“Eliminate the evil of antisemitism from our movement. That is my mission,” says Jennie Formby

Jennie Formby

Below is the full text of the message just sent from Labour general secretary Jennie Formby to the Parliamentary Labour Party ahead of its weekly meeting tonight, when Labour MPs are set to discuss the handling of disciplinary cases by the party.

When I became general secretary of the Labour Party last April, I had been a member of Labour’s national executive committee for a number of years.

I had witnessed first-hand that our complaints and disputes procedures were not fit for purpose, with longstanding cases that hadn’t been dealt with, alongside new cases coming in, especially in relation to appalling antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories, mostly on social media.

It couldn’t have been clearer that urgent action was needed to ensure our processes for dealing with complaints were robust, efficient and fair; to resolve outstanding cases; and to establish political education to deepen understanding about, and combat, antisemitism within our movement.

Since then, we’ve made significant progress to strengthen and speed up our procedures, for example:

    • We appointed an in-house Counsel, as recommended in the Chakrabarti Report.
    • We have nearly completed the process of recruitment to more than double the size of the staff team that handle investigations and disputes processes, and they have been working incredibly hard.
    • Rather than the full NEC disputes panel dealing with antisemitism cases, smaller panels of 3-5 NEC members have been established, to enable cases to be heard more quickly, with each advised by an independent specialist barrister.
    • These, amongst other reforms, have enabled us to clear all of the previously outstanding antisemitism cases from the investigation and disputes panel stages of the process. Only complaints which have been recently received are still under investigation.
    • Where appropriate, cases have been referred to the NCC.
    • Conference agreed our recommendation to double the size of the NCC, from 11 to 25 members, and elections were completed before the end of 2018 to ensure these hearings happen more quickly. The NCC is now establishing a greater number of hearing panels to allow cases to be heard and finalised as soon as possible.
    • The NEC established a Procedures Working Group to lead reforms to the way disciplinary cases are handled.
    • The NEC adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and all eleven examples of antisemitism attached to it.
    • A rule change agreed at conference in 2018 means that all serious complaints, including all complaints of sexual harassment and antisemitism, are all dealt with nationally to ensure case consistency.
    • There has been clarity on warnings and sanctions. Should individuals who have received warnings commit further breaches of rules, they are highly likely to be referred to NCC for action.
    • It has been agreed that education or training must not be used as a sanction. Education should only be offered when there has been a suitable acknowledgement and apology from the member and where they agree it would be beneficial to them.
    • I wrote to the admins and moderators of a range of Facebook groups (which the party is not responsible for and which have no official status) with suggestions about how they can effectively moderate those online spaces and requesting that any discriminatory content be reported to the party’s complaints team to allow us to investigate.
    • No one outside the Governance and Legal Unit can be involved in decision-making on any investigation, including on antisemitism, and there is strict scrutiny at all levels to ensure decisions are taken based on the full facts and merits of each case.
    • The party already has robust safeguarding and member welfare policies which govern how the party responds – including by disclosing information to the authorities – where material comes to light revealing a threat to a person’s safety. These policies have been properly applied to disciplinary investigations. I have scheduled a meeting with Commissoner Cressida Dick’s Office to discuss how we can make sure this process works effectively. Outputs from that meeting will feed into the Procedures Working Group which is reviewing policies and procedures affecting member welfare.

Further work needs to be done to ensure NCC hearings happen more frequently and with fewer delays. We have cleared outstanding cases from the other stages of our processes, and the NCC must do the same whilst maintaining complete autonomy of decision-making independently of myself, party staff and the party leadership.  This work is currently underway and we anticipate changes to procedures will be completed by March.

Another priority is education. I am committed to implementing a world-class education programme on antisemitism for our members that can be delivered in seminars, at conferences and events and online. I want to get this absolutely right, and it’s essential that this is done with the support of  Jewish organisations, to ensure our education programme commands their confidence and support. I have been having confidential discussions with a number of individuals and organisations to progress on this extremely sensitive and important matter, and very much hope we will be able to move forward on it together.

Previously, Jewish communal organisations were reluctant to engage with the Labour Party as they did not feel confident that we were taking their concerns seriously. However, the actions I have implemented were as a result of listening to those concerns and I hope that Jewish communal bodies will now feel able to re-engage with us on this issue, which is of great importance to us all.

I am proud of the progress that has been made but I’m not complacent. Fundamental change takes time, in particular in a democratic, member-led organisation like the Labour Party, where rule changes must be approved at our annual party conference. However, wide-ranging changes are already in place.

There is more work to be done to ensure all cases are dealt with quickly and fairly, and to eliminate the evil of antisemitism from our movement once and for all. I am personally committed to ensuring that Jewish members feel safe and welcome in our party, and in reassuring the Jewish community that we stand with them against oppression and prejudice.

That is my mission. That is what I as general secretary, our staff and our whole party must work towards and be committed to achieving together.

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