Current and former employees of Labour’s National Communications Centre (NCC) have said a breakdown in relations between staff and management began after the controversial appointment of an official who had drawn criticism for sharing social media posts downplaying the extent of anti-semitism in the party.
NCC staff were told last year they would be out of a job while planning to launch a collective grievance against Labour over their working conditions, only to discover the party was planning to advertise 50 vacancies for roles they felt were almost identical.
Four sources told BuzzFeed News the collective grievance was largely in response to an increase in monitoring – including of calls – which they said was introduced by Jules Rutherford, who took up a position as head of membership in the Newcastle office in July.
However, before Rutherford even took up the maternity cover role, it was reported that staff were unhappy with the appointment after it was revealed she had retweeted a post dismissing Labour antisemitism allegations as “lies” and linked to a video by Professor Norman Finkelstein describing anti-semitism in the party as “witch-hunt hysteria”.
She was also behind a petition to have former New Labour spin doctor Alastair Campbell expelled from the party after he said he voted Lib Dem at the European election. He was later kicked out of the party.
There is no suggestion that Rutherford acted illegally, maltreated or discriminated against specific employees. However, several current and former members of staff told BuzzFeed News that there was a “change of culture” in the Newcastle office after Rutherford took up the position, which led to employees planning to bring a collective grievance against the party, with another describing a “a tidal shift in staff morale”.
All of the leadership candidates with the exception of Rebecca Long-Bailey have backed the staff who lost their jobs, making calls for the party to set an example in the way it treats staff, or urging Labour to resolve the issue with trade unions.
“One specific person… has caused a tidal shift in staff morale,” one former staffer said, naming Rutherford. “A lot of staff here think she should never have got the job.”
They added: “It's just her treatment of staff, and her ideas of a functioning workplace. In the NCC she started call listening claiming it was for training purposes but was allegedly eavesdropping on private conversations.
“I mean, it is so clear she swept out the NCC because they were dissenting and started the recruitment process before their contracts had even ended.”
When asked how Rutherford had responded when staff raised their concerns the staff source said “she seems to have just hardened.”
A Labour source denied that the monitoring was intended to spy on staff, saying it was an “industry standard to ensure quality of service.”
Another former staff member said she had “completely demoralised” employees at the NCC since coming into the role, alleging that she had been “known to listen to staff conversations covertly, spy on their social media channels and has placed heavy restrictions on the movement of staff in the office.”
A third staff member said that staff who had tried to raise issues about their working conditions had left meetings with Rutherford in tears.
“We were in talks with the Joint Trade Unions Council and had had meetings with [Rutherford] that were quite negative,” they said. “Many members of staff left crying.”
A fourth member of staff said, ”it seems like there has been a change of culture in the Newcastle office, and I don’t think these changes would have been made if she wasn’t in the role she is in.”
They put both the issues with working conditions, and the ultimate dismissal of staff down to Rutherford. “We were basically kicked in the head,” they said, “it was really hard.”
Labour leadership candidates Jess Phillips, Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry have given their support to staff.
Thornberry said it seemed the party had a “clear duty” to resolve the dispute, Nandy said the party should sit down with the union to resolve an “unacceptable” state of affairs, Phillips said it was “no way to treat people,” while a spokesperson for Starmer said Labour should be a “model employer”, and the reports were “concerning”.
A spokesperson for the fifth candidate, Rebecca Long-Bailey, did not respond to a request for comment.