Rules matter. Last week, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) found that the Labour Party had committed unlawful acts against its Jewish members. Harassment and discrimination were evidenced in clear detail, from a sample of cases the regulator explored. Chief among the calls by the Jewish community, the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and now the equalities regulator has been strong, moral and courageous leadership on antisemitism from the top of the party. The kind that has been lacking for years.
For some, the discussion of rules and procedure has been an abstraction that has diminished from the key question still yet unanswered: “Why does antisemitism on the left exist and how has it entered the Labour Party?” It is this question that Jewish members were hoping we would now be discussing. Instead, thanks to the intervention of one man who could have avoided his inevitable suspension for denialism and questioning the report’s legally enforceable findings, we are discussing him and not the impact on us.
This is deeply frustrating for Jewish members. For five years, we have largely been told by key voices inside the Labour Party that our growing warnings were politically motivated factional smears and that the extent of antisemitism on the left and inside the party was made up. Even more frustrating is that the same chorus of people are now agitating for motions to be passed in constituency meetings and by regional executives that follow this simple and similar formulation: “The real victim of Labour Party antisemitism is Jeremy Corbyn.” He is not.
Rules do matter too. If you are suspended from the party, unless you have been auto-excluded for supporting another political party or candidate, it is always done under the rule 2.I.8. No member, it declares, should engage in actions which in the opinion of Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) are “prejudicial, or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party”. Before 2017, when the rule was finally updated after JLM’s urging to include discrimination against protected characteristics, the rule’s use was broad in interpretation and seldom used so as to be fairly sustainable. If you had done wrong, which was an infrequent occurrence, you were largely out.
The rapid expansion in membership, coupled with a rapid growth in members saying and doing antisemitic things rendered the party’s capacity to deal with problems, its structures for progressing cases and its rules obsolete. As the EHRC report shows, this obsolete structure allowed for political manipulation and interference from the leader’s office, with all those involved seemingly unwilling to solve the problem – and not because they couldn’t.
In both JLM’s cry for good governance and the EHRC’s reminder that good governance is legally binding, they confirmed an important principle. The Labour Party is liable for the actions of all those to whom it gives agency. Whether you are a branch secretary, Constituency Labour Party chair, Labour MP or a member of the NEC, your actions within the party have consequences.
If you choose to use the powers invested in you by the Labour Party rule book, and either do or allow discriminatory things to be done, then not only is the party liable for the impact it has on its members, but those who had power to stop discrimination and chose the opposite will have committed acts that are both prejudicial and grossly detrimental to the Labour Party.
The full consequences of the EHRC’s report into the Labour Party have yet to be fully understood. They may well have lasting impact for not only Labour, but for all political parties and campaigning organisations. Apparently those who most need to read the report have not bothered to do so.
As seemingly always happened however, rather than careful consideration, contrition or introspection, there are far too many people who want to wage war. Jewish Labour members are once again the subject matter, instrumentalised by those uninterested in our voices but intent on telling others how we feel about this whole sordid affair regardless. The EHRC was supposed to offer us some closure. It doesn’t appear to be arriving anytime soon.