Can Jewish Labour members be reassured?

LAAS spokesman article

Evidence of action by Labour is needed

LAAS spokesman Euan Philipps wrote about Labour antisemitism for the Jewish Chronicle.

NEC Contenders Are Failing to Tell the Whole Truth on Labour Antisemitism Figures

Describing the Labour Party as “safe to come home to” to British Jews is misleading: until the party is clear and transparent about its policy toward tackling antisemitism it will fail to convince that attitudes have significantly changed.

August is a difficult month for politics watchers: the doldrums of the summer recess are pretty dull with only various internal elections to offer distraction. While the Lib Dems have brought their interminable leadership election to a close, the Labour Party is in the middle of another election for NEC members. The war between moderate Labour and hard left Labour for the support of the soft left majority is being fought out on social media and in virtual CLP meetings, to the interest of almost no-one, and in the shadow of the EHRC report into institutional racism in the party - which is due to drop at any point in the next few weeks.

One development that was eye-catching last week was the separate but similar claims made by two moderate candidates, Alice Perry and Gurinder Singh-Josan, that the Labour Party’s complaints process have been radically improved in recent months. Mr Singh-Josan began by boldly asserting in an open letter to Jews who left the party under Corbyn [] that “It is safe to come home”, while Ms Perry described in an article on LabourList [] how Labour’s disciplinary panels are now “constructive, fair and non-factional”.

All good one might suppose? Well, one could say maybe partly good - but mostly no.

Clearing the backlog of antisemitism cases for Labour is an important commitment, given the huge numbers of reports submitted (LAAS members have themselves sent in hundreds since 2016). It is also undoubtedly positive that disciplinary panels are meeting more frequently – after all, there are a lot of cases of antisemitism to process (according to Mr Singh-Josan some 180 cases specifically related to antisemitism have appeared in front of the panels since April). But that’s about as far as it goes for the positives.

What happened to zero tolerance?

But what is most important is what we aren’t being told: how many of these cases are leading to expulsions. The key measure of how seriously anti-Jewish racism is now being taken within Labour is the adoption of a zero-tolerance approach. Without proof that the leadership is putting its money where its mouth is, there is no way of reassuring Jewish members that they can begin attending local party meetings with any degree of confidence and security. Will racist, abusive members still be in place? Will their views continue to be tolerated, even encouraged? And if racist views are voiced, will they be dealt with? Big-name Labour players like suspended NEC member Pete Willsman [] and RMT Assistant General Secretary Steve Hedley []

are still apparently party members, despite widespread coverage of their alleged views. The leadership’s failure to expel them suggests that it is still equivocating over taking the kind of clear, strong action needed.

What we are actually hearing are the same messages trotted out by former Labour General Secretary Jennie Formby, who in February 2019 sought to reassure observers that Labour was getting to grips with its antisemitism crisis by publishing a series of statistics [] - including claims that panels were meeting more frequently, and more cases were being seen. Alice Perry’s note that there are a now “a broader range of sanctions for people shown to be guilty of various offences” should also raise a note of alarm. For those of us who watched repeat offenders get sent on training courses and given reminders of good conduct again and again despite overwhelming evidence of seriously problematic behaviour, this reads like an organisation still far too cautious and timid to tackle the racists in its midst head-on.

Those of us who could not stand to see what was happening under Jeremy Corbyn took action by providing the mountain of evidence on which the EHRC decided to open its investigation (LAAS submitted a 15,000- page document in May 2019[]). We are now patiently waiting for the EHRC report to arrive. There is a wider expectation that its contents will provide the moderates in Labour the cover to deliver the radical and difficult reforms the organisation needs.

Platitudes are no substitute for real action – and after four years of Corbyn anything less than zero tolerance is inadequate.

However, that doesn’t mean the moderates can sit on their hands now, and nor should goodwill towards moderates excuse their apparent attempts to misrepresent the handling of the antisemitism crisis for campaigning advantage. While the shift in tone has been important, the culture change required to make antisemites feel as uncomfortable on the Left as Jews have been made to feel needs honesty and transparency. Trying to persuade those of us who were actively engaged over the last four years that the Labour Party has changed will certainly fail if, yet again, all we are offered is platitudes.

There are a number of steps that could be taken that do not need direction from the EHRC, including the publication of detailed statistics showing expulsion rates. What is needed is evidence of action, independently verified and comprehensive data, and the determination to process cases like that of Pete Willsman no matter how politically difficult. Until then, even moderates cannot be expected to be taken seriously on this most important of issues - however well-intentioned they might be.