Exclusive: Do not dismiss concerns of BAME members over Forde, MP urges

Katie Neame
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

Kate Osamor has said Labour risks creating a “hostile environment” for people from Black and other minority ethnic backgrounds if it fails to address issues found by the Forde inquiry and urged the leadership not to dismiss the concerns of members.

The long-awaited Forde report – which investigated allegations of bullying, racism and sexism made in an internal party document leaked in 2020 – provided its findings to Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) last week.

The inquiry, headed by Martin Forde QC, concluded that there are “serious problems of discrimination in the operations of the party” and highlighted the “undoubted overt and underlying racism and sexism apparent in some of the content of the WhatsApp messages between the party’s most senior staff”.

Commenting on the party leadership’s response to the report, Osamor told LabourList: “I feel completely let down. The findings of this report are clear. The party has a systemic and wide-ranging problem with racism. This is not a historic account of the state of the party two years ago, and it should not be dismissed as such.

“Unless the party’s leadership produce a specific plan of action that responds to the issues raised in this report and apologises to those who have been impacted, then they risk creating a hostile environment for Black and ethnic minority people in the Labour Party.

“I urge Keir Starmer to listen to what Black and ethnic minority members of this party are telling him – don’t dismiss us.”

Fellow Labour MP Dawn Butler told LabourList: “Forde concludes that there is a hierarchy of racism in the Labour Party. You can’t be anti-racist selectively and only when it serves a factional end. Our party has to do better.

“I was disappointed that when interviewed about the Forde Report recently, Keir Starmer said he had tackled antisemitism and that he didn’t need a report to tell him what was wrong.

“With that throwaway comment, he dismissed the brave testimony and evidence of many BAME staff and party members. The Labour leadership needs to reflect on its initial response and commit to implementing Forde’s recommendations in full.”

Appearing on BBC Radio Merseyside on Monday, Starmer said: “What the Forde report shows is how dysfunctional the Labour Party was under Jeremy Corbyn. Because it was a report on what the situation was two years ago.

“I didn’t need the report to tell me we needed to take action. I’ve been taking action in those intervening two years. Obviously, we’ll reflected on everything in the report and where we need to make further changes, we will.”

Forde’s report found that “MPs of colour and female MPs were not always treated during the relevant period in the same way as their white/male counterparts – not just in terms of the abuse they received, but in terms of the level of instinctive respect they were afforded within the party and within parliament”.

The report particularly highlighted certain criticisms of Diane Abbott made in WhatsApp groups comprised of senior members of staff, describing them as “expressions of visceral disgust, drawing (consciously or otherwise) on racist tropes”.

The report concluded: “The outrage rightly directed in recent years at the scourge of antisemitism should be matched by equally strong measures against all forms of discrimination, within party workplaces as well as within the membership. This is the least we could expect from a party committed to anti-discrimination.”

Anneliese Dodds and David Evans sent a joint letter to the Parliamentary Labour Party on Friday, seen by LabourList, stating that Forde’s report “does not make for comfortable reading”.

The party chair and general secretary wrote that the report detailed a period when the party “failed to deal with incidences of racism (including but not limited to antisemitism), misogyny and sexism and other forms of discrimination”.

Their letter continued: “It is unacceptable that some members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and Labour Party staff were subjected to this appalling behaviour. There is no place for antisemitism, racism, sexism or any form of discrimination in the Labour Party, or in society.

“The recommendations contained within the Forde Report call for changes to ensure that our party is better placed to deal with these insidious forms of hatred in the future. We will now study those recommendations carefully, taking into account the progress that has been made since the period under focus.”

Commenting on the findings of the report on the day of its release, a Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Forde report details a party that was out of control. Keir Starmer is now in control and has made real progress in ridding the party of the destructive factionalism and unacceptable culture that did so much damage.”

Butler said she was “disgusted” by the quote. Writing for The Voice newspaper on Monday, the Labour MP declared: “This is a completely nose-blind statement, and it is disappointing to all of us who want to make the party a safe space for all.”

She highlighted that Forde had concluded that there were “continuing concerns – in particular, in relation to the use of lengthy administrative suspensions” and had stated: “Further reform of the party’s disciplinary system is required.”

“The aftermath of the Forde Report should have been a moment to reflect and to learn. Instead, in true Labour Party fashion, the leadership has made it a factional issue and sidelined the racism in all levels of the party structure that the report uncovered,” the Brent Central MP wrote.

Responding to Osamor and Butler’s criticism, a Labour Party spokesperson said: “We’re proud of the changes that have been made under Keir Starmer and David Evans’ leadership, but there is no room for complacency so we will always look at ways to improve our culture and practice to support all protected characteristics.

“In April 2022, we launched our new independent complaints process, which will ensure that complaints involving all protected characteristics will be decided impartially, fairly and rationally.

“This is a critical step on the Labour Party’s journey to build confidence in our commitment to tackle all forms of discrimination, as well as to tackle sexual harassment.

“This sits alongside other work within the party to tackle discrimination and improve our culture and practice, including the implementation of a new code of conduct on Islamophobia in July 2021 and a new code of conduct on Afrophobia and anti-Black racism in November 2021.

“The party has also established a diversity and inclusive board with its union and staff networks, chaired by the general secretary, which has a work plan in place and appointed an external expert to support the board.”

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