Labour has been divided in its reaction to the news that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission is prepared to launch an investigation into the Labour Party over its handling of antisemitism – with some shadow ministers welcoming the move.
It was revealed last night that the watchdog, which was set up under a Labour government, received dossiers of antisemitism complaints from the Jewish Labour Movement and the Campaign Against Antisemitism last year. This morning, an EHRC spokesperson confirmed that it believes “Labour may have unlawfully discriminated against people because of their ethnicity and religious beliefs”.
According to the original Jewish Chronicle report, Labour has known about the possible investigation for some weeks. The EHRC has confirmed that it is “now engaging with the Labour Party to give them an opportunity to respond”.
If the EHRC finds the party has a case to answer based on the complaint dossiers of JLM and CAA, it may use “statutory enforcement powers”. These sanctions could see Labour forced to prepare an action plan to address the problems in how it deals with disciplinary cases involving antisemitism.
A Labour Party spokesperson responded to the news saying: “We completely reject any suggestion the party has acted unlawfully and will be cooperating fully with the EHRC. Labour is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and its organisations.”
But Baroness Glenys Thornton, a shadow minister in the Lords, tweeted: “I think it’s shameful that @EHRC are launching an investigation into @UKLabour but it’s the right thing to do. I have been advising that this is only way to sort out this awful business for over a year. I hope this will be welcomed by my colleagues in the Shadow Equalities Team.”
Steve Reed, also a shadow minister, said: “Let’s hope this finally rids the party of the tiny racist minority, their enablers and apologists who are dragging our great party’s reputation through the sewer.” And Brexit shadow minister Jenny Chapman – part of Keir Starmer’s team – agreed, tweeting: “Well said.”
Similarly, backbencher Margaret Hodge commented: “Faith in Labour’s complaints process is at rock bottom. It’s essential the EHRC make all necessary inquiries. We desperately need a culture of zero tolerance towards antisemitism in the Labour Party.”
JLM activist Ruth Smeeth described it as a “necessary step”, adding: “I welcome the EHRC intervention but today is another dark day in the history of our party, which could and should have been avoided if concerns had been heeded last year.”
So far, no shadow cabinet members have commented on the possible investigation.