Ahead of the publication of the EHRC’s report into antisemitism in the Labour Party, HOPE not hate’s Matthew McGregor looks at how the party can change to become a welcoming and inclusive party for all.
When the EHRC reports – tomorrow morning if reports are correct – it will set out whether the Labour Party has committed unlawful acts in the way it has treated its Jewish members. The very fact that the Commission is investigating is a low moment for a party which had a proud history of support for anti-racism struggles.
As we set out here, the EHRC remit is very specific, and the recommendations are likely to relate specifically to the question of how Labour deals with potentially unlawful acts. It is important that the debate over what Labour does next is not restricted to implementing the EHRC’s recommendations. Any recommendations will be the absolute floor, and the Party will be legally required to act on them.
We hope the Party is considering ways in which it can move well beyond any recommendations to rid its structures and membership of those people who are antisemites, or who have trolled the Jewish community with smears and denialism. And in the same way, using this moment for change, we hope the party will listen to Black members, and people in other communities affected by the structural racism in our society and institutions in order to make Labour a welcoming and inclusive party for everyone.
A culture of intolerance for antisemitism, and racism in all its forms
For Labour – like all political parties – this starts with a culture change. There must be zero tolerance for antisemitism within the Labour Party from everyone, from the leader on down.
Responsibility for this culture change does start with Keir Starmer, who has spoken powerfully, in public and directly with representatives of the Jewish community, about his determination to bring about meaningful change. It would be easy to dismiss his words as simply that if not backed by action (which we address below). But the words themselves should not be dismissed. Labour’s leaders must reassure the Jewish community that they have been heard, that their pain is recognised. This is happening – but it must continue into the future. The intervention he makes after the release of the EHRC report will be another key moment for this. Years of abuse and denialism won’t be healed overnight.
By speaking out about antisemitism, Labour’s leaders can also demonstrate to the party’s rank and file what sort of party they want. This ‘role modelling’ of zero tolerance is important too.
Members across the party have a role to play too. Following the Panorama broadcast last year, alongside the shocking revelations came a shocking wave of abuse and smears against the whistleblowers. Too few stood up for those brave former members of staff who had spoken out. Members should be heard – that they too want a party free of antisemitism. Jewish members will need support, empathy, solidarity and kindness in the weeks and months ahead.
A welcoming and inclusive culture also requires creating a hostile environment for those who hold antisemitic views, or engage in aggressive denialism, dismissing the experience of the victims of antisemitism. For example, Labour MPs should never share platforms with people suspended or expelled for antisemitism and Jewish members have been denied the opportunity to define the very prejudice they face.
Arming members with the knowledge to fight back
There has been a lot of talk about training. Trainings can easily fall into the category of a tickbox exercise. The Labour Party has a proud history of providing political education for its members, with labour movement bodies dedicated to that task pre-dating the party itself. The Party should get back into the political education business, providing engaging and interesting sessions into antisemitism is and how it manifests. Across our society, we need a rich education process that empowers people with the politics of an anti-racist movement. Labour has its own role to play in this.
Any political education must also ensure that Labour’s members have the tools to understand and deal with the classic, racist left antisemitic tropes rooted in anti-capitalist ideas around the idea of Jewish control of money, media and political influence. In addition this training needs to deal with how the debate over Israel and Palestine too often descends in antisemitic abuse or trope. The party has a well-known position of support for the Palestinian cause, and across the party there are advocates against the occupation. But too often that advocacy has left people resorting to antisemitic tropes. Through an education process, Labour can empower its members to advocate for this important cause without straying into racist tropes, and give members the confidence and understanding to confront those who do.
A new, independent process
It is hard to know from the outside, before the EHRC reports, exactly what has gone wrong with Labour’s disciplinary process, but it is clear that it has not been working, and that trust in it has now collapsed.
Labour must develop a new, independent complaints process and structure and for complaints of antisemitism, it should be guided by, and adhering to, the IHRA definition of antisemitism and its examples.
The precise nature of this independent process – and how it can take an intersectional approach that deals with the antisemitism but also the anti-Black racism that members have faced – is a question for people more expert than we are in this area. But its development and adoption must be a priority for the Party’s leadership.
At the same time, more transparency will be needed to ensure that trust can be re-established. The party has come a long way in this area, but more is needed, including the publication of figures on cases and the actions taken.
The Labour Party is not alone in facing fundamental issues of failing to deal with racism within its ranks. Other parties have failed too. That is not a reason to be timid now.
The Labour Party might not get everything right in the short term even with the best intentions. That is not a reason to hold back or lack ambition.
The process will be painful, especially for the victims of antisemitism in the past. That is a reason to push forward.
The EHRC report will be a moment of deep shame for Labour members. It shouldn’t have come to this. But it has. The task now is to use this moment as a watershed, to go above and beyond any recommendations made, and change the party for the better. Doing so will be good for the Jewish community, for the party itself, and for the country.