Weaponising Anti-Semitism: The Case of Sam Matthews

Two days before last year’s critically important General Election, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, was outed in the media for harbouring plans to oust Jeremy Corbyn as Labour’s leader. Ashworth, who in the preceding period had persisted in criticising Corbyn for his alleged failure to root out Labour anti-semitism, was recorded as saying (to his Tory friend) that he hoped Labour would be able to move forward and get a “half-decent leader next time round”.

But just five days prior to Ashworth’s devastating attack, an individual who had recently worked in Labour HQ under the leadership of Ashworth’s wife, Emilie Oldknow, had also spoke out to the press as part of an ongoing attempt to undermine Corbyn. The corporate media duly seized upon this opportunity to smear Corbyn and reported that the individual “has accused the party of ‘a campaign of lies and misinformation’ in relation to anti-Jewish racism.” (The Independent, December 5)

As many people might now know, the individual in question was Sam Matthews — the Labour Party’s head of compliance until early 2018. But even before this Matthews was already quite well-known as earlier in the year he had starred as a whistleblower in a Panorama episode about the allegedly systemic nature of Labour’s anti-semitism. Speaking to the BBC filmmakers in 2019, he had explained how not long after he took on his job in Labour’s HQ in the summer of 2016 that…

“For the first time it became immediately apparent to me that there was a really, really extensive problem with antisemitism at that stage. For the first time that I had noticed, people who held deeply antisemitic views were feeling like the Labour Party was their home.”

But as revealed in the just leaked 860-page internal report that had been compiled by the Labour Party, Matthews is not really the innocent whistleblower that he has always been presented as in the corporate media. The leaked report makes this categorically clear and arrives at a damming conclusion, highlighting that during his time overseeing the Party’s complaints process, which included dealing with reports of anti-semitism, Matthews “rarely replied or took any action, and the vast majority of times where action did occur, it was prompted by other Labour staff directly chasing this themselves”.

To this day however Matthews maintains his innocence, and talking to Sky News just the other day he stated that the leaked document “simply cannot be relied upon,” explaining:

“The proper examination of the full evidence will show that as Head of Disputes and Acting Director, I did my level best to tackle the poison of anti-Jewish racism which was growing under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.” (Sky News, April 12, 2020)

That being said, it appears that all the evidence presented within the leaked report demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that the one person who cannot be relied upon is Sam Matthews, especially when it comes to matters of anti-semitism.

sam matthews

So first let’s go over a little of the historical record, as it is important to recap how this shocked young man came to find himself in the middle of Labour’s anti-semitism nightmare. And on this matter the leaked report provides some interesting details, pointing out Matthews got his cushy job at Labour’s HQ precisely because he had a proven track record for being on Labour’s rightwing.*

In January 2016 Matthews was therefore interviewed for the post of “Compliance Officer” and commenced his work in the Labour HQ at end of June, where his “first major task was to organise a second round of ‘Trot hunting’, for the 2016 leadership election.” Trot hunting referring to the purging of Labour members who might possibly be opposed to the Blairite agenda of Oldknow and her fellow rightwing cronies at the helm of Labour HQ.

With his Trot hunting operations apparently carried out with some degree of success, the “Head of Disputes” position within Labour HQ became vacant, and Matthews (who was the only person interviewed for the post) soon slid into this new senior leadership role (starting work in December 2016).

Now it is true that during Matthews two-year stint at Labour’s HQ he had participated in a multitude of acts of sabotage, but for the purpose of brevity I will just dwell on one prominent example of how he dealt with complaints about a holocaust denier called Chris Crookes. This loathsome escapade began in August 2016 when…

“… a member of ‘Labour International’ submitted a complaint about fellow international member Chris Crookes, for antisemitism. In September 2016 he followed up with further evidence. Both emails were forwarded by ‘Legal Queries’ to ‘Validation’, but no further action appears to have been taken.”

In November, another individual then reported Crookes to the Labour Party, but this time…

“The complaint came from the ‘pro-Corbyn’ admins and moderators of an unofficial Facebook group for members of Labour International CLP, who had discovered that Crookes had, ‘over a number of years’, published a range of Holocaust denial and ‘pro-fascist’ materials across the internet, including on Facebook and in Amazon reviews. Extensive evidence was attached of Crookes’ explicit Holocaust denial.”

On November 10 this important information was then forwarded on to Matthews. Yet as the leaked report notes: “Matthews did not respond [to this email] and no further action appears to have been taken.”

To the dismay of the complainants, by the end of month still no action had been taken against Crookes. In December, Labour NEC member Ann Black, who had already been cc’d in emails regarding Crookes, intervened to help ensure this case was promptly resolved — with the emails that she had sent to Iain McNicol and Julie Lawrence (the Director of General Secretary Operations) being forwarded on to Matthews. But still no action was taken against Crookes, and in January 2017 a complainant again wrote again to the dispute’s unit stating: “It is a little worrying to see that Chris Crookes is not yet suspended.” Understanding that sometimes mistakes happen, in April the complainant wrote again to press for some form of disciplinary action. Still noting happened! Then, as the leaked report explains:

“A further report from Euan Philipps of “LAAS” [Labour Against Antisemitism] was also received on 19 July 2017, containing two posts of Crookes defending Ken Livingstone’s comments and dismissing antisemitism. It was forwarded from ‘Legal Queries’ to ‘Disputes’, but no action was taken.”

So, over a year after the first complaint was raised still nothing was being done by Matthews’ office, and in October 2017 Ann Black “raised the case directly with Matthews” emailing him to say:

“Chris Crookes was reported by Labour International nearly a year ago.  Is he somewhere in the system, and if not, could he be followed up for investigation?” (October 10, 2017)

Once again “Matthews did not reply.” In fact, it was only when Black “chased Matthews ‘requesting urgent action’” that he finally responded by stating “We’ll be sending a notice of investigation today”. Yet unfortunately, as the leaked report adds, “No case was created, and no NOI [notice of investigation] was sent. We have no record of any action being taken at this point.”

When Black emailed Matthews (yet again) to check on his progress, Matthews said that Crookes was “under investigation,” but this was not true. The Labour report continues:

“This was inaccurate. We have no evidence of Chris Crookes having been contacted; no record of any case being saved; and no evidence of Matthews forwarding any of these emails on to investigations officers for action.”

Although no doubt Black had other work to be getting on with, she emailed Matthews again to check on progress in December 2017 and again in January 2018. “Again, Matthews did not respond, and no action was taken.”

Now people were really getting frustrated at Matthews refusal to suspend Crookes. Matthews was after all Labour’s “Head of Disputes,” and so…

“In February 2018… 289 members of ‘Labour International’ signed a petition demanding action on the Holocaust denier in ‘Labour International’, with the petition containing a full timeline of their attempts to get GLU [Governance and Legal Unit] to take action on Chris Crookes.”

But still no action was taken, and it was not under the GLU “came under more scrutiny” from Jeremy Corbyn’s own office (on March 26, 2018) – which no doubt was interpreted as bullying on Matthews part — “that Matthews then accessed his previous emails from Ann Black and initiated a case.”

To recap, over “an 18 month period, the case of Chris Crookes was raised directly with Sam Matthews twelve times,” but it was only in March 2018 that Crookes was finally suspended (an act which eventually led to his expulsion in July 2019). This was a massive dereliction of duty on Matthews part and totally contradicts his assertions that Corbyn was the real sources of problems when it came to dealing with anti-semitism within the Labour Party.

Rather unsurprisingly perhaps, when the Labour Party finally expelled Crookes (after undertaking an appropriate investigation) his expulsion led to a slew of articles in the mainstream press attacking Corbyn for failing to deal with Labour anti-semitism! Nevertheless even then, a critical article published in The Jewish Chronical (August 13, 2019) was forced to admit that:

“Jon Lansman, the head of the pro-Corbyn Momentum campaign group… suggested Labour staff ‘from the Labour right may have delayed action on some of the most extreme and high-profile antisemitism cases, including Holocaust denial, allowing a backlog of cases to build up that would damage the party and Jeremy’s leadership.’

“Mr Lansman also suggested that, because the party’s National Executive Committee was no longer led by ‘Blairites’ and Mr Corbyn’s ally Jennie Formby had become the party’s general secretary, its processes had improved.”

Such statements were of course belittled in the press. And while Jon Lansman has, on the whole, been a liability to supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, in this instance Lansman was correct… there most certainly were people deliberately acting to delay action on dealing with anti-semitism and they were no friends of either democracy or socialism!

But bigger questions now loom for Labour members who support socialism. Yes, the leaked report “exposes the pernicious nature of the campaign that has been waged against Corbyn” on the issue of anti-semitism, but what next?

“Crucial now, is that a mass struggle is built to fight for consistent political representation for working-class people. To do so effectively, such a movement needs to abandon any notion of this being possible on the basis of compromise or unity with the right wing of the Labour Party. Workers need their own independent political representation. Those who have already been politically activated by Corbynism can form an important basis for this. But to succeed it must go beyond this, drawing in workers, young people and trade unionists, and organising around socialist ideas. And if wresting control of Labour’s leadership and machinery back from the hands of the right proves impossible, it will become necessary for such a movement to find its expression through a new party or formation.

“The multiple capitalist crises our world currently faces – from the coronavirus, to the collapsing economy, to the climate catastrophe – show that we do not have unlimited time to build a movement to change the world. The experience of Corbynism should stand as a warning as to the dangers of attempting to do so without being prepared to break with the representatives of the sick system of capitalism. And these lessons must now be absorbed, lest they be repeated.”

 Notes

* Illustrating how high-ranking jobs appear to have allocated within the rightwing dominated machinery of the Labour Party, the leaked report outlined a conversation that took place (in 2015) that involved Emilie Oldknow (the Executive Director for Governance, Membership and Party Services), wherein she discussed how to allocate a compliance unit job to an employee’s sister. Oldknow was particularly pleased to hear that the individual’s sister was a new member of the Labour Party, which led her to comment: “That means she will be completely malleable”.

 

2 comments

  1. Sam Matthews really is a piece of shit. This piece doesn’t even bring up the fact that he cynically lied about being suicidal just to add to the anti-Corbyn smears. We were so close to a Corbyn Government, only a few thousand votes away, and had it not been for the Blairites – who call anyone that criticises a State that frequently commits war crimes and crimes against humanity – had it not been for them, we would be 3 years into a Labour government. How many people have died since June 2017 because of UK selling arms, because of austerity, because of COVID? Sam Matthews is responsible for this, in some small way. How does he sleep at night?

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