Jennie Formby: strong, principled, refusing to be cowed

JVL Introduction

A letter to Jeremy Corby yesterday from Louise Ellman, Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger, John Mann, Catherine McKinnell, Ruth Smeeth and Wes Streeting – the usual suspects –  receives a detailed reply and a refutation of its snide insinuations in a strong response by Labour’s General Secretary.

Congratulations to Skwawkbox for obtaining and publicising Jennie Formby’s response.

Excl: Formby’s email to MPs deals with complaints in full – but reminds them of proper party procedure


Labour general secretary Jennie Formby has responded in detail to an email by seven back-bench MPs complaining about her report to the ‘PLP’ (parliamentary Labour party) on Labour’s efforts to deal with antisemitism complaints.

The SKWAWKBOX has obtained the whole response from a parliamentary source. Ms Formby’s detailed response addresses the points raised by the seven MPs – an impressive grasp of detail at short notice.

But she reminds the whole PLP that such issues are not the business of Jeremy Corbyn and complaints to him are misdirected, as well as pointing out, as the SKWAWKBOX revealed earlier, that many complaints are being made about people who are not Labour members:

Dear Parliamentary Labour Party,

I write in response to a letter dated 11th February to Jeremy Corbyn from Louise Ellman, Margaret Hodge, Luciana Berger, John Mann, Catherine McKinnell, Ruth Smeeth and Wes Streeting.

This letter expresses disappointment that no one was present at the PLP on 11th February to give an oral report in accordance with the PLP motion passed on 4th February.

As you know, I circulated a written report prior to the PLP on 4th February, at which I also gave a detailed oral report of some 25 minutes, where I responded to a number of the points raised in the motion. I then provided a further detailed written report which was circulated prior to the latest PLP on 11th February.

On the point of my attendance at the PLP meeting, I had previously indicated that I was not available on 11th February. John Cryer wrote to me on 5th February, copying three of the signatories of the latest letter. He said, “I realise that I committed you to report back to the PLP next week when you had not made that commitment. This was a misunderstanding on my part and I apologise for that”.

He went on to ask me to produce a written report, which I did, and he advised me that another speaker had been arranged for 11th February so I am surprised that there were complaints about my failure to attend the PLP.

The PLP will be familiar with the fact that your letter of yesterday refers to administrative matters which are in the remit of the General Secretary so in response to the questions raised:

There was no consistent or comprehensive system for recording and processing complaints prior to April 2018.

To identify complaints of antisemitism, staff would have to go through every single complaint received in the earlier period. This would be hugely time-consuming and would take their efforts away from the important task of processing complaints.

My report provides a reference period against which to measure future data.

Whilst I cannot provide the full detail of statistics for the earlier period, I can confirm that up to April 2018, the NCC expelled seven members, gave extended periods of suspension to three, and issued one member with a formal warning.

It is not appropriate for me to share confidential financial information with anyone other than the NEC Business Board, but I can confirm that there has been significant investment in stamping out the issue of antisemitism. This includes hiring independent external counsel to advise antisemitism panels, hiring an additional six staff to process complaints, and increasing the NCC from eleven to twenty five panel members.

Points 3, 4 and 5 of your letter concern the matter of training. I covered training in my oral report as well as in my written reports. To reiterate, while discussions are taking place, no organisation has yet been commissioned to either develop or deliver education and training. This is because I gave a commitment that Jewish community organisations would be consulted before anything is finalised. I will be reaching out to them again, enclosing both reports that I have submitted to the PLP, and inviting them to engage on this vital issue.

I also responded to the issue about complainants in my oral report to PLP. It is not possible to provide maximum timescales within which to respond, as some more complex investigations take a considerable period of time but I agreed that this issue requires further work and that complainants should be updated in a timely manner. The NEC Procedures Working Group will look at this. We receive a number of ‘dossier’ complaints from third parties, many of which duplicate other complaints received, so how we respond to and update these third parties requires further examination.

In both my oral report to PLP, and subsequently in my written report, I replied to the issues raised in points 7 and 8 of your letter about how the party engages with targets of antisemitic abuse and the duty of care to elected representatives.

We have a strong and comprehensive set of safeguarding policies. These were singled out for praise by the Deputy Leader following the presentation of them to the last NEC.

The NEC Procedures Working Group is also continuing to consider our duty of care to all members, including elected representatives, particularly when third parties report matters that are trailed widely in the media. I take these issues very seriously and I have arranged meetings with Commissioner Cressida Dick’s team at the Metropolitan Police, and the Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team to seek their advice on these issues.

In view of the above, of my lengthy oral report on 4th February and of my detailed written reports on both 4th and 11th February, I absolutely reject the suggestion in the letter that the leadership of the party has ignored the views of the PLP.

It is clear that our team has been working extremely hard to turn these issues around as efficiently as possible. The constant and often public criticism of our dedicated and talented staff team is unacceptable and is causing them considerable distress. Of course, processes can always be improved, and I remain committed to that. I welcome the efforts of MPs to work together with us to help us resolve the issue.

Finally, I am pleased that our improved procedures allow me to be able to correct an account of a submission made at yesterday’s PLP meeting regarding a dossier submitted with 200 examples. The 200 examples do not relate to 200 separate individuals. They relate to 111 individuals reported of whom only 20 were members.

I regularly attend meetings of the Parliamentary Committee where only a matter of weeks ago, accompanied by our Executive Director of Legal Affairs, I gave a detailed report on this issue. I also have regular contact with the NEC representatives who are directly elected by the PLP. I would therefore suggest that a more constructive way of dealing with this issue in future may be for me to continue to report to those groups but I will pick this up separately with John Cryer.

Yours sincerely,

Jennie Formby

SKWAWKBOX comment:

Formby’s email again underscores the seriousness with which she and Labour are addressing the issue of antisemitism – but also remind MPs of the obvious: she is their point of contact on the topic and the attempts by some to make it Jeremy Corbyn’s issue are entirely inappropriate.

Formby’s information also makes clear the shambles on the subject that prevailed under the previous administration. This makes her achievements to date all the more impressive – as is her ability to address inaccurate reporting at such short notice.

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Comments (2)

  • Jan Brooker says:

    If ‘the usual suspects’ continue their run to the Press over the over-inflated claims of anti-semitism, after Jennie Formby’s clear outline of how the issue is being dealth with ~ then, surely, those MPs are ‘bringing the LP into disrepute’? Sigh

  • Tim Sandle says:

    Massive respect to Jennie Formby for her clear-headed and principled response to this issue. It is pretty obvious that there is not a major issue with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, and she has candidly pointed out, an anti-Semite could join the party tomorrow; or any other party.
    Smear campaigns have long been the weapon of choice of parties, or factions within parties, which feel threatened by the success of genuine socialism in action.

Comments are now closed.