It’s a real honour for us both to have been elected as the new co-chairs of Open Labour. This is something neither of us ever planned when we joined the organisation or indeed the party. Open Labour is still a young organisation, founded in 2015 by members from across the UK who could see the limits of a toxic and sectarian culture within our party and the need to argue for a modern, outward-looking, internationalist approach to democratic socialism.
It should be a matter of deep regret to the labour movement that we now face an 80-seat Conservative majority, our party being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for potential unlawful acts of discrimination against Jewish members, and an inquiry following the leaked report, subsequent claims of data protection offences, and allegations of bullying, racism and malice at the very top of the party. All of this is descending, and will continue to descend, into bitter legal disputes.
Our party has never been more inward-looking in this century. But this gives us an opportunity for serious self-reflection, so that we can get our own house in order, rather than continue to allow internal crises to threaten to implode our party and rupture the labour movement.
For several years, Open Labour has been pushing for internal culture change and a healthier democracy within the Labour Party. We have repeatedly expressed solidarity and support for Jewish members and sought to put pressure on the party to root out antisemitism. During the initial coronavirus lockdown, we hosted an online workshop for Young Labour members where we discussed the need for the party to become a more welcoming environment where no one is left behind.
This summer, we won a landmark campaign for a fairer, less sectarian, more democratic voting system for members to elect their Constituency Labour Party (CLP) representatives to Labour’s governing body, the national executive committee (NEC). Our organisation democratically selects preferred candidates for internal elections, and our members have overwhelmingly endorsed Ann Black and Jermain Jackman for CLP Reps on the NEC, along with George Lindars-Hammond as the new disability rep and Alice Perry for the local government section. For us, democracy must be at the heart of our approach to politics. It’s good to see other groups starting to catch up to us.
Earlier this month, we made a submission to the Forde Inquiry – the investigation into the contents of the leaked report, and the nature of its creation and its leaking. The inquiry, along with the various other investigations into the Labour Party, presents a big opportunity for internal change.
With this in mind, we put forward the following 11 proposals to the Forde panel. We believe the implementation of these proposals would help to support this turning point in our party’s internal culture – a necessary step both morally and electorally.
- The Labour Party should continue cooperation with the forthcoming EHRC investigation and implement its findings in full.
- The Labour Party should make a statement clarifying that it considers the matters of antisemitism, all other forms of prejudice, and sexual harassment to be squarely above sectarian politics; that they must be taken seriously regardless of the factional allegiances of the alleged offenders.
- The Labour Party must make clear at all levels that members must not dismiss the antisemitism issue as an anti-Corbyn or anti-left conspiracy. The promotion of conspiracy theory in explaining issues of antisemitism is particularly dangerous, and part of the problem.
- The Labour Party should implement an independent complaints procedure to depoliticise these processes and prevent any future erosion of fairness.
- We strongly welcome Keir Starmer’s promise to deliver antisemitism training to staff. We would also like to see equalities training delivered to party staff covering multiple forms of racism and other prejudices. If we are to campaign as the party of equality, we must have our own house in order.
- The Labour Party should carry out regular staffing audits and push to diversify party staff at all levels, to identify and solve particular areas of underrepresentation. This may involve the expansion of grassroots level programmes to help BAME members into Labour roles and other means of formally encouraging and supporting people from underrepresented backgrounds into party jobs.
- The Labour Party must work with its own affiliates, such as the Jewish Labour Movement, and other BAME Labour groups, when reforming internal processes pertaining to issues of racial equality, such as equalities training for party members and carrying out regular staffing audits.
- The NEC must draft and publish a clearer code of conduct for staff and ban explicitly sectarian behaviours of the type we have outlined, for as long as people are on the party payroll. We are concerned that the requirement to be factionally impartial is already stipulated but a widespread culture of flaunting of this confuses the message for staff of what is expected and acceptable. Good conduct must be set from the top.
- Labour Party staff at all levels should act as neutral civil servants in carrying out the party’s democratically agreed aims, and promote a professional rather than sectarian culture. Any other way forward simply perpetuates the cycle of sectarianism, and makes the achievement of open politics within the party impossible.
- The Labour Party should formally distance itself from social media campaign accounts that propagate antisemitism or any other prejudice, and/or undermine the party’s ability to campaign against racism, whilst purporting to speak in the name of the Labour Party or parts of the Labour Party. This should include submitting formal requests to shut down groups that propagate racism in our name.
- The Labour Party should extend the use of the single transferable vote (STV) in internal elections that party members participate in. We strongly welcome the move, which Open Labour campaigned for, to use STV to elect the nine CLP representatives on the Labour NEC. The effect of this will be to scale back sectarianism in internal campaigning and foster a more collaborative atmosphere.
We must make our party a welcoming environment for all, enforce zero tolerance for bigotry and bullying, and bring our member-led democracy into the 21st century.
We need to look outwards, beyond our own ranks and we need to have a bold, radical offer to the people of these islands. If we can’t do that, then why are we here? We don’t have all the answers, and we don’t pretend that we do, but we know that these 11 proposals are key to a more tolerant and democratic party that can live up the ambitions of our supporters.
Open Labour will continue to play our part in making the Labour Party a winning party, ready for government. Only then can we rebuild, community by community, ending Tory austerity and creating a fairer, more equal society where no one is left behind.