Coyle return calls into question Labour’s zero tolerance of racism and harassment

Katie Neame
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0
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Neil Coyle has had the Labour whip returned following his suspension last year after politics reporter Henry Dyer said the MP had made racist remarks towards him. Labour’s chief whip Alan Campbell informed the Parliamentary Labour Party’s parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the whip had been restored to Coyle – who has served as the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark since 2015. Campbell reportedly told the committee that he had made it clear to Coyle that his behaviour was unacceptable and is said to have met with the MP since and sought reassurances about future conduct. A party source also said Coyle had taken further actions to change his behaviour since and had accepted the seriousness of the matter and taken responsibility for his actions. But the chief whip will continue to monitor Coyle’s conduct for the foreseeable future, according to the source. Coyle’s team were approached for comment.

The parliamentary watchdog recommended in March that Coyle be suspended from the Commons for five days over breaches of parliament’s harassment rules, relating to the use of “abusive language with racial overtones” towards Dyer and a separate incident in which he was found to have engaged in “foul-mouthed and drunken abuse” of another MP’s staff member. Coyle apologised to the Commons following the watchdog’s report, telling MPs it was “right and proper” that he has been “held to account” and that he took his punishment “on the chin” (a claim somewhat undermined by the fact that he unsuccessfully appealed the conclusion that he had breached parliament’s harassment policy in his interaction with Dyer).

The return of the whip to Coyle – following the restoration of his Labour Party membership earlier this year – has unsurprisingly attracted criticism. Starmer pledged to ensure “zero tolerance of antisemitism, of racism, of discrimination of any kind” earlier this year following the Equality and Human Rights Commission announcement that it was concluding its monitoring of Labour, which began after the equality regulator’s investigation into allegations of antisemitism within the party. Coyle’s return to the fold will add to concerns about a “perception of a hierarchy of protected characteristics” in the complaints handling process, discussed in Martin Forde’s report last year. That the MP also reportedly previously had a complaint of sexual harassment upheld against him over an incident at a past Labour conference brings the party’s handling of this form of complaint under scrutiny yet again – another area in which the Labour leader is said to take a “zero tolerance” approach.

In other news, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that net migration rose to a record 600,000 for 2022, up from just over 500,000 a year previously. Responding to the statistics, Yvette Cooper said they “show the Conservatives have no plan and no grip on immigration”, though the Shadow Home Secretary acknowledged that support given to people from Ukraine and Hong Kong has “unusually affected the figures this year”. Rishi Sunak told ITV’s This Morning that the numbers “are too high” but denied that the situation was out of control. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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