Nine Black Labour MPs, including shadow cabinet member Marsha de Cordova and frontbencher Chi Onwurah, have said they are “disappointed and seriously concerned” with the indefinite delay of the Forde Inquiry.
The delay “risks further doubling down on the impression that the party does not take issues of anti-black racism seriously”, the Labour MPs have said, adding that Labour should ensure the report is published “as soon as is practical”.
It was revealed to Labour’s ruling body on Thursday, via a letter from inquiry chair Martin Forde QC, that the probe looking into a leaked internal report from last year would not be releasing its findings imminently as previously expected.
Forde, who was appointed by the national executive committee to head the investigation, announced that the Inquiry had “recently been made aware” that the Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating the same leaks.
He told Labour that the Forde Inquiry report would only be released once the ICO inquiries are “completed” and “resolved” because the inquiry’s findings could have the potential to prejudice the ICO’s work.
The Forde Inquiry was tasked with looking into an internal report, leaked online last year, on Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints. It was written by party staff amid the Equality and Human Rights Commission probe into Labour antisemitism.
The report alleged that WhatsApp messages between Labour staffers showed racist attitudes towards Black Labour MPs, particularly Diane Abbott who was allegedly mocked for crying in toilets in 2017.
Black Labour MPs have declared today that the “abuse contained within the report and the issues it seeks to address are incredibly serious and must be part of our attempts to ensure the Labour party is an inclusive and tolerant place”.
They describe recent reports of ex-staffers featured in the leaked report being readmitted to Labour as “a cause of concern”. LabourList understands that some of the disciplinary cases have been resolved and some were suspended as a result.
The statement released today was signed by Shadow Women and Equalities Secretary Marsha de Cordova, shadow science minister Chi Onwurah, Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, Florence Eshalomi, Kim Johnson, Clive Lewis, Kate Osamor and Bell Ribeiro-Addy.
One of the signatories told LabourList that the Forde Inquiry development and the handling of the news was “either cock-up or conspiracy, or the third option ‘we don’t care'”, and that tackling anti-Black racism did not seem to be a priority for the party.
“[Over] the past year, the fear that there is the creeping understanding that there is a hierarchy of racism in the party just gains ground every week,” the MP said, who wanted a “proper statement” about the news.
Labour sources have stressed that the party cannot influence the Forde Inquiry, which is independent, and that nobody in the leadership has seen the report. Forde said suggestions that he has been pressured by the party are “entirely refuted”.
Below is the full text of the statement.
We are disappointed and seriously concerned with reports that the Forde Inquiry has now been delayed indefinitely. The Forde Inquiry will be a crucial part of understanding the way in which the party has dealt with accusations of anti-Black racism.
As Black Labour MPs, we wish to draw particular attention to the evidence in the leaked report the Forde Inquiry has been tasked with looking into, which showed repeated hostility and abuse shown towards Black Labour MPs. The possibility of a racist culture and a hostile environment for Black members within the party needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency and the Forde inquiry is an important tool for doing just that.
However, continued delays to the report harm the confidence party members have in its findings. The importance of addressing crucial concerns around racism and the importance of maintaining the confidence of party members must be weighed up with alleged concerns about prejudicing the ICO’s work. The party’s obligations are to its members and not just the ICO.
Delaying the Forde inquiry and failing to provide a future date by which its findings will be published risks further doubling down on the impression that the party does not take issues of anti-black racism seriously. The abuse contained within the report and the issues it seeks to address are incredibly serious and must be part of our attempts to ensure the Labour party is an inclusive and tolerant place. The fact that members who contributed to anti-black racism have been readmitted to the party is a cause of concern and this delay only adds to the anxiety.
The party have a responsibility to ensure that the findings of the Forde Inquiry are published as soon as is practical and must consider the perspectives of Black and Ethnic Minority Members in making that decision. We urge the party leadership to reconsider this delay and publish parts of the report that do not relate to the leak but to the prevailing culture in the party. We appreciate the professional approach by Forde and his team and would welcome the opportunity to peruse said report.
Marsha de Cordova