Actions speak louder than words

First published on Progressonline

The home affairs select committee released a seminal report yesterday. It is the culmination of work that started on 12 April 2016. The incidents with Naz Shah, Ken Livingstone and Jacqui Walker all came to light or took place after the inquiry was announced. Unless the committee had some great insight that the former mayor of London was due another controversy involving Britain’s Jewish community, it is hard to suggest – as some have done – that this is part of some establishment plot to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. 

The report is thorough, thoughtful and is the unanimous view of the committee. This should give everyone – particularly the Labour party and the National Union of Students – cause for reflection. A sober analysis is required, not a hot-headed response. 

In the most bizarre statement issued over the weekend, Corbyn’s office have come out swinging. The Labour leader ‘welcome[s] some recommendations in the report, such as strengthening anti-hate crime systems, demanding Twitter take stronger action against antisemitic trolling and allow users to block keywords, and support for Jewish communal security’ but not one in relation to how the Labour party could do better. He claims that the Labour party took an ‘unprecedented’ step in commissioning the report chaired by now Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti but that the committee had a ‘disproportionate emphasis on Labour’. Considering the leadership had to be dragged kicking and screaming to commission the Chakrabarti’s inquiry, had – with the National Executive Committee – suppressed the publication of Jan Royall’s previous report and Corbyn himself is still yet to say Livingstone’s Hitler episode was antisemitic (see the very end of the Vice News documentary) this is more than ironic. Critically they cannot have it both ways. Either the issues in the Labour party were so significant that the Chakrabarti report was needed or they were not. If the former is true, as the home affairs select committee and many others including Corbyn seem to believe, then for the select committee to not comment on what has happened in Labour would be absurd. 

Corbyn’s statement tries to use the Jewish Labour Movement as a political shield to discredit the report, a claim that will fall on deaf ears as it turns out to not be true (which they would have known if the leader’s office had asked the JLM leadership) and more so when a ‘control-f’ of the Chakrabarti report will see the JLM are not mentioned once in the prose, only in the list of those who gave evidence to her inquiry. At the time I welcomed its publication and thought the report was particularly strong on language and better disciplinary processes. I also thought it lacked, among other things, recommendations on how the collective voice of Labour Jews would be taken forward by Labour. I know Iain McNicol, the general secretary, is looking to do this but the party must do it formally. 

Corbyn says, Labour ‘is already acting on her recommendations’ but progress within Labour is not taking place fast enough. Many recommendations are yet to be progressed and there seems to be no timescale for when they will be. Equally, Corbyn pledged during his reelection campaign to back the JLM rule change but said nothing when it was discussed at the NEC and its passing could have been expedited. Actions speak louder than words. 

Tomorrow the NEC’s equalities subcommittee meets. It should do three things: first, as I called for months ago, formally move to make the JLM a standing member of the committee. It is the only equalities affiliate in the party to not sit at this important table by rights. That must change. Second, convene a special meeting to consider the recommendation of Chakrabarti, Royall and the home affairs select committee. The subcommittee should publish which recommendations they plans to take forward and develop a plan for managing their implementation. They should also state publicly which recommendations – made by the select committee or others – they do not agree with and will not take forward. Finally, in partnership with JLM, commission training, not for random delegates at Labour party conference but the NEC itself. Some at the very top of the Labour party have a considerable blind spot to antisemitism. The NEC needs to lead the change we want to see.

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Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell

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