The EHRC Report – critical evaluations / 1

JVL Introduction

Many interesting analyses of the EHRC Report are being produced and we will be reposting a selection.

Doing so does not imply that we endorse all the points made in these analyses but, in our view, all add important insights.

The first reposting is of Richard Sanders’ & Peter Oborne’s hard-hitting critical analysis from Middle East Eye

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye on Fri 30 Oct 2020. Read the original here.

EHRC antisemitism report: Nothing in it justifies Starmer's move against Corbyn

 

The report on Labour antisemitism fails to mention that many of the failings it addresses were the result of the actions of officials hostile to Corbyn

 

It’s 35 years since Neil Kinnock established his reputation as Labour opposition leader with his blistering attack on Derek Hatton and the Militant Tendency.

It’s approaching a quarter of a century since Tony Blair established himself as Britain’s next prime minister by taking on the Labour left with his sensational removal of Clause 4 from the party’s constitution. Both Kinnock’s evisceration of Militant and Blair’s abolition of Clause 4 were massive moments in political history.

Yesterday, another Labour leader, Keir Starmer, tried to copy the Kinnock and Blair masterstrokes.

And tried too hard.

He suspended former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, alongside whom he served as a senior member of his front bench team for several years, and in an especially sensitive post.

And for what?

‘Serious failings’

Last night, it was not even clear what rule Corbyn was supposed to have broken. And while the media establishment is busy eviscerating the political corpse of Jeremy Corbyn, a closer look at the actual content of Thursday’s report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests he’s been done an injustice.

The report concluded that the Labour Party was guilty of “unlawful acts of harassment and intimidation” in two instances. It also found the party had breached the Equality Act of 2010 “by acts of indirect discrimination relating to political interference and a lack of adequate training.”

“Our investigation has identified serious failings in leadership,” the report said.

The press – en masse – has taken it as a resounding vindication of the dominant narrative of the last four years – that Corbyn abjectly failed to deal with an upsurge in antisemitism in the Labour Party after 2015, either because he was blind to the prejudices of his followers, or he was subject to them himself.

But what’s the evidence?

The findings of the report are based on 70 case studies from the period between March 2016 and May 2019.

These dates are significant. Until the spring of 2018, Labour Party headquarters was under the control of Ian McNicol, who had been general secretary since 2011. According to an internal Labour Party report, leaked to the press in March this year, McNicol and his team were ferociously hostile to the Corbyn leadership.

The inside story

Commissioned just a few months before Corbyn stood down, the report was entitled: “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014-2019”. It ran to 851 pages and drew on tens of thousands of internal emails and WhatsApp messages. It cited numerous examples of vitriolic, often foul-mouthed abuse towards the leadership team.

The report was widely denounced as an attempt at self-justification by a disgraced and dying regime. But it’s notable that the superb and meticulously researched Left Out, The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn, by Times journalists Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire, tells much the same story.

The “bureaucracy at Southside (Labour HQ) had been acting as if they were a law – and organisation – unto themselves,” wrote Pogrund and Maguire. They detailed how, during the 2017 election, officials, including Sam Matthews – who headed the disputes team that handled antisemitism complaints – were secretly “funnelling hundreds of thousands of pounds of resources into the seats of devout opponents of the leadership.”

In other words, for two thirds of the period under investigation by the EHRC, Labour HQ and the complaints procedure were under the control of individuals not just resistant to the authority of the leadership but, allegedly, working actively to undermine it. Remarkably, the EHRC report makes absolutely no reference to this context at all.

Absence of context

The leaked Labour party report further claimed that, prior to the spring of 2018 – under the McNicol regime – Labour HQ was appallingly lax in its handling of antisemitism complaints. It lays out, in great detail, evidence of lengthy delays and says that, between November 2016 and February 2018, there were at least 170 complaints that were not acted on at all, which it says the leader’s office was unaware of at the time.

In one of its most remarkable passages, the EHRC simply reproduces these allegations, almost verbatim, along with the accompanying statistics. It then briefly states: “Some former staff members denied these allegations of inaction,” before adding: “Delays in progressing complaints were also common in our complaint sample.”

This is vital. Matthews, McNicol and a number of other employees from Labour Party HQ at this time were the leading “whistleblowers” in Panorama’s enormously influential Is Labour Anti-Semitic? programme in July 2019. When the Corbyn leadership pushed back against their claims, Matthews and others took them to court. Earlier this year, Starmer apologised to them and settled out of court, paying them large sums of money.

Yet the EHRC report appears to be accepting the leaked report’s version of events prior to the spring of 2018 and rejecting theirs – while nevertheless holding Corbyn responsible for their inaction. Matthews has always fiercely rejected the leaked report’s allegations. He and other staff claimed that their work was hampered by continual interference from the leader’s office.

The EHRC report also alleges unwarranted interference by Corbyn’s team. It says this happened in 23 of the 70 cases it studied. But in many of the examples it cites it is clear the leader’s office was interfering, not to prevent investigations for antisemitism, but to speed them up.

This was true in particular of the case of Ken Livingstone, one of the two individuals whose behaviour the EHRC ruled constituted “harassment and intimidation”.

The EHRC acknowledges this but says it is irrelevant. “The inappropriateness of political interference in antisemitism complaints is not necessarily about the particular outcomes that it led to, but rather the contamination (and/or the perception of contamination) of the fairness of the process,” it says.

Leadership interference

Ten of the 23 cases where the leadership interfered occurred in the interregnum between McNicol, who stood down as general secretary in February 2018, and Jennie Formby, a Corbyn loyalist who took over in April that year. The leader’s office always claimed they were invited by the disputes team to offer opinions at this time, which Matthews and others have disputed.

“It does not matter for our analysis whether the formal process was instigated by LOTO [Leader of the Opposition] staff or by GLU [Governance and Legal Unit] staff,” the EHRC report says. “They were all Labour Party employees acting in the course of their employment when they set up this system, therefore the Labour Party is responsible for their actions.”

There was, in fact, a sharp rise in the number of suspensions for antisemitism during this period of increased leadership interference. Again, the report entirely fails to mention the political significance of the transition from McNicol and Formby. Indeed, neither McNicol, Matthews or anyone else in senior positions at party HQ before April 2018 is mentioned by name at any point in the EHRC report.

Soon after Formby took over, Matthews and a number of other staff members resigned. Matthews has said he was effectively driven out by officials less keen to confront antisemitism and told Panorama he contemplated suicide. From the spring of 2018 onwards, with Formby in control, the number of formal investigations, suspensions and expulsions for antisemitism all rose exponentially.

Forty five members were expelled in 2019, compared to one in 2017, according to Labour party statistics.

People hold up placards as they gather for a demonstration organised by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism outside the head office of the Labour Party in April 2018 (AFP)

The EHRC acknowledges these figures are broadly in line with its own findings and also accepts that improvements were made in a number of areas. It states firmly that significant inadequacies remained through 2019 and 2020, particularly as regards the training of staff handling antisemitism cases. But it is impossible to read the report carefully without concluding that the bulk of its criticisms relate to the period before April 2018.

Echoing many of the allegations in the leaked internal report, it says the party had a policy of not pursuing complaints based on social media shares or likes until “mid 2018”. It says the complaints procedure lacked resources “until 2018”, though it stresses “more remains to be done”. And it says “there was no consistent or reliable system for recording antisemitism complaints … before 2018.”

Blaming Corbyn – again

In large measure Corbyn is being held responsible for the failures of party officials who were not just his political opponents, but also among his principal accusers when it came to allegations of antisemitism.

He is being simultaneously condemned for failing to show leadership, and for interfering in the complaints procedure – even when that interference was aimed at speeding up investigations.

In a statement responding to the EHRC report, Corbyn said reforms to the party’s processes for handling complaints were “stalled by an obstructive party bureaucracy… From 2018,” he said, “Jennie Formby and a new NEC that supported my leadership made substantial improvements, making it much easier and swifter to remove antisemites. My team acted to speed up, not hinder the process.”

It’s worth highlighting one other fact buried away in the detail of the report. The EHRC “identified concerns about fairness to the respondent [that’s the person being complained against) in 42 of the 70 sample files.”

The EHRC’s conclusions may or may not be legally valid. Legal challenges are being considered. But common sense and natural justice surely cry out against them. The EHRC’s failure to even reference the significance of the transfer of power at party HQ between February and April 2018 has facilitated obfuscation and lazy reporting.

A mortal wound

Middle East Eye was present on a conference call with the authors of the EHRC report and almost 30 other journalists on Thursday morning.

The questioning largely focused on why the report had not been tougher, personally, on Corbyn. Not one journalist probed the inconsistencies, contradictions or omissions of the report.

Starmer clearly believes he has now firmly established his own political identity and laid the foundations for the transformation of Labour’s electoral prospects – in the mould of Kinnock and Blair.

It may be that he has simply destroyed his reputation for moral and intellectual integrity – and inflicted a mortal wound on the soul of his party.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.


Richard Sanders is an award winning TV producer specialising in history and news and current affairs. He has made more than 50 films, mostly for Channel 4. He has written for a number of publications including The Daily Telegraph and the Boston Globe and is also the author of two history books.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He also was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.

 

Links to all JVL statements and other articles on the EHRC report

Comments (12)

  • George Wilmers says:

    I would like to suggest to any Jewish member of the LP who has been falsely accused of antisemitism, whether explicitly or by insinuation, and who is now thinking of leaving the party, that before taking such a step he/she write to the party formally accusing it of antisemitic harassment by LP functionaries and by those who made the original accusations, and demanding a full enquiry and an apology. If the names of their accusers and the functionaries who dealt with the false accusations are not known, a demand should be made that they be revealed. This will help to set the record straight concerning the nature of the malicious political nature of the false accusations.

    According to the EHRC report, any such charge must be dealt with according to the MacPherson principle, which compels the LP to treat the matter seriously. Furthermore, despite the gross shortcomings of the EHRC report, pp 58 – 72 do at least make clear, in line with the Chakrabarti report, that the LP procedures failed to observe some of the most elementary principles of natural justice, and that this must be rectified.

    I do not for one moment wish to minimise the hurt caused to non-Jewish victims of such false accusations. Unfortunately however, owing to the Macpherson principle, Jewish victims are in a better position to combat and expose the nature of this particular McCarthyite campaign than others, because requiring or expecting Jews to hold Zionist political beliefs is a clear instance of antisemitism. For this reason I believe that Jewish opponents of apartheid who have been vilified can perform a great service to the people of this country by exposing this monstrous political charlatanry to the light of day.

    For the tip of this particular iceberg, systematically ignored by the corporate media, see
    https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/article/the-wrong-sort-of-jew-how-labour-pursued-complaints-against-elderly-jewish-opponents-of-israel/
    The EHRC report is at
    https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/investigation-into-antisemitism-in-the-labour-party.pdf

  • Sheila Donovan says:

    I wish JVL could make its voice heard in/on mainstream media jf only to express the view that the ‘Jewish community’ is not wholly represented by by Margaret Hodge

  • steve mitchell says:

    It is coming to something when dyed-in-the-wool conservative journalists are critical of the report and standing by Corbyn. Let us be honest: there has been an organized political and personal assassination of a thoroughly decent, honest and trustworthy MP who gave us in the Party hope for a better future. I quote Miriam Margolyes: “Jeremy Corbyn is a man of principle”

  • Felix Bellaby says:

    The EHRC were conducting an external investigation of the Labour Party as an institution. The internal workings of the Labour Party were outside the scope of their report. While the details of the report might offer some insights into internal issues, the EHRC was not addressing these directly.

    The Labour Party must commission an independent body to conduct an internal audit of the historic operation of their complaints system in order to settle the question of what went wrong.

    More should be made of the decision by the EHRC not to accuse any MPs of harassing the members. Opinion pieces in the media continue to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of promoting antisemitism against members of the party. The EHRC specifically found that this was not the case.

    The media is reporting that the current leadership was responsible for suspending Jeremy Corbyn and/or is engaged in negotiations of to reinstate him. In either case, this would amount to political interference in the complaints process and would be found to be unlawful by the EHRC on exactly the same basis that they formed their judgement against the former leadership.

  • Allan Howard says:

    Excellent assessment. So it IS a stitch-up! As anticipated! I hope Jeremy is consulting with his lawyers. There was just over £333,000 in the kitty the last time I checked.

    We should all be writing letters en masse to local and regional newspapers pointing out the short-comings in the report, if one can call them that, because like so many things relating to Jeremy, it’s all spun – however thinly – to cast him in a negative light.

    Well to put it bluntly, it’s totally twisted!

  • Allan Howard says:

    Yes Felix, but it’s only unlawful when it involves people on the left of the party.

  • Brian Robinson (Dr) says:

    Sanders’ and Oborne’s clear-sighted piece is a refreshing corrective to the reports and comments on most of the mainstream media. They make a comprehensive case against the probity and value of the EHRC report.

    And the concluding paragraphs are pretty damning: ‘Starmer clearly believes he has now firmly established his own political identity and laid the foundations for the transformation of Labour’s electoral prospects – in the mould of Kinnock and Blair.

    ‘It may be that he has simply destroyed his reputation for moral and intellectual integrity – and inflicted a mortal wound on the soul of his party.’

    The other thing that interests me very much, from the moment Starmer began his statement on the report on Thursday, is how he was laying a trap for himself (and a number of journalists took this up in questions). He was there on Corbyn’s front bench, he was part of the leadership. What the leadership was held to be responsible for (however unjustly — a separate issue), he, Starmer surely and obviously shares in that responsibility.

    If Corbyn is innocent (and he is) of the opportunistic charges against him, then Starmer is too. But Starmer clearly holds Corbyn guilty as (falsely) charged. Questioned on this very point, he tried to wriggle out of any complicity.

    He’ll be hounded and haunted for ever on this. I had thought his best contribution would be to bring back some pragmatism while rebuilding trust amongst voters who aren’t ideologically committed to Labour (and the party has to win over those who would usually vote Tory as well as its natural constituency). (I know that another word for ‘pragmatism’ might be ‘sell-out’, but we’ve got to get this destructive Con government out with all that that implies, rightwing press, establishment forces and the rest of it.)

    But instead of that, it looks as if Starmer has blown it.

  • Dave Bradney says:

    EHRC report p27:
    “Article 10 [of the European Convention of Human Rights] will protect Labour Party members who, for example, make legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government, or express their opinions on internal Party matters, such as the scale of antisemitism within the Party, based on their own experience and within the law. It does not protect criticism of Israel that is antisemitic.”

  • RosieF says:

    Oborne and Sanders are completely correct in their response. I don’t think Felix Bellaby is entirely right that context, division and transition cannot be part of EHRC deliberation. Any legal deliberation , that has the structure of legality in its remit and the force of law in its conclusions can be challenged .Indeed, this should be challenged in a court of law. Otherwise the events of this week are a travesty that like Blair & Chilcot, will be revisited in history books as monumentally unjust. There has been a travesty also in reporting by journalists who were at the EHRC press briefing. Shame is attached to most of their commentary against Corbyn over 4 years on this issue, particularly in the Guardian, but also all British Media, whose journalists wrote myriad, biased , unevidenced stories and opinion pieces that got many things wrong, inferrred thousands of anti-Semitic posts to Labour that was completely untrue. They gave excessive platforms,and promoted pejorative headlines usupported by fact amounting to hugely imbalanced space and air time given to Corbyn’s opponents and which culminated in the tsunami of vitriol and distortion that was in my view the Panorama programme. George Wilmers is spot on about the actions Jewish members accused of anti-Semitism could do and should do. But bear in mind the harrowing, experiences they have already undergone at the hands of the McNicolites. Some have been driven to self=harm. The pain is dreadful. Do they want to relive it?

  • Henry Reed says:

    For some interesting points from a legal perspective on the harassment issue and the emphasis on expulsion/suspension as a way of handling instances of possible AS, rather than deploying a battery of other remedies, see David Renton’s piece at Labour Hub.
    https://labourhub.org.uk/2020/10/29/the-ehrc-report-a-missed-chance/

  • rc says:

    David Renton writes:
    Labour’s handling of the crisis was not caused, ultimately, by the absence of a policy akin to the Party’s documents on sexual harassment (you could call this the Chakrabarty fallacy) but by the unwillingness of most members to admit that the problem of antisemitism was real.

    Renton does not address the possibility that most members have genuinely never experienced nor witnessed antisemitic acts. They do not therefore dispute the existence of some antisemitic acts, but do dispute their prevalence, let alone their constituting a major problem for the party. The patently questionable accounts of ‘whistleblowers’ to the effect that they met antisemitic comments at LP meetings every day may have impressed a willing John Ware, but plainly could not have occurred in those CLPs where daily LP meetings do not happen (ie all of them). LP members should not be blamed, but rather commended, for testing MSM and factional claims which do not accord with their lived reality – a test which the EHRC applies to complainants but never to respondents or to that ‘collective respondent – the LP.’

    This rather than the left wing dogmatism Renton attributes to the large majority of members (chance were a fine thing!) should account for the discrepancy between the MSM image and the attitude of most members. Compare the account in Bad News for Labour.

  • I have to select from RC`s comment this quote from David Renton. Renton writes —
    “There is unwillingness in most Labour members to ADMIT that the problem of antisemitism is real.”
    A.S. is real in the Labour Party. It is as “real” as the latest Disney film script! It is as “real” as Johnson`s commitment to the NHS. I am not sure to what extent RC agrees with this quote from Renton, but I state unequivocally that Labour has the same “problem” with antisemitism as the rest of Britain, no more and probably less (see U gov polls from Jewish Policy Research Institute)
    I believe everyone should hear of this statement from Nazi propaganda— “The people are dull they are sheep and will believe what they are told” This is sadly too often true. I am NOT a Nazi but their cynical assessment of public gullibility seems to have been adopted by British media.
    My dismissal of allegations of A.S. in Labour is based on much evidence
    (for which don`t have space) but how many of the “claimants” will be able to say WHEN Labour and Corbyn BECAME “antisemitic”? This event took place in 2015 apparently, so, if Corbyn and Labour were “antisemitic” before 2015 why was this never publicized? How could the British media, with their righteously indignant howling about “antisemitism” AFTER 2015 have been so oblivious to “antisemitism” BEFORE 2015?? Our hard working and conscientious media had many, many, years to denounce Corbyn and Labour for “antisemitism.” What took them so long??

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