CORRECTION: This piece was updated on 22 April at 16:00 to correct a mistake made in calculating the donations Owen Smith received in 2016
Recently published data shows Labour leader Keir Starmer received a £50,000 donation from pro-Israel lobbyist Trevor Chinn – information which was not disclosed until after polls had closed in the leadership election.
Throughout the Labour leadership election, Starmer consistently refused to name the full list of those who donated to his campaign.
Starmer’s lack of transparency was challenged by fellow candidates. In February, Rebecca Long-Bailey published a full donor list of those who offered more than £1,500 to her campaign. Starmer, the front-runner, did not follow suit.
When challenged by Andrew Neil over his donations, Starmer stated he was following “Labour Party process” and that:
I’ve got a compliance team in place who are checking every donation is in accordance with the rules.
Once they’ve done that they pass it to the Parliamentary authorities for them to publish it. So two lots have gone up, another lot is with the Parliamentary authorities as of today, I’m following the rules.
Data published on the Register of Members’ Interests now shows that Starmer received a £50,000 donation from Trevor Chinn, a member of the executive committee of the British Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM).
According to Electronic Intifada, BICOM is a “British pro-Israel lobby group”. The Guardian reported on BICOM in 2009, saying:
Britain’s most active pro-Israeli lobbying organisation – which flies journalists [including Guardian staff] to Israel on fact-finding trips and organises access to senior government figures – has received nearly £1.4m in two years from a billionaire donor whose father made a fortune manufacturing arms in Israel.
In 2009, the London-Palestine Solidarity group said BICOM had a key role in “laying the groundwork for Israel’s public justifications for the onslaught [on Gaza]”.
As Open Democracy reported in 2009, moreover, BICOM officials were among those involved in planning to pressure the Guardian to retract comparisons it made of Israel with apartheid South Africa. The report in Open Democracy continued:
Two months after the end of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, BICOM sent half a dozen journalists on a free trip to Tel Aviv to talk to Israeli defence analysts. The message BICOM wanted to get across was that they should pay more attention to Iran than to the Palestinians…
While BICOM’s work is entirely legitimate, it is by no means transparent. They never declare, for example, which journalists go on trips and who they meet. In the United States, AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] must register as a lobby and declare its activities. Over here, BICOM is simply a company registered at Companies House, and doesn’t make its work public.
Journalist Simon Childs, who went on one of such trips in 2017, concurred that “BICOM ‘simply dispenses with international legal principles as an explanatory framework'”. The only Palestinian refugee camp that featured on this BICOM tour was seen by Childs as a “speck on the horizon as we looked from Israel into Gaza – abstracted to the point of near-invisibility”.
Chinn has also previously donated to former Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) chair Joan Ryan and former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson.
As The Canary recently reported, Chinn has similarly donated to shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy on numerous occasions.
There is also significant overlap between those who donated to opponents of Corbyn and those who donated to Starmer.
During 2016, the year that Owen Smith MP launched a leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn, Chinn donated to Smith on four separate occasions. The donations totalled £27,000.
There is also overlap between Starmer’s donors and those who funded the break-away group of Independent MPs in 2019, including Paul Myners. As far back as 2015, when Starmer was first elected MP, Myners was already calling on him to run for leader.
Starmer received business person Waheed Alli’s donation of £100,000 on 24 February, and accepted the donation on 23 March. Similarly, Starmer received Chinn’s donation on 26 February, and accepted the donation on 23 March.
According to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests Code of Conduct, “MPs must register within 28 days any interest which someone might reasonably consider to influence their actions or words as an MP”.
In accepting the donations in late March, Starmer was not required to register his interests until after the polls closed on 2 April. The Register of Members’ Interests shows that Chinn’s donation was registered on 9 April.
Long-Bailey, in comparison, generally accepted each donation on the day it was received.
Featured image via screengrab/BBC