Labour chief's 'remorse' ahead of EHRC report

General Secretary David Evans heard emotional speeches from JLM officials at the meeting including one from vice-chair Ruth Smeeth


Labour General Secretary David Evans has met senior figures from the Jewish Labour Movement in a highly significant meeting just weeks before the expected publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report into the party’s handling of antisemitism.

In a virtual meeting on Wednesday, former MP and JLM vice chair Ruth Smeeth,  equalities officer Ella Rose and treasurer Cathy Ashley were among those to give personal and emotional accounts of the impact of anti-Jewish racism in the party on them.

Sources told the JC that Mr Evans responded with “remorse and empathy” to their descriptions of the way the long-running crisis under Jeremy Corbyn impacted on their mental health and on their personal and professional lives.

Mr Evans, who has replaced Jennie Formby, took part in the meeting with full knowledge of the contents of the EHRC report into Labour’s handling of the antisemitism crisis.

He is also aware of whether the EHRC has found that Labour engaged in discriminatory unlawful acts against its Jewish members.  However, along with the other organisations who provided submissions, JLM has yet to be sent the finalised report.

During Wednesday’s meeting the general secretary made it clear he saw it as his personal responsibility to make amends for any wrong-doing that may be highlighted in the report. But there was agreement during the talks from all sides that changing the culture of antisemitism that has infected the politics of the left was not an easy task.

“I saw more empathy in David than I saw in countless officials during the Corbyn era,” a source who attended the meeting told the JC.  “He was not only sympathetic to what he heard - but he was also listening throughout.

“No-one was pretending this is going to be an easy situation to fix, though. It is one thing to change the policies of a political party. But it is a whole lot harder and more difficult to change a culture when you only have so much control over it.”

It is understood that in an emotional contribution Ruth Smeeth spoke of the devastating impact antisemitism had on former Labour MPs Luciana Berger and Dame Louise Ellman.

The meeting, hosted by JLM’s national chair Mike Katz, also saw Joshua Garfield deliver another personal account of the how discrimination affected him as a councillor in Newham, east London, and as a member of Momentum.

Mr Garfield later tweeted it had been a “tough meeting, but a welcome reminder that the Labour Party is moving the right direction.”

He added Mr  Evans “was clearly moved by our testimony and reassured JLM of his priority to tackle the antisemitic culture that has taken root in our party.”

Ms Ashley said: ”It was an emotional call as quite a few of us described our own personal experiences of antisemitism in the Party over the past few years. Appreciate David Evans listening and regarding tackling this as a test - not only of Labour's  electability but it’s values. “

Another source who attended the meeting told the JC on Wednesday: “David responded with remorse and empathy, acknowledging that as the new general secretary it was now his responsibility to make the situation right again”

The JC understands that Labour has now responded in full to the draft report that was sent to them by the equalities watchdog last month, meaning it is likely to be published in its entirety in September.

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