Getting to Know Emilie Oldknow

Emilie Oldknow like her husband the Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth both played key roles in sabotaging Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. And partly because of her vehement opposition to Corbyn, in 2018 Oldknow was parachuted into the upper echelons of the main public health union, UNISON, where amazingly she still serves as the unions chief operating officer.

One positive is that earlier this month Oldknow failed in her attempt to force the Labour Party to divulge information about the names of any individuals that might have been involved in the leak of an internal report which – to put it very politely – didn’t exactly cast Oldknow in a favourable light. As the Guardian newspaper reported:

“The [leaked] report included details of staffers’ private conversations expressing hostility towards the former leader Jeremy Corbyn or his close allies and bemoaning Labour’s better-than-expected performance at the 2017 general election.

“The report, which was originally prepared for the equalities watchdog but never submitted, concluded that factional hostility towards Corbyn hampered the party’s efforts to tackle antisemitism.

“Mrs Justice Tipples said that Oldknow’s claim ‘smacks of a fishing expedition, so that the claimant can cast around to identify potential defendants’ to sue.” (March 1, 2021)

The newspaper also added that Oldknow was “ordered to pay the Labour party’s costs and has been refused permission to appeal.” However, investigations into Oldknow’s alleged misconduct are not over yet and we still await the results of the “independent review ordered by Keir Starmer by Martin Forde QC.”

Here it is worth drawing attention to the evidence partly relating to Oldknow’s conduct that was submitted to the Forde Inquiry by Unite the union. Based on the details outlined in the leaked report the union’s official submission observed:

“Misogynistic abuse was also a regular occurrence among senior staff. Emilie Oldknow and Tracey Allen in particular engaged in these attacks, drawing attention to and mocking the way female colleagues dressed in a highly inappropriate way that drew attention to their bodies, calling women ‘fat’ and childish insults like ‘pubehead’. Oldknow, Heneghan and other staff often used abusive language about Karie Murphy, referring to her as ‘Medusa’, and saying ‘fuck u Karie u silly cow’. Julie Lawrence said her face ‘would make a good dartboard’ and Patrick Heneghan called her a ‘bitch face cow’. These are all cruel and sexist comments, and are clear evidence of persistent bullying in the workplace. It is hard to imagine how those on the receiving end of this abuse felt when this report came to light. 

“This behaviour, that is manifest throughout the report, is evidence of a toxic and bullying culture, which sought to preserve a powerful clique at the top of the party. It excluded and denigrated all others outside of that clique, dismissing them as ‘Trots’, even on some occasions dehumanising them, for example when joking about setting people on fire. Anyone outside of that clique was subjected to cruel insults, racism and sexism, as outlined above. Any sense of a duty of care towards colleagues or members of staff they had responsibility for had completely evaporated. Furthermore, the most senior staff set a very poor standard of behaviour, and it is of no surprise that it was emulated by staff junior to them.” 

Really, is Oldknow really the type of person that UNISON members want in the leadership of their union? The answer to this question is probably not!!

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