Working-class voters hated Labour antisemitism, says former MP who took Unite and Skwawkbox to court

Anna Turley won her libel action against the union and blog


A former Labour MP has told how working-class voters in Redcar, north Yorkshire repeatedly expressed outrage at the antisemitism problem under Jeremy Corbyn - even though the region has no Jewish community.

Anna Turley, who lost the seat to the Conservative candidate at this month's general election, said anti-Jewish racism, alongside Brexit and fears about the Labour leader's views on national security, were at the heart of her defeat.

Speaking to the JC after winning a high court libel battle last week against the Unite trade union and Stephen Walker, editor of the Skwawkbox blog, Ms Turley said: “Corbyn was an issue on almost every single door.”

“It was his leadership - they don't like the way the Labour Party is going. In seats where you had lifelong Labour voters, they knew. 

"People said to me: 'We know these people, we've been here before, we don't want communists running our country'.

"Then there were the issues around national security as well as with antisemitism. It's an area where we don't have an ethnic minority population in any way. It's not an area where people had any Jewish connections.

"I think there's only one person who identified as Jewish from the last census, as I understand.

“But what they said was, 'My parents or my grandparents - they fought the war over this.'"

Ms Turley - who repeatedly spoke out against antisemitism in Labour after being elected as an MP in 2015 - took the Len McCluskey-led Unite union to court along with Mr Walker over a 2017 article on his blog.

She sued for libel after Skwawkbox published a story derived from a press statement from Unite which gave the impression she was dishonest in her application to join the union. 

Ms Turley also claimed Unite misused her private information.

Last Thursday a judge awarded Ms Turley £75,000 in damages and it later emerged that legal costs payable by Unite - who also covered the fees for Mr Walker - could amount to more than £1.5 million.

The large sum of money forked out on the case has infuriated many ordinary members of the union, who were recently told of a rise in the regular subs payments to the organisation.

The timing of the hearing at London's Royal Courts of Justice left Ms Turley having to miss out on one week of her election campaign - and also facing newspaper headlines quoting Unite's legal team who branded her as "unfit to be an MP".

In the aftermath of her triumph, Ms Turley said she would support calls for Unite leader Mr McCluskey to stand down.

She said: "What I don't like is that one single person has basically abused their power and their financial clout to use the Labour Party as a play thing for their own ends.

"During my trial I made my feelings about Len McCluskey well and truly clear. I am so angry."

She blamed Mr McCluskey for ensuring Mr Corbyn remained as Labour leader despite regular complaints by herself and others that he was not suitable.

"Jeremy was his candidate and he had control over the party," she said of the Unite leader. "I felt there was no respect for the balance of power in the party, between the trade unions, MPs, the members.

"Unite and the leader of the opposition's office are all one and the same, with grey areas. You look at Jennie Formby and Andrew Murray, Karie Murphy - the staff are interchangable. There is no line between Unite and the Labour Party, it's a complete fusion.

"I felt that his power was unaccountable and undemocratic."

Ms Turley, who has been a member of the Jewish Labour Movement and Labour Friends of Israel, also spoke of the devastating impact articles published on the Skwawkbox blog regularly had.

She said the blog appeared on occasions to be "a mouthpiece for Unite".

"They tried to say I had this flat in London, which was completely untrue," said Ms Turley.

"They said I was involved a company that I hadn't declared which was actually a charity. They didn't care whether stuff stacked up or not. They just had a vendetta to undermine moderate MPs."

Ms Turley said she was "thrilled" that Mr Justice Nicklin, who oversaw the High Court trial, ruled in her favour.

She added: “I am very pleased with the verdict, and to be able to say that I have won my libel action against Unite the Union and Skwawkbox.

"It gave me no pleasure to undertake this action but the accusations were so serious and damaging to my reputation that I had no choice but to defend myself through the courts.”

Lawyers for Unite and Mr Walker said they planned to appeal against the decision, even though the judge ruled out another hearing at the Court of Appeal.

Mr Turley said that following her election defeat, where Tory Jacob Young beat her by 3500 votes, she would consider over the festive period whether she wanted to stay in politics.

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