Labour’s local chairs and secretaries were last night warned by the party centrally that their online meetings should not discuss a number of specified sensitive topics related to antisemitism within the party.
The general secretary told local executives that the recent Panorama settlement and the Equality and Human Rights Commission antisemitism report are “not competent business for discussion by local parties”.
David Evans, who replaced Corbynite Jennie Formby in May this year, added that parties should not be considering tabled motions that “repudiate” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.
He reminded the locally elected officials that Labour had already adopted the IHRA definition in full in September 2018, and argued that such motions “undermine the Labour Party’s ability to tackle racism”.
The party’s top official also explained that motions seeking to “undermine or contradict” the court statements by Labour in the Panorama libel case would “create a risk of further legal proceedings”.
It is understood that the party is currently being sued by a number of ex-employees, including former general secretary Lord Iain McNicol, who allege data breaches and libels in a leaked internal report.
Labour’s Panorama settlement saw the leadership decide last month to apologise “unreservedly” and pay “substantial damages” to seven ex-staffers and BBC journalist John Ware rather than fight the libel case.
Keir Starmer’s party said it had “issued a press release that contained defamatory and false allegations against the whistleblowers” who appeared in the documentary about antisemitism in Labour.
The move was welcomed by the party-affiliated Jewish Labour Movement, shadow cabinet member Lisa Nandy, and a number of Labour MPs including frontbencher Wes Streeting and Chris Elmore.
But the decision attracted criticism from some within the party – including former leader Jeremy Corbyn and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who described it as a “misuse of Labour Party funds”.
The Guardian has today reported that Labour’s BAME staff network wrote to Starmer on the eve of the settlement to warn that he risked undermining the ongoing Forde Inquiry into the contentious leaked report.
The leaked report claimed that officials mishandled complaints in the party, for factional or competence reasons, and included alleged WhatsApp messages between the staffers displaying anti-Black racism.
Before the Forde Inquiry concludes, the EHRC report is expected to published. The document will be seeking to establish whether unlawful acts have been committed by Labour in relation to antisemitism.
Its draft version was sent to the party in July, and the findings should be kept confidential during this period. Once ‘Maxwellisation’ is completed, giving concerned parties opportunity to respond, the final report will be published.
Below is the full text of the email from David Evans.
FAO: CLP secretaries & chairs
As CLPs and branches are now able to meet online, I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on a few pertinent issues. This will ensure that the business your local party is conducting is appropriate, minimises any challenge to its decisions and does not leave the party – locally and nationally – or its officers open to potential legal liabilities. Apologies for the length of this email, but I hope you will agree it covers some very important issues.
NEC nominations – voting procedures
We have received a number of requests for further clarity on the voting systems that are to be used for the nomination of NEC candidates. Nominations should be made by secret ballot, not by a show of hands.
• Where a voting system is specified in your CLPs standing orders, this is the system that should be used to make your nominations;
• Where a voting system is not specified in your CLP standing orders, you should rely on previous custom and practice from your CLP.
We would usually expect that to be either multi-member First Past The Post (‘Approval Voting’ on Choice Voting) or Single Transferable Vote (‘Electoral Reform Society 97 STV’ on Choice Voting). CLPs should not be devising new voting systems of their own.
We advise that wherever possible nominations are taken by email in advance of the meeting to allow the ballot to be set up before the meeting. Any such email nominations would only be valid if the member making the nomination is in attendance at the subsequent meeting. Should there be fewer nominations than, or an equal number to, the total positions available, there is no need to progress to a ballot.
The Labour Party recently agreed a settlement with seven former members of staff who appeared on an edition of the BBC’s Panorama programme, as well as with the journalist who hosted that programme. Those settlements included an unreserved apology and a withdrawal of the allegations previously made by the Party about those individuals. The withdrawal and apology are binding on the party and any motions which seek to undermine or contradict them will create a risk of further legal proceedings for both the national party and local parties. As such, motions relating to these settlements and the circumstances behind them are not competent business for discussion by local parties.
CLP officers have an important responsibility to ensure that they and other members conduct themselves in a respectful and comradely manner. We therefore take this opportunity to reiterate to local Labour Parties and officers that they should be aware of the potential liabilities to them should the allegations that have now been withdrawn by the national party be repeated.
Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report
On Monday 13 July 2020 the party announced that it had received the EHRC’s draft report into allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party. This draft report has been provided to the party by the EHRC on a confidential basis as part of its investigation.
When we are able to provide more information about the EHRC’s report we will do so. Until that time speculation as to the contents of the report is not helpful. It is therefore not competent business for CLPs to discuss.
IHRA definition of antisemitism
We are aware that some CLPs and branches have had motions tabled to “repudiate” the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The IHRA definition of antisemitism and its examples was properly adopted by the Labour Party in September 2018. CLPs and branches have no powers to overturn this decision. Furthermore, such motions undermine the Labour Party’s ability to tackle racism. Any such motions are therefore not competent business for CLPs or branches.
As per the previous general secretary’s instruction, any discussion about ongoing disciplinary cases remains prohibited.