Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief – special offer to JVL supporters

An important new study about how the media construct public belief, in this case on antisemitism and the Labour Party.

Analysis by leading experts in the field: Greg Philo, Mike Berry, Justin Schlosberg, Antony Lerman and David Miller.

Special Offer to JVL supporters- £10 post free

Thanks to Pluto for permission to reproduce the Preface to the book here


To say that the issue of antisemitism in the Labour Party has received a great deal of national attention hardly does justice to the sheer volume of coverage in press, television and social media. A search of national newspapers for coverage that mentioned Corbyn, Labour and antisemitism between 15 June 2015 and 31 March 2019 shows five and a half thousand articles. We have included a timeline at the end of this book to help follow this extraordinary panoply of events and news output. In trying to explain the issues involved, we have interviewed a large number of people who offered different perspectives on what occurred. Not everyone we approached was available to comment and where that was so, we used secondary sources to ensure that we featured a wide range of opinion.

One purpose of our work here is to examine the possible impacts of the volume of media coverage on public beliefs about the Labour Party. In pursuing this, we commissioned a national poll and used focus groups to examine the processes by which people make judgements and have formed opinions. The results showed that on average people believed that a third of Labour Party members had been reported for anti­semitism. A key research question for us was to examine how it could be that so many people came to believe this when the actual figure was far less than 1 per cent. In the first chapter, we examine the conditions under which people accepted or rejected what they were seeing and hearing in the media, as well as the sources of information which they used in forming their beliefs.

As a left wing political party, it is at the core of Labour’s mission that it must be anti­racist. In that sense, one case of antisemitism is too many. But the huge disparity between public perception and the actual number of reported cases must make this one of the worst public relations disasters that has been recorded. It raises the question of why the Party was so unable to deal with the issue. Part of the reason for this is the extraordinary divisions which existed within it following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader in 2015. From these divisions, different accounts emerged about the nature and the extent of antisemitism within the movement. In Chapter 2, we examine this range of arguments as well as the sug­gestion that they were linked to the internal politics of the Party and to conflicts over attitudes and policy towards Israel. There was debate over what was acceptable criticism of that country and whether any attempt to ‘delegitimise’ it would be antisemitic. Alternatively, it was argued that a movement such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions was simply a legit­imate political strategy against what some saw as a racist state.

In Chapter 3, we examine what might have been done to resolve the crisis, and why it took the Party so long to develop a coherent and planned response. We look at the conflicts which developed between the leadership, members of the Parliamentary Party and Labour’s own bureaucracy. Another important dimension is the role of the media and we look at how the story was sometimes distorted. In Chapter 4, Justin Schlosberg presents a content analysis of media coverage showing a catalogue of reporting failures. This was particu­larly so in relation to the adoption by the Labour Party in 2018 of the working definition of antisemitism offered by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

In Chapter 5, Antony Lerman offers a detailed commen­tary on both the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the claims that the Labour Party is institutionally antisemitic. He examines these two areas of the criticism levelled at Labour for its handling of the perceived problem of antisemitism. In the first, he shows how the IHRA definition of antisemitism was widely condemned for not being fit for purpose. He asks whether its adoption has helped the Party deal with the issue of antisemitism, or has it made Jews more vulnerable to antisemitism. The second is charges levelled against Labour for ‘institutional antisemitism’. In effect, this is the accusation, currently being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, that is, that Jews in the Party, and the Jewish community generally, face serious discrimination as a result of Labour’s dealings with them. Can such a charge against a complex organism like the Labour Party be credible? Both issues have the potential to create more difficulties for Labour going forward, with the second perhaps more serious since legal sanctions may be imposed. What might be done to mitigate further damage?

One of the issues in contemporary public arguments is how antisemitism is defined and the types of complaints that have been made to the Party over descriptions of Israel. This relates centrally to the interpretation of the IHRA definition of anti­semitism. In Chapter 6, David Miller describes the course of one of these complaints to which he was subject, the processes and thinking behind it and why it was eventually dismissed. In the final chapter, we look at contemporary developments in racism and the struggle against it. From our own knowledge of communications and policy, we offer suggestions on a way forward for Labour as a key progressive force and we point to the need for unity against all forms of racism in the times that lie ahead.

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Comments (11)

  • Illinois Cook says:

    Excellent, thanks!

  • Paul Leach says:

    Phew ! JVL The title of your email is in fact the book title ! It’s a relief because the torrent of accusations does seem to have abated lately, but with an election looming one is half expecting a renewed onslaught. Not right now then.

  • Sean O'Donoghue says:

    Expect we’ll have Twatson kicking off shortly….the LibDems policy on Palestine sounds as if it was written by him.

  • Philip Inglesant says:

    It’s obvious that Labour’s enemies, including many enemies within the party who prefer racist Boris Johnson to a Corbyn government, have not gone away and will soon raise these greatly exaggerated accusations once an election is in the offing. Can we hope that this important book will be widely reported in the media? I’m not optimistic.

  • Stephen Mitchell says:

    There is some better news. The BBC reported last night on accusations that the Conservative Party is riddled with Islamophobia. That may take some of the pressure off Labour. The biggest problem we face is the dis loyalty of right wing MPs.

  • Julia says:

    Looks very interesting. Where you say the reported incidents of antisemitism in Labour run at under 1% whilst the public believe it’s more like a third of members it’s similar to what has happened to disabled people, since 2010 in particular. Due to media disinformation (papers and TV programming) the public believe(d) that many possibly most disabled people were scroungers and skivers who ‘could work’ and were actually swinging the lead, although the level of actual fraud on out of work disability benefits runs at under 1%

  • Naomi Wayne says:

    I am going to order the book and I am sure it will be very good – but an entirely male group of authors – is this the best they can do? Not a single woman worthy of participation in this project?

  • Ellie Palmer says:

    yes! I noticed too. And rather academic and detached on the face of it from earlier evidence based critiques.

  • TM says:

    Very good point, Naomi. Perhaps Pluto would let us know why this happened. I,too, shall read it.

  • Mark Francis says:

    The problem the Labour Party has is that too many MPs on the extreme right (or “moderates” as they like to be known) are willing to collaborate with the lies for their own agenda. The Tories are – according to the CAA – more anti-Semitic but there is no traction without an internal faction supporting the accusations

  • Mica Nava says:

    Shameful that Waterstones cancelled the launch of Bad News in Brighton.

Comments are now closed.