A Labour whistleblower has hailed today’s landmark apology and defamation settlement as the “first significant step” in tackling anti-semitism under Keir Starmer’s leadership — but insisted the party still has “a long way to go”.
The party has apologised “unreservedly” and reached a six-figure settlement with BBC journalist John Ware and seven former Labour staffers who appeared in last year’s Panorama programme, Is Labour Anti-Semitic?.
The settlement was announced and the party’s statement of apology read out at the High Court on Wednesday morning. It is believed to have cost the Labour party around £600,000.
Following the hearing, Labour issued an “unreserved apology” to all seven, adding: “We unreservedly withdraw all allegations of bad faith, malice and lying.”
One of the group, former party staffer Sam Matthews, said he hoped it “marks the moment that I can start being proud of my membership card again”.
He told the Standard: “This is the first step the Labour Party has taken in a very long time, and certainly the first significant step under Keir’s leadership, to acknowledging that the Panorama was effectively right, that we gave truthful testimony, and that the Labour Party has a problem.
“As we lead into the [Equalites and Human Rights Commision investigation into anti-semitism in the Labour party] , it is a clear statement from Keir’s leadership — as he said at PMQs today — that the Labour Party does seem to be under new management.
“[This] seems to understand what true, proper Labour values are. What the Labour Party did was run a campaign to victimise whistle-blowers, and that was already denying Labour values regardless of the context.
“Hopefully this is the first step of many that Keir Starmer takes to make this wrong right, and that it doesn’t end today. The apology ends the legal action, but there is a long way to go, and the way the Labour Party responds to the EHRC report when it’s published will be probably the single most important step.
“If this is the direction of travel we applaud it… But this [apology and settlement] isn’t going to solve the issue on its own. There is a long way to go.”
The 28-year-old said that he and other whistleblowers intend to remain in the party under Mr Starmer, who was announced as Jeremy Corbyn‘s successor in April.
He said: “I decided that as long as there were still Jews in the Labour Party who called it their home, I didn’t feel it was right to leave of my own volition when others on the inside were still fighting the good fight.
“I’m still a member and while that’s been uncomfortable at many moments over the last four years, I hope that this marks the moment that I can start being proud of my membership card again.”
Mr Matthews said he would “have a drink this evening” and “hopefully actually relax, because this does feel like it has been going on forever and it would be nice to enjoy not being in active litigation against the Labour Party for a little while”.
He said: “It’s been extremely stressful over the last year just going through this process.
“I’ll enjoy taking a breath, and hopefully just sleep slightly better.”
The ex-staffers include Mr Matthews, Louise Withers-Green, Kat Buckingham, Dan Hogan, Ben Westerman, Martha Robinson, and Michael Creighton. All seven who spoke in the programme had been part of a team responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by party members for the party’s governance and legal unit.
Many allegations of misconduct involved anti-semitism, and the whistleblowers made a number accusations in the broadcast about the way these were handled by the party leadership.
They broke non-disclosure agreements to do so.
Mr Ware, who led the Panorama investigation titled ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic?’, took legal action over a statement issued by the then-party leadership. The statement alleged that the BBC had engaged in “deliberate and malicious representations designed to mislead the public” and said the whistleblowers had “political axes to grind”.
The party also submitted a formal complaint to the BBC and Ofcom over the program, but both rejected the complaint. Ofcom concluded the programme was “duly impartial”.
The statement given out in the high court today read: “The Labour party is here today to publicly set the record straight, and to apologise to the claimants for the distress and embarrassment that it has caused them.” A separate statement also apologised “unreservedly” to Mr Ware.
Mr Corbyn said he was disappointed by the settlement, calling it a “political decision” and said it “risks giving credibility to misleading and inaccurate allegations about action taken to tackle antisemitism in the Labour Party in recent years.”
Corbyn allies, including Unite leader Len McCluskey, have said they believe the case could have been successfully contested.
Mr Matthews responded: “The fact that it took until now for the party to apologise says as much about Jeremy Corbyn as it does about Keir Starmer, frankly.
“His [Mr Corbyn’s] comments today on Facebook, about his disappointment in the outcome, says a lot about the scale of denial that Jeremy Corbyn is in about his time as leader.”
A Labour spokesperson told The Guardian: “Under the leadership of Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, we are committed to tackling anti-semitism within the Labour party. Anti-semitism has been a stain on the Labour party in recent years.”
He added: “If we are to restore the trust of the Jewish community, we must demonstrate a change of leadership. That means being open, transparent and respecting the right of whistleblowers. We are determined to deliver that change.”
A BBC spokesperson said the apology was “long overdue”.