Forde speaks out about factionalism and the Labour Party’s response to his report

Katie Neame
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“I don’t think the party’s going to progress as a credible political force unless the infighting can be diminished.” That was Martin Forde KC’s stark warning for Labour during an event hosted by think tank Compass last night. Forde led an inquiry into allegations of bullying, racism and sexism within Labour that concluded in a report last year that there are “serious problems of discrimination in the operations of the party”. A number of Labour MPs have raised concerns about the party’s response to Forde’s report in recent weeks, and these were echoed by Clive Lewis who appeared alongside Forde on yesterday’s panel. The MP for Norwich South told attendees: “I really do hope… Martin, that your report is given more of a hearing and actually more of it is taken on board, not just in terms of the letter, but the spirit of it. Because I think it’s essential for the future of the party.”

Forde reiterated what he set out in his report about there being a “perception of a hierarchy of protected characteristics” in the complaints handling process, telling attendees that “there were certain groups of protected characteristics who felt their complaints were not taken as seriously or were not processed as quickly”. Forde said: “I had a lot of worrying emails from [Constituency Labour Party] members and also from councillors, prospective councillors and activists, saying that they felt that they’d been an emphasis on sexual impropriety and Me Too and on antisemitism, but there had been a lot of long-standing and lingering complaints around the other protected characteristics.” He also highlighted the number of complaints from party activists and prospective councillors that there had been occasions “where there have been allegations made against them, which had taken so long to resolve that they felt quite strongly that those had been tactical, also exclusions to thwart them from progressing within the political hierarchy”.

“I think part of the reason that factionalism has arisen around this is because there is a perception that different groups are treated differently,” Forde said, noting that the “so-called opposing factions” are “still cherry-picking” some of the things he has said about his report in recent weeks “in support of their factional view”. He told the event: “It seemed to me that if the membership had confidence in the transparency and independence of process, there would be less complaints.” He stressed the need for sanctions guidance to ensure people “have some idea of the likely punishment for any given complaint” and particularly highlighted the issue of time limits within the disciplinary process, saying: “I hate the idea of people hanging around in limbo for lengthy periods of time, because I think that really does diminish confidence in the disciplinary process.”

Forde appeared to criticise Keir Starmer’s pledge to ensure “zero tolerance of antisemitism, of racism, of discrimination of any kind” following the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) announcement that it was concluding its monitoring of Labour, which began after the equality regulator’s investigation into allegations of antisemitism within the party. Forde said last night: “I get slightly irritated by zero tolerance as a phrase. We’ve heard it from the Met, we’ve heard it from various politicians. But you can’t implement zero tolerance, it seems to me, unless you’re policing things fairly rigorously and you’ve got transparent systems in place.” He particularly expressed concern about the party’s decision not to establish a separate legal directorate to oversee its disciplinary system. Commenting following the event, a Labour spokesperson said: “We made a commitment on all protected characteristics to the EHRC and to the public. We’re meeting that commitment.” Forde separately voiced his disquiet about the process of proscription and the “retrospective application of that”, saying: “It just seemed to us to be concerning that if you’d attended such a meeting or expressed support in social media prior to the organisation being proscribed, that your historical interaction could be used as a current basis for expulsion.”

In other Labour news, Momentum has appointed long-term organiser Rachel Godfrey Wood as its new head of organising and political strategy, announced in a joint piece for LabourList by Godfrey Wood and Momentum co-chair Kate Dove. They write: “We face a battle for survival against an authoritarian, anti-socialist leadership. No wonder many on the left have questioned: is there a point to staying in Labour? Our answer is unequivocal: yes.” Godfrey Wood and Dove set out in the piece Momentum’s plans to “adapt to a new political context” given the “limited potential for advance at the national level”, announcing a “new phase” for the organisation “aimed at strengthening our local and institutional bases, within and through Labour”. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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