Yesterday was a watershed moment for the Labour Party. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission published the results of its two-year investigation into the Labour Party. Its forensic and damning report found that the party had broken the law. This is a complete vindication for the Jewish Labour Movement, our members and the Jewish community.
In an unprecedented move, the EHRC issued an unlawful acts notice on three counts: harassment of its members; political interference by the party’s leadership in relation to antisemitism complaints; and its failure to provide adequate training on anti-Jewish racism. To put this in context, the EHRC didn’t issue such a notice when it investigated the Met Police for racism.
This underlines the real pain and anguish Jewish Labour members experienced over the last five years. Not just the high profile MPs, like Louise Ellman, Luciana Berger, Margaret Hodge and Ruth Smeeth, shameful though the harassment directed against them was. Too many ordinary Jewish members, who had spent decades campaigning for Labour, were forced to withdraw from party meetings, down tools at election time or even leave the party in which they had grown up.
We spent the last five years facing a strange double jeopardy: suffering racism and then being told online or in local party meetings that this was fabricated and that we were “weaponising” this abuse for factional advantage or to stifle debate. We were dismissed as “red Tories” – why else would we make this up – Kafkaesque logic that further marginalised and dismissed our experiences.
Yesterday’s report is clear: this was wrong. And Keir Starmer made it equally clear: denial of anti-Jewish racism is part and parcel of that same discrimination. The EHRC demonstrated the scale and seriousness of the problem. If you don’t accept this report, or the Commission’s legitimacy, you’ve got no place in the party.
JLM didn’t refer the party to the EHRC on a whim. It was only after years of having our good faith engagement thrown back at us that we knew there was no chance Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership would truly listen or decisively act. We had to stand up for our members – and our real Labour values – by going to the equalities watchdog that Labour itself had created.
The EHRC is clear: Labour under Corbyn had numerous opportunities to improve processes and fix the problem, but refused to do so. And it draws a line under the fiction that somehow it was all the fault of an old regime and that things were improving under Corbyn’s general secretary Jennie Formby. Despite taking full control of the party’s machinery in 2018, the EHRC said political interference in disciplinary cases continued right up to last year.
In truth, the previous leadership’s only success on antisemitism was the rigour with which they interfered to protect their political allies, downplayed the issue and gaslighted those who spoke up against it. And the Commission’s investigation of Labour’s cases shows how serious and grievous the attacks Jewish members faced was. Of the cases they sampled, one in three went beyond mere racist abuse, and met the legal threshold for harassment.
A dysfunctional system, overlaid with direct political interference and a total absence of moral leadership all led us to this landmark judgement by the independent statutory regulator. Of course, yesterday should never have been about yesterday’s man. But Corbyn’s stubborn refusal to accept the factual independent findings of the EHRC, to take any responsibility for what happened under his watch and his insistence that the problem was exaggerated for political advantage, meant that the party had to take action.
No doubt there will be many political ramifications from the brave and correct decision to suspend him. If you want a dividing line, accepting the legitimacy of the EHRC and its findings is a fine place to plant our flag under this new leadership.
But ultimately, that is a sideshow. There is now much to be done, starting with the party delivering an action plan by mid-December to the EHRC. We need to institute an independent disciplinary system, stamp out casual bullying and intimidation, and roll out a proper education programme.
Given the clear political leadership Starmer has shown, and the decisive action that Labour has taken, JLM is willing and ready to re-engage with Labour to help clear up this mess and put this shameful period behind us.
We’re enormously grateful to our allies who have supported us on this long journey, and the brave whistleblowers who had the moral courage to come forward. Most of all, I’m proud of the way we have stood up for Jewish Labour members, speaking truth to power in our fight against racism. It’s what we’ve done over our hundred years of affiliation to the party. We won’t change tack now, but it’s good to be back.