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.
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.
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 political 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.”