A misguided hierarchy of racism in politics

JVL Introduction

The recent vile abuse heaped on Black sporting stars Lewis Hamilton and England’s footballers, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bakayo Saka highlights the need to fight anti-Black racism everywhere.

That includes in politics.

Yet in both the Labour and Conservative party plans to tackle broader prejudices within their ranks, anti-Black racism is largely absent. Both parties focus almost exclusively on the religious groups for which they record the most complaints, namely for antisemitism in Labour and Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

This has resulted in criticisms of an unacceptable ‘hierarchy of racism’ where party members from other victim groups, including Black Labour members, complain they are being ignored. Perhaps in part because antisemitism is being prioritised at Labour HQ as a weapon for factional gain.

In this article, commissioned by JVL, Dr Alan Maddison analyses the recent complaints reports from each party. He demonstrates why it is that numbers of complaints for different victim groups can be manipulated and are a very poor guide to the relative abuse and discrimination they face in reality. The hierarchies are misguided and more inclusive plans are needed so that all minorities, including Black members, will be protected.

A misguided hierarchy of racism in politics

Dr Alan Maddison July 2021

Millions of Britons from our ethnic and religious minority communities suffer discrimination or abuse simply because of who they are. When the perpetrators are members of political parties, and may even influence policies, this obviously needs to be taken seriously and tackled effectively.

The media has covered many allegations of widespread Labour antisemitism and, to a lesser degree, Conservative Party Islamophobia. Both political parties subsequently published complaints data, together with plans to improve disciplinary procedures and implement education programmes on such religious intolerance for their members.

Yet Home Office statistics show that 70% of reported hate crimes are for racism, while those motivated for religious reasons, including Islamophobia and antisemitism, are around 6%. One expects less serious incidents and micro-aggressions to follow a similar pattern, given victim group population sizes.

This raises the question about the validity of the priorities fixed by each party.

Analysis of their recently published reports on this (here, here, here and here) may explain why such apparent hierarchies are so very misguided.


The complaints published by each party do not reflect the relative scale of prejudices

Earlier this year Professor Swaran Singh published the results of his investigation into allegations of Islamophobia and discrimination concerning other protected characteristics, within the Conservative Party. His report covered complaints recorded up to the end of 2020. Although some incidents went back to 2015, the highest volumes of complaints seemed to occur from 2018 onwards.

The Labour Party had published complaint reports into allegations of antisemitism (reported on Labour List here, and here) covering a similar time span. Its latest report in March 2021 was the first to include complaints about Islamophobia and racism.

In Figure 1 we have documented the officially published complaints involving party members where sufficient evidence was provided for investigation.

These are expressed per 100,000 members based on averages membership sizes of 150,000 and 500,000 for Conservatives and Labour respectively, estimated from published data over the 2015 to 2020 period.

The complaints for Islamophobia and racism in the Labour Party are extrapolated over 5 years from Labour’s latest report in March 2021.

The above suggests that the most outstanding problems relate to complaints of antisemitism for Labour and Islamophobia for Conservatives, and that both seem of a similar magnitude.

However, in their submission to the Professor Singh investigation, the Hope not Hate group advised him not to focus primarily on the needed improvements to the Conservative Party disciplinary process, involving complaints for around only 0.27% of members. They suggested he needed also to tackle the much more widespread animosity towards Muslims, revealed in their recent survey, to be between 21% and 57% of Conservative members, even higher when it came to supporters of Boris Johnson.

It seems good general advice to consult prejudice prevalence and not be guided by complaints data in isolation.

So in Figure 2, we illustrate the distribution of prejudice across the political spectrum as determined in three large population surveys (here, here, and here). No comparative surveys exist for party members but the results below are thought to provide a reliable guide.

For the Conservative Party, the most obvious divergence between the patterns in Figures 1 and 2 is the high number of complaints for Islamophobia relative tothose for racism, despite the latter affecting a larger population.

For the Labour Party the most striking divergence is the extremely high number of complaints for antisemitism, given the low prevalence of related prejudice and small Jewish population size. Animosity towards Jewish people is more prevalent for the Conservatives, yet there are only 17 reported complaints!

The Labour complaints for Islamophobia and racism are obviously very low, even if extrapolated from data for 2020, which included periods of lock-down.

But there are other divergences between parties too.

From these complaints data, up to 0.29% of Labour members faced allegations of antisemitism; of a similar order, up to 0.27% of Conservative members were accused of Islamophobia.

However, any apparent equivalence is not supported by the survey data (Figure2), which suggest that ten times as many Conservatives have negative views about Muslims (33%) than Labour members do about Jewish people (3.1%).

In fact, across the board we see the relationship between the prevalence of prejudice and related complaints is extremely variable, which seems to make complaints data a very unreliable guide.

It may therefore be interesting to review what might explain such extreme divergences, especially for Labour where it is most marked.


Events that can trigger increased manifestations of prejudice are unlikely to explain the scale of divergences

Not all those who carry negative views about a minority group will regularly manifest their prejudices in the form of abuse or discrimination.

It is well recognized that certain events in society, in addition to stimulating legitimate debate, can trigger increases in manifestations of racial and religious prejudice which may otherwise have remained dormant.

Over the last 5 years such events include:

  • Demonisation of immigrants, such as around the Brexit discussions
  • Islamist terrorist attacks
  • The Black Lives Matter movement, and taking the knee
  • Hostilities between Israel and Palestinians
  • Public campaigns about Labour antisemitism and Conservative Islamophobia

It seems that, despite the scope of these events, the complaints about racism were relatively low for the Conservatives, and complaints about both racism and Islamophobia were almost non-existent for Labour. This would suggest that, except for Conservative Islamophobia, such events either did not trigger a great increase in manifestations, or, for some reason, they were not adequately reported or recorded.

According to data from the JPR survey 15% of left wingers and 10% of right-wingers are strong critics of Israel. So discussions on Israel’s illegal treatment of Palestinians in Gaza could have generated some manifestations in both parties. However, with only 17 complaints of antisemitism for the Conservatives (Figure 1), it is unlikely this contributed much to Labour’s very high number (290), especially as antisemitic prejudice there is much lower.

The greatest trigger events were probably the public campaigns about Labour antisemitism and, to a lesser degree, Conservative Party Islamophobia. These may have led to more defensive manifestations of abuse, but it seems unlikely that this alone would explain the complaint patterns. A greater impact probably resulted through an increased scrutiny and reporting of related complaints.

We also see from the very low number of Labour Racism and Islamophobia complaints, that a much greater divergence impact than any trigger events probably derives from variable levels of scrutiny, reporting and recording.


Significant differences in levels of scrutiny

When offline or online incident complaints are submitted by victims themselves we could expect a pattern between minority groups similar to those of prejudice prevalences, influenced by victim population sizes.

However, in one Labour report we are told that many of Labour’s antisemitism complaints involved retrospective trawls by third parties, often by people who were not even Jewish, sometimes against Labour members who were.

One third (about 400/1201) of complaints in this report were submitted by just one individual. So it only takes a few more trawlers to produce an extra 1,400 or so which could easily create the distortions witnessed in Figure 1, and we know such individuals exist.

In her report into antisemitism and all forms of racism in the Labour Party, Shami Chakrabartyi advised against accepting complaints from retrospective internet trawls – and they lend themselves so easily to political manipulation.

The Community Security Trust (CST), a Jewish charity which monitors antisemitism incidents in Britain, has stated that it does not trawl the internet. If it did the resulting very high volume of online incidents would obviously swamp their statistics and completely distort their analyses.

In order to illustrate this, in Figure 3 we show the actual offline and online incidents reported to the CST over 12 months in 2016, and the number recorded in a CST 2016 twitter survey. The CST survey did not record all antisemitism found on twitter, but searched only for a limited set of ‘antisemitic’ key words.

This provides some scale for the distortion that could be produced if retrospective internet trawls, going back several years, are applied predominantly only to Labour and only for antisemitism complaints.

The potential for allegations against Labour members was boosted even further by deliberate exploitation of conflations made possible by the flawed IHRA working definition. In addition, Labour members correctly referring to exaggerated public perceptions on Labour antisemitism were disingenuously accused of antisemitism by denying ‘Jew hate’.

Had both parties been subjected to the same intensity of retrospective trawls, and for allegations concerning all minority groups, we would undoubtedly have seen a completely different complaints pattern to that shown in Figure 1.

Instead, Labour HQ clearly ignored the advice of Shami Chakrabarti by taking account of such selective trawls which resulted in the extraordinarily high number of antisemitism allegation complaints. The reason for this to many seemed to be its effectiveness as a factional attack on the left of the Party and in particular the attempt to silence critics of Israel.

The campaign around Islamophobia in the Conservative Party has also generated more scrutiny than say, for racism. But online complaints seem to have been more genuine and on a more modest scale, with only 21% of Islamophobia complaints being submitted by several outside groups, following Professor Singh’s ‘Call for Evidence’.


A Labour Muslim Network (LMN) survey confirms the scale of such online trawl distortions

In the leaked Labour report details are given on 143 case of alleged antisemitism, about 90% of which involved social media. Only three seemed to occur during party meetings; extrapolated up to all the total number of reports, this would equate to an estimated 30 incidents.

In a recent Labour Muslim Network survey, it was found that 29% of Labour Muslim members, or supporters, experienced Islamophobic abuse or discrimination, even though less than a fifth of these (18%) said they reported them.

Scaled up, this would generate 418 complaints of which 320 involved Labour meetings.

In Figure 4 we see from the columns on the left how the estimated Labour complaints involving party meetings, and generated by victims themselves, reflect the greater prejudice towards Muslims and their higher membership numbers than for Jewish members.

However, in the columns on the right, for the total complaints recorded by Labour, this relationship is totally reversed. This is no doubt due to the use of selective retrospective trawls only for allegations of antisemitism.

This confirms the suggestion that complaints from selective trawls have falsified the true scale of relative prejudice and grossly exaggerated Labour antisemitism.

But there is another very serious finding here.


Complaints by Black and Muslim Labour members are ignored by Labour HQ


Both Muslim and Black Labour members have protested that their complaints were dismissed or ignored, and that there was an unacceptable hierarchy of racism where only antisemitism allegations seemed to be of interest to Labour HQ staff.

The projected 7 complaints of Labour Islamophobia in Figure 4 are far below the 84 total we would expect according to the LMN survey over the 5-year period. The complaints for racism are also surprisingly very low. So the immediate question is whether Labour HQ staff are failing badly to record these complaints.

There was evidence of racist and Islamophobic comments emanating from staff in the leaked report, and such discrimination may play into the apparent staffer aversion to recording complaints from Muslim and Black members. The failure to publish the findings of the Forde Inquiry into this has been heavily criticised as another example of Labour’s double standards.

More recently anti-Muslim comments by ‘Labour officials’ around the Batley and Spen by-election, and the irregular lifting of the suspension of Trevor Phillips for alleged Islamophobia, have raised concerns that such unacceptable prejudice is not restricted to a few rogue staffers.

Given the very low numbers of Labour complaints for racism and Islamophobia we can only assume that such apparent under-recording must be on a very significant scale.



The priority in fighting racism in both the Labour and Conservative parties seems to be driven largely by the volume of complaints recorded, and the related media attention.

Both parameters can easily be manipulated towards political ends unrelated to tackling racism in politics.

In this analysis we have shown how existing complaint volumes provide a very distorted guide to the scale of prejudices and their probable manifestations for each victim group.

The result is an unacceptable and misguided hierarchy of racism, with some victim groups being neglected, even when often facing the most abuse and discrimination. This hierarchy also has serious ramifications for minorities in wider society, especially through discriminatory policies of the Conservative Government (see here and here).

This analysis also supports the Black and Muslim members who protested that their complaints to Labour HQ were ignored or dismissed, that only complaints of antisemitism seemed of interest to staff members. The apparent failure of Labour staff to record many such complaints, should set off alarm bells regarding the racism and Islamophobia within Labour HQ. The Forde report certainly needs to be published, but a broader independent investigation needs to be commissioned into any victim group ‘selectivity’ motivated by damaging factional attacks, including the role of Keir Starmer.

Even if the complaint/media distortions are eventually corrected, and racism  found to dominate, we would argue against any kind of hierarchy or prioritisation of prejudice. It is divisive and unhelpful to single out just one victim group for special attention. A better strategy for both parties would be to adopt a more inclusive approach to improving complaint handling and implementing effective education programmed concerning all minority victim groups. One in which we unify, giving equal status to all victims and also in dealing with the shared roots of all forms of racism, religious intolerance and other prejudices.

So we don’t just advocate saying ‘no to racism in politics’, but saying ‘no to divisive hierarchies’ too.



Comments (4)

  • James Dickins says:

    Having a hierarchy of racism is, of course, itself. The Labour Party has got itself into a very dark place under Keir Starmer.

  • George Peel says:

    Apparently, The Spectator have a planned exposé of Marcus Rashford, this week, about how he spends his money and where it comes from.

    The article may be ‘pulled’ as Rashford pre-empted The Speccie with a well worded Tweet, this evening.

    That prompted, what, I believe, is known as a ‘pile-on’ – on The Spectator.

  • Nick Nakorn says:

    An excellent piece. It’s good to see data analysis that confirms much of the anecdotal submissions over the past few years. I hope mainstream media picks this up.

  • John Griffin says:

    Very useful analysis, especially as the effects of the influence of people like Smeeth is strong in the area I live in. However, all a bit late for activists who have fled Labour, and will have no effect on our appalling racist and misogynist Tory MP

Comments are now closed.