10 takeaways from THAT report….and a bit of an assessment

JVL Introduction

The leaked Report on The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014 – 2019 has had remarkably little coverage in mainstream media to date.

Mike Phipps offers us a convenient ten takeaway point summary the main themes of the Report.

He then highlights the most important issues:

* the open hostilty between the Party bureaucracy and the leaders office has long been public knowledge, but the scale and sheer vindictiveness of the party machine is breath-taking

* the tone – the racism, the abusive language, the sense of entitlement and privilege, the contempt for the work of the grassroots membership – reveals a thoroughly rotten culture within the party.

Phipps’s message is simple. Don’t leave, that’s what they want. Stay and fight for the policy and organisational gains of recent years.

But the Party is going to have to change.

 

This article was originally published by Labour Hub on Tue 14 Apr 2020. Read the original here.

10 takeaways from THAT report….and a bit of an assessment

First, the takeaways:

  1. Until spring 2018, when a new General Secretary was appointed, the Party’s Governance and legal Unit failed to develop any consistent system of logging, tracking the progress of, and decision-making on complaints, including those on racism and antisemitism. The inbox for complaints would apparently go for months at a time without being monitored. In the 15 months to February 2018, only ten individuals were suspended for antisemitism, despite scores of complaints requiring action. Yet the Party’s then General Secretary allegedly insisted that complaints were dealt with promptly and falsely claimed to have processed all antisemitism complaints. Worse, the approach to complaints generally was influenced by personal allegiances. Even members of Corbyn’s own team were targeted, while staff openly discussed pretexts for not investigating political allies.
  2. A possible motivation for the alleged drift and inertia was hostility to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader from 2015 on, including a deliberate approach by some to let problems accumulate and create an appearance of inaction, in order to make it easier to remove him. There is no evidence that the Leader’s Office had any influence over the complaints procedures at this time – indeed most proposals emanating from the Leader’s Office on any topic were invariably rebuffed by Party HQ.
  3. Alleged evidence for factionalism among staff includes persistent hostility not only to Jeremy Corbyn, but also Ed Miliband, Sadiq Khan, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler. Party and PLP members were frequently referred to as ‘Trots’ or ’useless’. Inappropriate language, swearing and abuse was common, with talk of “hanging and burning” the leader and worse. Mental health slurs and lewd sexist remarks were made against some of Corbyn’s team and supporters.
  4. Staff allegedly adopted a “go slow” attitude towards work, following Corbyn’s election. Some were obstructive, some gave negative briefings to the press about the Party, others hoped for electoral decline. One implied they would rather vote Tory.
  5. Party resources were used for factional purposes, with one staffer describing overturning CLP AGM results to help the right of the Party. Regional staff also operated in this way. Officials allegedly discussed purging members who had ‘liked’ certain Facebook pages and would-be members were rejected for single retweets. When Brighton Party’s AGM swung decisively to the left, a full time official characterised it as a SWP members stuffing the ballot boxes and worked to bureaucratically overturn the outcome.
  6. Factional loyalty also seems to have determined recruitment decisions, with people appointed to senior roles with few apparent relevant qualifications and those more qualified passed over. Labour Students seems to have been a prominent source of staff, where the culture was long-established of referring to opponents to one’s left as ‘Trots’.
  7. The relationship between the Leader’s Office and Labour HQ was beyond bad. Leading HQ figures opposed the Chakrabarti Report, which made some ground-breaking and sensible proposals to tackle antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Party, going on the Party’s website. During the 2017 general election, party staff were hugely obstructive. Diane Abbott, who fell ill towards the end of the campaign, was mocked by staff, many of whom were appalled by the electoral gains Labour had made.
  8. Despite the high levels of abuse personally targeting Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott and other BAME MPs, party staff monitored abuse directed only against right wing MPs. No MP who supported Corbyn’s 2016 leadership campaign and no black MP was included in this monitoring. Highly abusive anti-Corbyn messages were ignored, while members who dared to call Shadow Cabinet plotters against Corbyn “traitors” were targeted.
  9. Labour Against Antisemitism, who threatened to pursue the leakers of the report with “the full force of the law”, does not come out of this at all well. The report says their claims were wildly inaccurate, and that the campaign had referred the cases of only about 100 Labour members, rather than the hundreds of thousands they had allegedly claimed.
  10. With a new General Secretary from spring 2018 on, there was a huge increase in the number of cases of antisemitism being logged, investigated and acted on. Suspensions and other disciplinary actions increased massively. So nobody can read this report and legitimately draw the conclusion that antisemitism in the Party was a fiction invented by Corbyn’s opponents, even if it was exaggerated and manipulated for factional purposes.

A bit of an assessment

A lot of the material here is unsurprising. We knew about the obstructiveness of the Party apparatus from the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader in 2015 onwards. Alex Nunns updated his book The Candidate to cover some of the tense relations between the Leader’s Office and the Party HQ during the 2017 general election.

But what is new is firstly, the sheer volume of evidence. Although it would not be appropriate to go into individual disciplinary cases, all the generalised conclusions above are well supported by factual cases. Secondly, the tone – the racism, the abusive language, the sense of entitlement and privilege, the contempt for the work of the grassroots membership – reveals a thoroughly rotten culture within the party.

Sienna Rogers, one of the few mainstream media columnists to engage with this, puts it well: “It paints a truly horrible picture of an atmosphere dominated by politically motivated cruelty. There will be party members who recognise the nastiness of comments from the heated debates in their own local parties. But the report is shocking because the messages are alleged to come from senior staffers. It says the comments made about colleagues include ‘total mentalist’, ‘bitch face cow’ and ‘pube head’, while Diane Abbott is mocked for crying in a toilet. There is also evidence that purports to show a staffer hoping that a named young member with mental health issues ‘dies in a fire’.”

Equally, Ash Sarkar is forensic about the racism. The question is: where did these behaviours come from? Student politics is one source.

Over and over, there are references to “Trot spotting”, “Trot hunting” or “Trot bashing”. It’s a blanket form of denigration of anyone who disagrees with their world view. Worse, some of the functionaries involved seem to see themselves as a latter-day Ramón Mercader, wielding the ice pick against their enemies, even boasting of re-activating the old East German secret police. Once this mantle is assumed, the open sexism and racism are less surprising – after, all don’t all would-be assassins seek to dehumanise their prey?

Secondly, an arrogant mentality developed during the Blair years. The blatant ignoring of the Party’s rule book took off at that time. Check out Liz Davies’ book Through the Looking Glass: A Dissenter Inside New Labour, in which she recounts querying a procedure at the NEC only to be told: “It is a rule, but it is not written down”. Years of this kind of behaviour went on.

In a recent piece for Novara Media, entitled “‘I feel both furious and vindicated’: the Leaked Report Explains Why Labour Didn’t Help Me After Grenfell”, Emma Dent Coad, MP for Kensington from 2017 to 2019, asks, “ How dare these senior Labour figures live off membership fees – which many people struggle to pay – yet treat elected politicians with utter contempt?”

Where do we go with all this? What steps should the Starmer leadership to take to make sure this culture doesn’t regenerate itself? In a tribune piece entitled “The Leaked Labour Report Is Shameful – It’s Time for an Urgent Investigation”, Jon Trickett and Ian Lavery make the following demands: “First, the report needs to be published officially by the Labour Party… Second, we need an emergency National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting to discuss its contents. Third, that meeting must establish a transparent process to investigate the conduct alleged in the leaked document, with the terms of reference set by the NEC officers. Fourth, this process must produce a report, available to the public and not tucked away in a drawer, which restores faith among Labour members in the practices of our party. This report must be presented to both the NEC and to party conference itself.”

This would seem to be the immediate minimum. Longer term, a much wider pool of recruitment for officials is needed, getting away from student politics and union full time officials, and drawing on people with a background in community grassroots activism and other relevant skills, with proper oversight by the elected bodies of the Party over the work of functionaries, including recruitment processes.

Trickett and Lavery conclude: “For all those socialists in the Labour Party, there is one final lesson: don’t let this demoralise you. Stay in the party and seek justice. As this document makes clear, the very worst elements of our party would be only too happy for you to leave.”

This is important advice. There are some in the Party –Tony Blair has said as much – who would like the mass membership that has been built up over the last four years to disappear, so the Party can return to being a vehicle for professional politicians linked to the British establishment. Our job, on the other hand, is to ensure that the policy and organisational gains made over the last five years are not lost by default as disillusioned members drift away and the Party falls back into the hands of bureaucrats and people hostile to socialism.

Keir Starmer needs to act quickly to restore trust in the Party’s apparatus, so that all members feel the movement is pulling in the same direction, organised around a common purpose and a belief that a fundamentally better world is both possible and achievable.

 

Comments (22)

  • RH says:

    One key issue is missed in this analysis : that the report itself doesn’t substantively engage with the key issues of “What really constitutes ‘antisemitism’?” and – following on from that question – “Does the incidence of *genuine* antisemitism within the Labour Party support the idea that it is significant or embedded?”

    The Executive Summary, in promulgating the ‘apologia’ approach seems to endorse the idea that it is a significant problem – rather than a fringe pursuit that could have been dealt with expeditiously if the administration of the Party had not been so compromised.

  • Julie says:

    … That’s how the light gets in

  • GR says:

    I remember going into the Party Office in my local constituency during the 2017 GE to get leaflets to deliver. The staff couldn’t be unhelpful enough to the point I loudly asked if they wanted to win the bloody Election or not. The surprise for me is that the Party Establishment, and that may include Starmer, lost control of this report. What is unsurprising is its content.

  • David Hawkins says:

    This raises fundamental issues for people on the left and I believe these issues go far beyond the governance of the Labour Party. Britain is run by an unaccountable breed of arrogant, greedy managers who are only accountable to themselves.
    But far too many people on the left see public ownership as an end in itself. Our Universities prove that to be false. Our Universities are run for the benefit of senior managers who award themselves obscene salaries and put junior academic staff, cleaners and kitchen staff on precarious short term contracts without decent pensions.
    I believe it is in this wider context that we should see the arrogance of the Labour Party bureaucracy.
    To put it bluntly if the leader of the Labour Party is unable to force his own bureaucracy to be democratically accountable to ordinary members, what hope is there that a Labour Government can make a publicly owned railway accountable to ordinary passengers ?
    Accountability doesn’t just happen and it doesn’t depend on personal good will. We need theory and structures.
    Labour will need to confront a whole breed of senior managers, who are currently doing very nicely by only having to please themselves.
    Accountability won’t just happen. We need structures and theory to make it happen. And if Labour can’t manage it internally, it has absolutely no hope of achieving it in government.

  • Benjamin Davy says:

    In Plymouth, we’ve long known about the abusive arrogance of the rightwing. They seem to hold all the cards here. They can threaten, abuse and mock their ‘opponents’ in Labour as they see them. This creates a them vs us mentality, that if reenacted, is used against us – we are depicted as uncomradely or uncollegiate. And when I say all the cards, I would add that the right in Plymouth Labour can reward their own. They allow fellow rightwing, or silent and complicit candidates to be placed in winnable council seats, perpetuating their strategic dominance, then expect ‘trots’ like us to canvass for them. Frankly, I’d like my subs returned.

  • Dylan says:

    Brilliant. Tear ourselves apart for another 10 years and disappear into obscurity. Corbyn is as responsible for this shit show as anyone and I broadly supported him. The factionalism has to stop soon or it is another decade of opposition

  • dave says:

    I agree with the comment from RH above. Much of the commentary following this leak says that antisemitism is a large problem. For example, the response from Open Labour, endorsed in general by Clive Lewis on Twitter, specifically says: “This report confirms that Labour has a large and serious anti-Semitism problem among its membership.”

    https://openlabour.org/break-the-cycle-open-labour-response-to-the-leaked-internal-investigation-on-anti-semitism

    It does not and JVL and others on the left must use the robust facts and figures reported in the past few years to counter this.

  • jenny Mahimbo says:

    The party needs a root and branch reassessment of important processes – the disciplinary procedures which aren’t fit for purpose. The Chakrabarti report recommendations need to be carried out. The recruitment procedures likewise to stop the neporism and gerrymandering. Management accountability and lack of transparency must be addrressed.

    Senior staff were able to get away with what they did because the disciplinary and recruitemnt procedures enabled them to do it. And for the victims of this outrage need an apology and a re-investigation of their cases.

    The toxicity stretched down to CLP level – the language and behaviour documented in the report are eerily similar to those used by the right at CLP level – unevidence accusations, the constant calling those of the left as “trots” has been an everyday occurrence in my CLP. The perpetrators obvious felt safe in the knowledge that their backs were being protected by those in positions of power.

  • Dr ALAN MADDISON says:

    On the famous Panorama programme Mike Creighton said prior to 2015 there had hardly been any complaints for racism or antisemitism. Some claim that the sudden increase in allegations of antisemitism was related to the influx of Corbyn supporters.

    It is true that 1201 actionable cases (report has same data as presented by Jennie Formby some time ago) is a lot compared with pre 2015, even if only involving 0.24% members

    But the increases in police reported crimes in wider society are thought to be due to increased willingness of victims to report, and better police recording procedures. In fact crime surveys suggest actual hate crimes declined.

    I think this increased reporting of Labour antisemitic incidents is related to groups/ individuals increasingly trawling social media rather than a true increase in events. The LAAS and others, but even the CST have started to do this, and have fed their findings into Labour HQ only recently (over 200 for 2019)!

    No other party had been subject to such trawls.

    We would expect under equal scrutiny, 70x more Labour racist allegations than those for antisemitism. We never hear of these. Why?

  • Linda Edmondson says:

    I’ve downloaded a copy of the report and so far have read sections of it. The revelations about the WhatsApp group and substantial quotations from their exchanges are horrifying, though not surprising, considering the virulence of the hostility to Corbyn from too many of his own MPs and party officials for the almost five years of his leadership.
    What concerns me more in this document is the acceptance of the claim that Labour had (or has) a serious problem with antisemitism. I don’t doubt that there have been far too many antisemitic utterances by Labour Party members that have been picked up on social media, but the report repeats claims about allegedly antisemitic statements made by public figures such as Ken Livingstone or Chris Williamson which are quite simply inaccurate. The most glaring example that I’ve picked up so far is this one:
    “That night it emerged Williamson had told a Sheffield Momentum meeting that the Party had been “too apologetic” about antisemitism, resulting in complaints being received.” Many of us at the time wrote (unpublished) letters of complaint to the Guardian et al, pointing out that this statement was a travesty of what Williamson actually said at the meeting. It disturbs me that the author of this report has simply repeated the travesty. I expect to find many more such instances when I read the report in more detail. I can see that the author is making a claim that Corbyn’s team went out of their way to rid the party of antisemitism and that they were defeated by the GLU faction, but I don’t want to see party members who have been disciplined or expelled for alleged antisemitism being falsely incriminated a second time by this report.

  • Andrew Hornung says:

    Firstly I want to support RH’s comment regarding the point of view of the report. The report, for all its detailed work on the exposing the moral foulness, obstructiveness and deceit of the GLU accepts that there is widespread anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism creates a useful framework for deciding who is and who isn’t an anti-Semite.
    On the first point the report offers no evidence. To some degree that is not surprising: it is clear that its remit was limited to the operational aspect of the Governance and Legal Unit’s work. Nevertheless, the report needed somewhere to include caveats, making it clear that the size of the anti-Semitism problem is not reliably reflected in the number of complaints made or sanctions imposed. The tiny fragment of the anti-Semitism jigsaw I see from my CLP and from past experiences in others and from my personal acquaintanceship with some people charged with anri-Semitism suggest that the report is wrong on this.
    Secondly the report makes as one of its recommendations – the only political as distinct from organisational one – the adoption of all 11 of the IHRA definition’s associated examples. It attributes many of the problems regarding the fight against anti-Semitism as stemming from the failure of the GLU properly to implement this definition (as well as the recommendations in the Royall and Chakrabarti reports). There is no attempt to assess the much contested usefulness of that definition.

    It is important that JVL make an “official” statement that makes clear what the political assumptions underpinning the report are and, where necessary, challenging them. After all, it is not true that our enemy’s enemy is our friend.

    Finally a reflection. The publication of the report interrupted my frequently postponed reading of Avi Shlaim’s book “The Iron Wall – Israel and the Arab World”. One thing that comes out of Shlaim’s forensic analysis of Israel’s policy at any given moment is that it is cannot be read – as a literalist might read the Bible – as the simple outcome of the ideological foundations of Zionism, but need to be understood by considering the views of various actors (themselves not always consistent) and cultural milieux. In the case of Shlaim’s concerns, there is little focus on party machines but a great deal on factionalism and the interaction (and interchange) between the military, diplomatic and party-political spheres. Shlaim reveals areas of misinformation, lack of information and confusion in order to further our understanding of his subject. When trying to analyse the current situation in our Party, we have to try to do the same thing. The most powerful argument against conspiracy theories is to observe how many conspiracies there are.

  • Anthony Baldwin says:

    “So nobody can read this report and legitimately draw the conclusion that antisemitism in the Party was a fiction invented by Corbyn’s opponents, even if it was exaggerated and manipulated for factional purposes.”
    RH in the comment above raises the question that undermines the above statement. The Parliamentary Committees’ Report which showed the nature of AS in Labour as insignificant in terms of that in other Parties or the General Public doesn’t match the impression created here that there really is something significant to be worried about.
    The real problem is the animosity to our move away from the Right Wing of Progress and the classification of anti-Zionist and anti- Apartheid criticisms as being anti-semitic. Surely this should be the one area that we are trying to eliminate or at least isolate so that it can no longer be an easy source for our enemies to attack.
    The above quote is playing into the Zionist’s hands and should be rephrased to bring a closer focus on what is an acceptable with the necessity of Labour adopting the type of definition proposed by Jeremy Corbyn and Shami Chakrabati and explaining clearly why the IHRA conflationary clauses have to be ditched.

  • Julie Hope says:

    This is a really good summary, although I have not yet read the full report. I am, however, concerned that no mention has been made of what happens to these vile perpetrators with their obscene language and acts of sabotage. I believe that they should be expelled from their positions immediately, with no pay and then face criminal charges.

  • diane datson says:

    Was t quite sure how deep the rottenness went – could see how labour MPs collaborated with the media but it’s shocking to read how the whole machine is so depraved.

  • Paul Crowther says:

    The link to the original Labour Hub article has an extra h so it starts hhttps:// and doesn’t work.
    Good article!

    [Thanks – sorted!]

  • Diamond Versi says:

    There are 3 members in my family who joined the Labour Party in 2015 in order to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the leadership election. We have all decided not to renew our membership which is due for renewal in September. We shall still vote for Labour because we could not contemplate voting for the Tory scums. I am persuaded, time and again, not to leave but fight within the party. But what can we do to influence the leadership apart from protesting in vain? We shall also wait and see how Starmer responds and acts on the current issues such as the report and his dealings with the Jewish BOD’s unreasonable pledges in the next few months. I do not wish to fund the astronomical salaries of the undeserving party officials.

  • Mark Elf says:

    The link to the original article doesn’t appear to work
    [Thanks – sorted]

  • I am slowly working my way through this report. The volume of abuse, the absolute nastiness and vindictiveness is shocking. What is absolutely clear is that the ashen faced Sam Matthews of Panorama concerned about antisemitism is not the Sam Matthews of this report.

    One thing is clear, actual racist abuse bothered them not a jot.

    I have one bone to pick. My name was a search terms. If you associated with me you were targeted. Why? Because my name is obviously Jewish. Clearly discriminatory and anti-Semitic. If I’d been called Jones or Smith would that have happened.

    Starmer’s reaction is interesting. He goes for the whistleblower rather than dealing with the message. The only reason I can think of is that not only does he sympathise with those criticised but he was also in touch with them during the coup and after.

    It is clear they were in touch with Tom Watson. I suspect with other MPs too.

    I also suspect that McNicol and others were keeping the state and MI5 informed. This was part of a Very Secret Coup. I shall be blogging on this when I have waded through the tedium

  • Edward Hill says:

    This report, clearly intended to show the EHRC how well Labour under Formby has been dealing with antisemitism complaints, in contrast to the previous regime, seems to have a takeaway for JVL supporters.
    One of the major points the report seeks to make is that the focus by the Governance and Legal Unit on suspending and excluding Corbyn supporters not only diverted its attention away from antisemitism complaints, but also “it was these factional purges that created distrust among the membership and played a big role in creating the antisemitism crisis in Labour.” The writers go on to quote Adam Langleben (then JLM Campaigns Officer)as an authority on this period: “It enabled a conspiracy theory to develop around the idea that the Labour establishment was trying to stop people from taking part in Labour Party democracy. And I think that was the sort of root as to how this sort of antisemitic conspiratorial thinking started in the party.”
    That statement appears three times, most notably in the section on ‘denialism’,”the term staff use to refer to a range of statements about the scale and severity of antisemitism in Labour that views disciplinary actions taken in antisemitism cases as part of a ‘purge’ or ‘witchhunt’.” (pp 774 et seq.) The issue of denialism seems to have been a particular focus for GLU in the last month’s of Corbyn’ s leadership, examining “the problem of dealing with members who advocate denialist narratives that do not necessarily have antisemitic elements, but who persistently insist on these narratives in a manner that undermines the Party’s opposition to antisemitism and alienates Jewish members.”; and agreeing ” the formulation of “jeopardising the party’s fight against antisemitism and making Labours spaces unwelcoming and exclusionary to many Jewish people” may appropriately cover this, enabling the Party to “clearly distinguish between people who’ve just shared an article or two downplaying the issue, and the people who spend their waking night and day aggressively campaigning on this.” “At a meeting on Friday 24 January 2020 senior GLU staff…then discussed the issue of individuals “not crossing lines but persistent problematic behaviour. Brings Party into disrepute” , resolving to “put something in Matrix on this, but be clear this is sensitive/contentious issue.”
    These revelations shed light on the recently highlighted treatment of Asa Winstanley and Anne Mitchell – and no doubt more will follow.

  • dave says:

    To add, let’s be clear: as JVL has reported, the disciplinary targeting of members for innocuous things on social media has picked up pace under Formby and co, and this issue of ‘denialism’ has taken hold as a clever trick that seeks only to reinforce the message that Labour has a major problem and to deflect the real issues of political difference in play that are nothing to do with antisemitism.

  • Julie says:

    Stay in the party, we need you. I hope Leonard Cohen’s Anthem lifts your spirits: https://youtu.be/6wRYjtvIYK0

    “Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in …”
    That’

  • Patrick Bailey says:

    I was not aware of the depth of rotteness within the Labour hierachy. However, the lack of support for a Labour victory, under Corbyn, in the 2017 campaign from the likes of Kinnock, Woodcock, etc.

    The look of disbelief on their faces when Labour came so, so close to what seemed an impossible victory made me sick to my stomach..

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