Peers offer advice on Labour antisemitism as staffers demand answers

Four senior Labour peers have written to Jeremy Corbyn with their concerns about the party’s handling of antisemitism today – and have offered to help resolve the “toxic and endemic problem”.

Noting that three other members of the upper house recently resigned the whip, Labour Lords leader Angela Smith, deputy Dianne Hayter, peers’ group chair Toby Harris and chief whip Tommy McAvoy have described the party’s response to the BBC Panorama investigation as “heartbreaking”.

To “rebuild confidence” in Labour’s processes, their letter recommends that the party takes the five following steps:

1. A completely independent complaints process that is not open to any manipulation or interference by the leadership or any grouping or faction within the party.
2. In the same way as we automatically exclude those who campaign against Labour, we should have a similar procedure in place for antisemitism.
3. Whatever criticisms there are of the Panorama programme, we must demonstrate that we take seriously the allegations contained rather than criticise the individuals who made them.
4. The governance arrangements of the party must be overhauled. It is not acceptable that the NEC and the shadow cabinet have not seen the formal response submitted to the EHRC. In addition, it raises potentially very serious issues about corporate governance that these two bodies do not see, as a matter of course, regular reports on the Party’s finances and membership.
5. The use of NDAs by the party should be ended. Contracts of employment should be adequate to ensure that legal requirements regarding data protection are observed.

The peers have offered to “establish a small panel” to review the claims made in the Panorama programme, advise on how to set up an independent complaints process, and propose improvements to Labour’s “governance arrangements”.

It has been pointed out, however, that reports into Labour and antisemitism have been conducted before – by Baroness Chakrabarti and Baroness Royall – and yet the resulting recommendations have not been implemented in full, casting doubt on the merit of further such inquiries.

Over the weekend, the Tribune group of 28 Labour MPs released a statement that made three similar demands of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC): an independent investigation into alleged interference, an independent complaints procedure with “representation from Jewish community” and automatic suspension in “prima facie” antisemitism cases.

Current and former party staffers have also written a letter to the Labour leader about antisemitism today. “The way the party has denigrated and threatened these whistleblowers is is appalling,” the signatories have told Corbyn, referring to the BBC Panorama contributors.

The letter poses five questions: “Did you know your most senior aides were interfering in antisemitism cases and overruling the staff assigned to investigate them? Why has Labour HQ become such a toxic workplace? Why do you think your own words and actions have caused so much offence to Jewish people? Why are so many antisemites drawn to support you? And why has this crisis developed only after you became leader?”

The letter has gained over 200 signatories, though the list does not only consist of people who have worked for the party as claimed by The Guardian and the BBC but also ordinary members and former members who have not been staffers.

The names include former MEP candidate Amy Fowler, commentator Ayesha Hazarika who advised Ed Miliband as leader, former Progress director Richard Angell, as well as ex-staffers Tom Hamilton and Ali Craft.

A Labour spokesperson said the party “did not in any way criticise Jewish members who have suffered anti-semitism”, adding: “A number of claims made in the Panorama programme by former staff members are inaccurate and some of the individuals have a clear record of political opposition or hostility to the Labour leadership. The party was not informed by Panorama of the mental health issues experienced by former staff members.”

Labour’s regular parliamentary party meeting will be held tonight, but Corbyn is not planning to attend. Instead, Keir Starmer will be present to discuss Brexit. However, backbench MPs have said they intend to raise antisemitism issues regardless.

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