebook, 11.31am, March 26, 2018)”

Jonathan dug the knife in deeper still in July, at exactly the moment that the UK’s Jewish media (Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph) ran with identical front-page’s to smear the good name of Corbyn and his socialist supporters. The following month Dave Prentis, the General Secretary of UNISON (Emilie’s new employer), decided to weigh in on the issue of anti-Semitism, criticising Corbyn for not adopting the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition.

“No doubt, Corbyn’s Blairite critics will now be facing challenges from both Labour and union members — including those Labour Link officers and ordinary Labour Link members who were not consulted on the decision taken by their national committee — to explain why they persist in ignoring the needs of the rank-and-file labour movement by attacking Corbyn during this ongoing civil war for the future of socialism.”

Corbyn’s enemies now knew they were onto a good thing, and in February 2019 Jonathan was quick to attack Corbyn again on the issue of his so-called racism. Speaking to the BBC Jonathan said:

“I think what we’ve seen on anti-Semitism in the party utterly breaks my heart. I am such a big fan of Luciana Berger… She has stood up against anti-Semitism all her political life, she has got my full support. It’s clear that we need to go further and faster in dealing with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.”

The next month, in the wake of the witch-hunt against Chris Williamson (the MP for Derby North who was suspended over allegations of anti-Semitism), Jonathan

“…latch[ed] upon this issue to undermine Corbyn’s leadership. Hence on the day of Williamson’s suspension he said to Channel 4 News that Williamson’s ‘damaging the Labour movement, and I hope that the leadership take the action that they need to take.’ This is scandalous behaviour on Ashworth’s part, which was reasserted by him in his equally scandalous tweet that only served to distort the entire issue wherein he asserted:

“‘It’s simply not possible to be too apologetic for anti semitism. Such comments are totally wrong, hurtful, offensive, provocative and self indulgent. And there is nothing socialist about castigating the Party & movement for being too apologetic when it comes to racism’ (Twitter, February 27)”

In political warfare timing is everything, and just two days before the 2019 General Election Jonathan

“…was outed in the media for secretly harbouring plans to oust Corbyn as Labour’s leader. He explained to his Tory friend that he hoped that Labour would be able to move forward and get a ‘half-decent leader next time round’. On talking about earlier attempts to depose Corbyn, Ashworth continued:

“‘God knows … because we f***ed it up. We f***ed it up in 2016 when we went too early. People like me were internally saying this isn’t the right moment, but I got ignored.’”

These “views are in keeping with Ashworth’s preference for amplifying the attacks on Corbyn via the smear of anti-Semitism levelled against his leadership.” This is why:

Moving forward it is clearly a large task to undo forty years of neglect. But what is certain is that it is only through a process of thorough internal democratisation that the Labour Party will ever be able to fight for socialist ideas without being shot in the foot by its own elected representatives.

“The Blairites are of course already calling for Corbyn’s head and for an end to the Corbyn Project, and so these attempts to move the Party backwards must be fought against tooth and nail. The essential task that now lies ahead is to fight to ensure that the socialist ideas that have been brought out in the mainstream under Corbyn’s leadership continue to be the policies of the Labour Party.

“Lessons do need to be learned about why Labour failed to win this General Election, but these will not be the lessons that the corporate media will want us to learn. This is because the only way to win the working-class fight for socialism is by coming out and fighting on the streets in an uncompromising way for the socialist ideas that can bring all aspects of the economy under democratic workers control.

“What is certain is that there can no longer be any compromising with those enemies of socialism that still exist with the Labour Party. Tough decisions need to be taken, and taken soon if Labour is to become the mass workers party that it needs to be if it is oust the Tories in the coming years.”

12 comments

  1. This is a very well written piece which shows the problems Jeremy Corbyn had to put up with. Unfortunately, it also shows how deep the cancer of Blairites are within the Labour Party and their affiliated unions. I was personally barred from standing as a Labour Councillor in Coventry in 2008 after 11 years by the party not allowing my name to be on the Municipal Panel even though the vast majority of my ward (2 didn’t) had voted me in. The party over-ruled this decision and most of the ward were then either expelled or resigned out of support for me. My crime was because I asked questions about the Rioch arena to the Tory controlled council. Questions like why were the tax payers spending more monies on the arena when the football club wasn’t paying it’s rent. Of course the arena had been built during the the time labour were in power and it was obvious that the then Labour controlled council had made many mistakes during the building of the arena not least the fact that CCFC were not going to be able to pay £1m rent per year to play there. Obviously, since then it has become blatantly obvious to anyone that has seen the on goings surrounding the Ricoh Arena that I was right to ask the questions that I did. I know this sounds unbelievable and to some extent it is. The party machine was able to use me raising these questions as a way of getting rid of me and this is because I was always the outspoken one on things like cuts to Social Services and such like; something the Labour Council appeared to be quite at home doing. However, I am only mentioning this because I personally believe this is a problem within the Labour Party. There are people working within the party with no real socialist views. Once I was barred from standing I ran as as Independent and gave them a good run for their money, I say this because even they felt the need for the 3 sitting Coventry MPs to help fight me in the ward, a ward that has never been anything but Labour.
    I felt the Labour Party was beginning to regain it’s sole under Jeremy Corbyn but always knew there were still to many Blairites in there to stop him. Unfortunately, we are only just beginning to see how bad it was for him. I do hope that those mentioned in the report that has just been leaked are punished but doubt they will be. The Party runs in a very peculiar way, you can be loyal and hard working like Mr Corbyn but if your face doesn’t fit or your to much of a socialist then hard luck. Tony Blair well and truly stuffed the Labour Party! People so easily forget it was John Smith who made the Labour Party electable and I only wish he could have made it to be Prime Minister. If he had I believe we would have had a much fairer Britain and never seen the likes of Mr Blair again.

  2. Thanks for this. For those who read the smallprint, Ashworth made clear from his tragic appointment as shadow health secretary that he would be pursuing the worst of the New Labour approach and overlooking the magnificent strides made by Diane Abbott in her brief stint as our first and to date only pro-NHS shadow/health secretary since Frank Dobson made way for Alan Milburn.

    It is healthy, albeit late and a little fragmented, for people to be waking up the fact Ashworth was never a friend of the NHS.

    Now please let’s all reflect on how his central message, that the NHS’ key problem is “underfunding” is utter bollocks designed to cover up the wider, wholesale privatisation plans from NHS England which his narrative has been very effective at covering up.
    https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/ournhs/it-may-not-look-like-it-but-jeremy-hunt-does-have-plan-for-nhs-0/

    • Corbyn should have reshuffled Ashworth within 3 months and put a socialist in shadow health. It’s the number 1 issue in the country. We elected Corbyn on an NHS renationalisation platform. Not a ‘whine about funding in a squeaky voice’ platform.

  3. Hello Thank you for featuring my story here. I am Helen Holt the women who pulled out of the selection in Sherwood. Unfortunately, my story didn’t stop there. After the dust settled my union put me forward for a scheme that would enable more working class candidates to stand in future elections. That was the beginning of the end for me. I endured constant harassment and bullying from then on. I was told that Mr Ashworth made several comments on my mental capacity to both union leaders and local members of the Labour Party. One Labour MP refused to talk to me at a training seminar for prospective candidates. The NEC refused to investigate my complaints. I was finally forced to give up on a political future with the Labour Party when I was once again harassed bullied and sidelined at a Labour Party conference. I decided to give up on any hopes and dreams I had hoped for and tell the union that I couldn’t continue. In fact, along with my family we decided to emigrate to the other side of the world to Australia. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that Ian McNicol was also involved with these people. I asked him to look into my complaints which were never investigated.

  4. For me, this gives me more respect towards Ashworth. He realised ages ago that Britain would not trust a person like Corbyn or the people he associated with, and this was more than proven in the GE. In a truly free democratic and liberal state, anyone can call out and oppose policies/ agenda from their own party leader without being shunned, removed or criticised. Just look at recent GE and opinion polls, a Blarite Labour is preferred to a Corbyn Labour (but when I say Blarite I really mean a moderate labour because there should be some distance from Blair.

  5. Have you read any of the report known as “the leaked report”? If you have you are a disgrace to come away from it without seeing that Corbyn was undermined from the moment he looked likely to get onto the leadership ballot.
    Ashworth’s,wife, Emilie Oldknow was one of the most active in trying to ensure a Labour defeat, especially in 2017. For anyone to defend any of those 5th columnists in the party who were named in the report can’t believe in justice. To allow any of them to get away without being suspended pending an inquiry should belong to a fascist party. There are plenty around.

  6. However J Ashworth has a huge plus point: during the vile “chicken coup” against Corbyn he did not participate but stayed in the shadow cabinet, like A Burnham (and the latter however explicitly expressed his outrage at the “chicken coup”). K Starmer participated in the “chicken coup”, but despite that J Corbyn out him back in the shadow cabinet for the sake of “unity”.

    • Ashworth has told us in his own words that the only reason he didn’t openly take part in the chicken coup was he thought it was not the right moment for it to succeed.

      Practically every single thing he did in shadow health, however, served to sabotage our sorely-needed left message about the fact US corporations already control our healthcare service and are turning it into a version of theirs.

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