Until Labour shows that zero tolerance is more than a slogan, it is no safe home

Without proof that the leadership is putting its money where its mouth is, there is no way of reassuring Jewish members they can attend local party meetings with confidence and security

September 03, 2020 12:11

August is a difficult month for politics watchers: the doldrums of the summer recess are pretty dull with only various internal elections to offer distraction.

While the LibDems have brought their interminable leadership election to a close, the Labour Party is in the middle of another election for NEC members.

The war between moderate Labour and hard left Labour for the support of the soft left majority is being fought out on social media and in virtual CLP meetings, to the interest of almost no-one, and in the shadow of the EHRC report into institutional racism in the party — which is due to drop at any point in the next few weeks.

Two eye catching developments last week were the separate but similar claims made by two moderate candidates, Alice Perry and Gurinder Singh-Josan, that the Labour Party’s complaints process have been radically improved in recent months.

Mr Singh-Josan began by boldly asserting in an open letter to Jews who left the party under Jeremy Corbyn that, “It is safe to come home”, while Ms Perry described in an article on LabourList how Labour’s disciplinary panels are now “constructive, fair and non-factional”.

Clearing the backlog of antisemitism cases for Labour is an important commitment, given the huge numbers of reports submitted (LAAS members have themselves sent in hundreds since 2016).

It is also undoubtedly positive that disciplinary panels are meeting more frequently — after all, there are a lot of cases of antisemitism to process (according to Mr Singh-Josan some 180 cases specifically related to antisemitism have appeared in front of the panels since April).

But that’s about as far as it goes for the positives.

What is most important is what we aren’t being told: how many of these cases are leading to expulsions.

The key measure of how seriously anti-Jewish racism is now being taken within Labour is the adoption of a zero-tolerance approach.

Without proof that the leadership is putting its money where its mouth is, there is no way of reassuring Jewish members that they can begin attending local party meetings with any degree of confidence and security.

Will racist, abusive members still be in place?

Will their views continue to be tolerated, even encouraged?

And if racist views are voiced, will they be dealt with?

Big-name Labour players like suspended NEC member Pete Willsman and RMT Assistant General Secretary Steve Hedley are still party members, despite widespread coverage of comments attributed to them which appear to be antisemitic.

The leadership’s failure to expel them suggests that it is still equivocating over taking the kind of clear, strong action needed.

What we are actually hearing are the same messages trotted out by former Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby, who in February 2019 sought to reassure observers that Labour was getting to grips with its antisemitism crisis by publishing a series of statistics — including claims that panels were meeting more frequently, and more cases were being seen.

Alice Perry’s note that there are a now “a broader range of sanctions for people shown to be guilty of various offences” should also raise a note of alarm.

For those of us who watched repeat offenders get sent on training courses and given reminders of good conduct again and again despite overwhelming evidence of seriously problematic behaviour, this reads like an organisation still far too cautious and timid to tackle the racists in its midst head-on.

Those of us who could not stand to see what was happening under Jeremy Corbyn took action by providing the mountain of evidence on which the EHRC decided to open its investigation (LAAS submitted a 15,000page document in May 2019).

There is a wide expectation that the EHRC’s report will provide the moderates in Labour with the cover to deliver the radical and difficult reforms the organisation needs.

However, that doesn’t mean the moderates can sit on their hands now, and nor should goodwill towards moderates excuse their apparent attempts to misrepresent the handling of the antisemitism crisis for campaigning advantage.

While the shift in tone has been important, the culture change required to make antisemites feel as uncomfortable on the Left as Jews have been made to feel needs honesty and transparency.

Trying to persuade those of us who were actively engaged over the last four years that the Labour Party has changed will certainly fail if, yet again, all we are offered is platitudes.

There are a number of steps that could be taken that do not need direction from the EHRC, including the publication of detailed statistics showing expulsion rates.

What is needed is evidence of action, independently verified and comprehensive data, and the determination to process cases like that of Pete Willsman no matter how politically difficult.

Until then, even moderates cannot be expected to be taken seriously on this most important of issues — however well-intentioned they might be.

Euan Philipps is spokesperson for Labour Against Antisemitism

September 03, 2020 12:11

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive