First published on ProgressOnline
The launch of yesterday’s report of the Shami Chakrabarti inquiry was a missed opportunity for Labour. This had little to do with the author of the report – which I will come to in a minute – but the behaviour of the leader. To use such an event as an advertorial for his leaders ‘eyes …’ was laughable. Equally to have attacks on Be-Leavers like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage for their ‘dog whistle … [no] flog horn’ racism in the recent EU referendum campaign but no condemnation of the former mayor of London Ken Livingstone – who triggered this inquiry in the first place – or Jackie Walker of Momentum who suggested that Jews paid for the slave trade was pathetic party politics and left the Labour leader wanting. Leadership is calling out your own side not just your opponents. Then, an at best a poor choice of words resulted in Emily Thornberry – the new shadow foreign secretary – calling the Israeli Ambassador on the leader’s behalf to apologise for any offence caused by perceived comparisons between Israel and Daesh.
But worse still was at the event Jeremy Corbyn had an opportunity to put his words into action and slap down the use of an antisemitism trope – that Jews conspire with the media – when Marc Wadsworth of Momemtum Black Connexions – having circulated a press release calling for the deselection of MPs – focused his wrath on Jewish Labour member of parliament Ruth Smeeth for ‘conspiring with the Daily Telegraph’ in front on the whole press conference. As Smeeth got up to walk out Corbyn just stood there. He did nothing. He let the man – speaking for his legacy campaign Momentum – continue and go unchallenged. He let his colleague leave in tears with no comfort or reassurance. Instead, he greeted Marc Wadsworth warmly as he left the room and later as the pressure mounted he simply sent a spineless generic tweet that condemned ‘abuse of MPs of any kind’. Tweets are cheap. In a press conference about combatting Labour’s antisemitism problem he had nothing to say about antisemitism happening before his very eyes. Shocking. Just shocking.
It is fair to say Ruth Smeeth had the last word.
But the report itself was a real contrast. Chakrabarti and her team including Jan Royall, former leader of the House of Lords, and David Feldman, director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, presented a thorough report. It was excellent in key regards especially discourse and complaints. It was lacking on future proofing Labour from antisemitism. The collective voice for Jews, through their Labour party affiliate, the Jewish Labour Movement was a disappointing omission.
On Wednesday I wrote about the eight tests for this report. This was based on my essay on the issue for Progress magazine, the action plan for the Mirror and my private evidence sessions with Chakrabarti and her counsel. Below I take each one and give it as traffic light rating – green, good; amber, further work needed; red, no progress made – and a short explanation.
1) GREEN: ‘Zio’ and ‘Zionist’ as dirty words should be defined as clearly antisemitic
The Chakrabarti report says ‘use of “Zio” should have no place in Labour’. Likening ‘Zio’ to ‘Paki’ – a totally unacceptable epithet – is welcome and appropriate. The report slightly pulls back on use of ‘Zionist’ but says the word should ‘never [be used] euphemistically or as part of personal abuse’. This clarity is not just welcome – it means the Labour party now sets a standard other political parties and groups should follow.
2) GREEN: Ken Livingstone engaged in one antisemitic attack too many
The report tells Labour members – and I think they were looking heavily in Livingstone’s direction when writing this – to stop using ‘Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors’. For a report that has decided to not take a view of specifics of the scandal that caused its creation, it could not have been clearer: ‘any seasoned activist who says that they are completely unaware of any such discourse must be wholly insensitive or completely in denial.’
I expect the first mayor of London’s suspension from Labour to be lifted and his expulsion to follow, pretty damn quickly.
3) AMBER: Make clear: Jews did not pay for the slave trade
The report slightly skirts over this as it took place after the inquiry was set up but I think that fact that even Livingstone thought this was a remark too far speaks volumes. In his ludicrous evidence to the home affairs select committee he was asked if suggestions that Jews paid for the slave trade was antisemitism he said, ‘That is not true. That is clearly antisemitic—it is not true.’ Accompanying remarks from Jackie Walker on comparisons between the slave trade and the Holocaust are clearly condemned.
4) GREEN: The Holocaust is a one-off and beyond comparison
Both the Chakrabarti report and Shami’s remarks at the event nail this issue: such remarks [about the Holocaust] can only be intended to be incendiary rather than persuasive. Why? Because the Shoah is still in people’s living family experience and because, if every human rights atrocity is described as a Holocaust, Hitler’s attempted obliteration of the Jewish people is diminished or de-recognised in our history – as is the history of a global minority that has had cause to feel, at worst, persecuted and, at best, vulnerable for thousands of years. Other hideous human rights atrocities from African slavery to the killing fields of Cambodia, the Armenian and Rwandan genocides are all to be remembered and described, but diluting their particularity or comparing degrees of victimhood and evil does no service to anyone.’
5) RED: Labour Jews should be empowered to speak on antisemitism within Labour
This is the big omission of the report. The Jewish Labour movement – the collective voice of Jewish party members – was a key linchpin in my action plan. JLM is not even mentioned in the body of the report, it’s only reference is as an organisation that contributed to the inquiry.
I therefore reiterate my call for JLM to be on the equalities committee, for it to be able to lead or appoint the appropriate people to provide training for Labour’s NEC – as it oversees all disciplinary issues in the party – and the levels below. Equally, youth and student events should have Jewish caucuses so that there is the opportunity for Jews to raise issues they experience not as individuals but as a group. The BAME caucus did this effectively in Scunthorpe. There is no reason why young Jews should not have the same rights
Thankfully National Executive Committee members Ellie Reeves and James Asser have worked to get JLM on the equalities subcommittee of the NEC. This should be sorted soon. Further good news is that under the direction of general secretary Iain McNicol JLM are involved in the training review the party is undertaking. This is welcome. I am told that Jewish caucuses for youth and student events is still on the agenda.
6) GREEN: That a new complaints system is mandated
The report goes into extraordinary detail on improvements to the complaints procedure. She recommends, ‘the urgent appointment of a general counsel or other staff lawyer to the Labour party to give initial advice, including and in particular on disciplinary matters and to take responsibility for instructing external lawyers as appropriate. I also recommend further additional expert staff (quite possibly legally or part legally qualified), trained and equipped to work on matters of discipline.’ Rules changes have been thought through. The National Constitutions Committee’s role is clarified and the opportunity for discretion from the NEC is minimised.
The JLM rule change goes slightly further and should also be considered by Labour party conference and supported from the NEC.
7) GREEN: The party must resource its current and any future complaints procedure
The Chakrabarti report shares my analysis that the massive increase in members being an ‘inevitable need for additional resources to serve that larger number’ while acknowledging that party has a ‘significant if inadequate budget’. The additional staff, especially legal professionals, are in addition to current resources. This is important and should be backed by the NEC. Considering the party will not be working with a huge operating profit, this is likely to mean reprioritising existing resources or fundraising especially for this enhanced function.
8) RED: Finally, leadership matters
Not surprisingly the leader who commissioned the report avoids criticism for having called Hamas and Hezbollah ‘friends’ and the implications for debate in the party. Equally, how appallingly the leader’s office dealt with antisemitism when it reared its ugly until the Chakrabarti inquiry goes without comment. While this is understandable, how the report launch event itself unfolded shows that the leader and his office still have real room for improvement. Their manta on racism should: ‘the standard you walk past is the one you are prepare to accept.’ Had this been the case yesterday morning maybe Ruth Smeeth would have been backed up instead of walking out in tears.
Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets @RichardAngell