POLITICS
10/02/2020 23:28 GMT | Updated 11/02/2020 07:38 GMT

Labour Chief Jennie Formby Facing Showdown With MPs As Data Row Grows

Both Starmer and Long-Bailey camps say party HQ is responsible for leaving member database open.

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Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby is facing a showdown with MPs who want to know why party members’ data was left open to possible security breaches during the leadership election.

Backbench MPs plan to meet Formby this Wednesday after HuffPost UK revealed that activists had full access to the party’s membership of more than half a million people - despite strict rules put in place for the leadership election.

Some allies of Starmer have accused party HQ staff of trying to “stitch up” the election to stop him from winning, following a decision to refer his campaign staff to an information watchdog for possible investigation over data breaches.

The leadership frontrunner’s campaign insists his staff have done nothing wrong and that the party should be focusing on the way Long-Bailey’s team shared links to Labour’s ‘Dialogue’ phone-banking system that gave access to the membership.

Activists were were allowed to ring individual party members at home during the general election as part of a bid to mobilise the party’s grassroots to take on the Tories across the country.

However, it appears that the party failed to switch off that access once the election was over. The party has still not explained why that failure occurred or who authorised it.

Under the online ‘Dialogue’ phone-bank system, activists can ring other party members - without seeing their individual phone numbers - in any part of the country.

The Long-Bailey campaign is also insisting that it is the responsibility of the Labour Party HQ to restrict access to members is in line with its own rules and procedures in the race to succeed Jeremy Corbyn.

A spokesperson for the shadow business secretary’s campaign said that the probe into Starmer’s campaign over an alleged data breach “should not be allowed to distract from a moment of significant importance in determining the future direction of our party”.

They angrily denied claims that Long-Bailey’s campaign had leaked to the media the news that Starmer’s officials were formally referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The whole issue surfaced at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday night, when chairman John Cryer revealed he had received several representations from backbenchers furious at the way the party HQ had handled recent events.

Former minister John Spellar also pointed out that Formby had repeatedly failed to turn up to PLP meetings, or to send a senior official in her place, to discuss concerns including the role of community organisers and how MPs could interact with local members in the leadership contest.

Matthew Horwood via Getty Images

The PLP agreed that Formby ought to turn up to a meeting of the backbench parliamentary committee this Wednesday. The group usually meets Jeremy Corbyn after prime minister’s questions to discuss a range of topical issues.

One MP, who is not part of the Starmer camp, said after the Monday night meeting: “It’s obvious that some people at party HQ are doing everything they can to try to stitch up this election so Keir doesn’t win.”

Another added: “It’s just desperation time for these people, and we need to show them they can’t get away with it.”

Some backbenchers complained that they had been allowed to write only 50 words to their local party members to explain why they were backing an individual leadership candidate.

The party’s procedures committee, a sub-committee of the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC), was due to meet to give updated advice on the leadership election.

The BBC claimed on Sunday that officials in the Starmer campaign were being investigated for possible ‘hacking’ of the members’ database, through ‘data-scraping’.

Jenny Chapman, the former Darlington MP who chairs the Starmer campaign, said Labour members would have “their heads in their hands” over the row, and called on Formby to retract what she said were allegations of criminal acts.

A spokesperson for Long-Bailey said: “As Rebecca’s campaign has said previously, the accessibility of members’ data stemmed from a failure to close Dialogue at the end of the general election campaign.”

In a statement, Labour said: “The Labour party takes its legal responsibilities for data protection – and the security and integrity of its data and systems – extremely seriously.

“We have written to all leadership candidates to remind them of their obligations under the law and to seek assurances that membership data will not be misused.”

Long-Bailey won a boost when the train drivers union Aslef announced it was endorsing her bid to be party leader.