Here’s the real reason why the Keir Starmer data row has his allies worried

The history of fixes in Labour is long: and Starmer’s allies fear he may be the latest entry in the series

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A row has erupted in Labour after the party’s headquarters reported two members of Keir Starmer’s campaign team to the information commissioner for alleged breaches of data protection.

The Starmer campaign thinks that they are subject to what one member described as a situation “straight out of Lewis Carroll”: they produced evidence that Labour’s Dialogue system for contacting members and voters could be abused during the leadership election and reported it to the party HQ, only for HQ to report them to the information commissioner.

On HQ’s part, they insist that the breach had to be reported and that it is out of their hands. Who’s right? Well, it’s unknowable.

What we do know is that Labour’s longest-running tradition is that whichever faction controls the party machinery uses every trick in the rulebook to damage its opponents, and that access to the party membership’s contact details is sharply restricted in order to advantage their preferred candidates.

In leadership elections, the preferred candidate of “the office” loses more often than they win – just because there is a longstanding tradition of doing something in the Labour Party doesn’t mean it is done well – and there is no reason to suppose that the backing of the party machinery will end any better for Rebecca Long-Bailey than it did for David Miliband in 2010 or Yvette Cooper in 2015. But the fact that Labour’s salaried staff are, in the main, backing Long-Bailey is the main reason why the data row is causing nerves to fray among supporters of Starmer. They know that the history of rulebook manipulation in Labour is long: and fear that their candidate might yet end up as the latest entry in a long series. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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