Alex Hearn

EHRC decision is not cause for celebration, it's the crossing of a very low bar

As a party that prides itself on being anti-racist, this should not be 'job done' but a step on the path to some serious introspection

February 15, 2023 16:56

Following their damning report eighteen months ago, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have announced they are no longer monitoring the Labour Party for discriminatory practices against Jews. It is a landmark day. Finally this mainstream British political party is no longer officially institutionally antisemitic.

The announcement was certainly a welcome development but it was not something to celebrate. It just marks the end of a shameful episode for the Labour Party, perhaps the worst in their history.

The Labour Party is now following the basic legal requirements for any political party. This is not optional and even the British National Party had to adhere to it. They are the only other political party to be investigated by the EHRC.

No longer breaking equality law in three different areas over their treatment of Jews is the lowest possible bar for the Labour Party. As a party that prides itself on being anti-racist, this should not be “job done” but a step on the path to some serious introspection.

Keir Starmer’s tone seems to have changed somewhat to reflect those sentiments and I welcome his more somber assessment. His premature statement last year said that “we’ve now closed the door on a shameful chapter in our history” when it was very much ajar. But work has been done and today his statement in reaction to the EHRC announcement said “I don’t see today’s announcement as the end of the road. I see it as a signpost that we are heading in the right direction.” He also called for “a moment of reflection”.

The Labour Party did not suffer from the awful effects of institutional antisemitism - the Jewish community did. The Labour Party suffered the consequences of allowing antisemitism to poison the party. It is encouraging that this fact appears to be being acknowledged at last. But there needs to be more meaningful change to the culture within the Labour Party.

The antisemitic social media posts of Labour officials discovered by Labour Against Antisemitism (LAAS) typically use rhetoric about Israel for cover and employ classic racist stereotypes about Jews. What does it say about Labour’s vetting and monitoring process that this discourse isn’t systematically tackled and recognised? Why is it necessary for groups like LAAS to highlight these cases before action is taken?

The high numbers of complaint figures released by the party are still a concern. While an obsessive opposition to Jewish emancipation (anti-zionism) remains a normal position for many members, then inevitably antisemitic fantasies and themes will appear.

Although now largely irrelevant, the symbol of antisemitism in the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, still remains a member despite downplaying the antisemitism which occurred under his watch.

Great strides have been made to tackle antisemitism under Keir Starmer and there are other positive effects to doing it. Removing antisemites demonstrates a level of competence to the electorate. It also means getting rid of people who typically hold other unacceptable, damaging and illiberal views, such as direct or implicit support for Russia‘s genocidal war in Ukraine.

The special measures installed by the equalities watchdog have been lifted because the changes laid out in a legally enforceable action plan from the Labour Party have been implemented to an acceptable standard. The most fundamental issues have now been addressed.

Hopefully this progress can be built on as Labour continues its return to electability. And hopefully the trauma of the last seven and a half years start to heal enough so that Jewish voters can return to the Labour Party.

Alex Hearn is a director of Labour Against Antisemitism

February 15, 2023 16:56

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