The leaked Labour report: A quantitative assessment

In this exclusive analysis for JVL, Dr Alan Maddison looks at some of the things we might learn from the leaked Labour Party report.

He acknowledges that antisemitism is of course present in British society today, and needs to be tackled wherever it occurs. But he nonetheless concludes that the content of the leaked Labour report, if reliable, does not provide any credible evidence that manifestations of antisemitism in Labour’s ranks are widespread as often claimed, or more frequent than for other political parties or in wider society.

Nor does it demonstrate that the more serious expressions of antisemitism would be more common among Labour members than among those of other political parties if subjected to the same scrutiny.

And he finds nothing that justifies the view of the author of the leaked report that left Labour members who query exaggerated claims about antisemitism in the Party are “in denial”. On the contrary, the best way of easing the fears of Jewish members and Jewish communities, would be by telling the truth, as outlined in this analysis.

The Forde inquiry has to find answers to the following questions:

  • did some staffers and PLP members deliberately sabotage Corbyn’s 2017 general election campaign?
  • were unacceptable racist comments made, even given any context provided?
  • did Jeremy Corbyn and his team try to speed up, rather than impede, the processing of antisemitism complaints?

The inquiry findings will have very serious political and legal implications. It may also help determine whether media coverage has been balanced and fair, for example whether the contentious Panorama Programme in July 2019 (Is Labour Antisemitic?) was accurate in the portrayal of the Party’s handling of allegations of antisemitism.

But there is another related question:

  • did the leaked report shed any light on the repeated claims for rampant antisemitism (“a cesspit”, or “infested with Jew haters”) in the ranks of the Labour Party?

In the executive summary section (p.11) we read:

“This report thoroughly disproves any suggestion that antisemitism is not a problem in the Party, or that it is all a “smear” or a “witch-hunt”. The report’s findings prove the scale of the problem, and could help end the denialism amongst parts of the Party membership which has further hurt Jewish members and the Jewish community.”

I find this to be rather vague. What exactly is meant by proving ‘the scale of the problem’, and what precise ‘denialism’ should the report’s findings help end?

I consider that most Party members accept that some antisemitism exists in Labour’s ranks and that it needs to be dealt with properly. But they see no credible evidence that it is widespread, or more common than elsewhere. In their own experience they consider that repeated claims in the media of a ‘rampant antisemitism in Labour’ to be gross exaggerations.  Many do see this as part of a smear campaign motivated by factors unrelated to tackling antisemitism.

So, one key question is what ‘scale of the problem’ is actually proven by the leaked report?  Is Labour antisemitism widespread or as bad as, or even worse, than we find elsewhere?

1. The scale of the ‘problem’

In February 2020 Jennie Formby reported that of antisemitism allegation complaints concerning Labour members for the period 2018 to 2019,a total of 1201 provided sufficient evidence to merit some action.

In the leaked report (p.693) we see only a further 93 suspensions/investigations from 2016/17.

When we add in ‘letters of warnings’ or ‘conduct reminders’ for 2016/17 we have an estimated 124 newly reported cases.

This takes the total for the extended period 2016 to 2019 to 1,325 actioned complaints.

How do we interpret this figure?

Below is an illustration of the ‘scale of the problem’ with the number of the 1,325 allegations, documented in the leaked report over four years, expressed as a share of 550,000 Labour members.

Visualising the ‘scale of the problem’ in this way certainly does not suggest anything ‘widespread’.

But can we assess whether this 0.24% (1,325/550,000 members) reflects that there is more or less antisemitism in the Labour Party than in other political parties or wider society?

Most complaints that compose this 0.24% were not usually generated by victims themselves but largely by third parties carrying out retrospective internet trawls, and then reporting only on Labour members. They include events that occurred as far back as 2014.

No other political party seems to have been subjected to such a frequency and intensity of online trawls.

Though there have been individuals from other parties reported for antisemitism in the media, the complaint totals for other parties have never been published.

So, in the absence of comparable data for other parties or wider society, we can still reasonably claim that this 0.24% in itself does not provide proof that the Labour Party is any worse or better than other parties or wider society.

Can we investigate this further though?

Our only comparative references do not involve antisemitism manifestations, only prejudices held that could sometimes manifest themselves.

As a guide we can look at the data from the largest survey ever undertaken into antisemitic attitudes in Britain, as illustrated below.

We know that not all of the above 30% endorsing at least one antisemitic statement will necessarily express that view to others, but if they do it seems more likely it would be out of ignorance, as only one in six of them (5%) also had expressed unfavourable views about Jews.

So, should these 0.24% complaint manifestations of Labour members from the leaked report be seen as coming from the pool of the 5% or the remaining 25% of society? (Note: the survey shows antisemitic prejudice to be slightly lower for left-wingers than right-wingers and highest for very right-wingers).

Of course, we are comparing reported manifestations of alleged antisemitism in Figure 1, with views held but not necessarily always expressed in Figure 2. This makes any direct comparison impossible.

However, it does seem fair to say that this indirect comparison adds weight to our earlier conclusions, namely that the leaked report does not provide any evidence that ‘the scale of the problem’ of antisemitism in Labour is widespread, nor worse than in other political parties or wider society.

2. The nature of the ‘problem’

In the leaked report we find a record of specific comments, made by 143 named individuals.

These probably represent some of the most serious of the total 1,325 cases. They were selected by the author of the leaked report in order to demonstrate how many allegations of obvious or extreme antisemitism were being ignored, or dealt with inadequately, by Iain McNicol’s team. The antisemitism complaint priorities before the arrival of Jennie Formby as General Secretary seemed to have been determined by anti-Corbyn factionalism.

Some readers have suggested that many extreme expressions of antisemitism from this group of 143 prove that Labour has a ‘serious problem’.

Is this again true in a relative sense, as these 143 in total represent only 0.026% of Labour members?

There were a handful of shockingly abusive comments, but the majority involved negative antisemitic tropes or views quite often found in UK society.

We have categorized most of the comments provided from this group of 143 as follows,

– 13 claimed Israeli, Zionist or Jewish media influence

– 19 compared the Israelis to the Nazis

– 28 involved Holocaust denial or claims of exaggeration

– 41 referred to banker or Rothschild conspiracies

How does this compare with what we might find elsewhere, once more without any evidence for direct comparison?

To provide an estimate of the prevalence of such manifestations in the 550,000 Labour member population, in Figure 3 we have extrapolated these comments from the 143 group to the 1,325, as if the former were a representative group. This almost certainly exaggerates some prevalences as the 143 generated the most extreme comments.

Once more we have no comparative published data from online trawls or scrutiny for the use of similar phrases from members of other political parties or wider society.

So, in Figure 3 we have illustrated the prevalence in UK society of endorsements of similar statements to those expressed in the leaked report (4, 5).

We need to emphasise once more that this comparison is again limited by the fact that such endorsements found in society may not necessarily be expressed, even online, so we are not comparing like with like.

The blue histograms represent the proportion in UK society who strongly agree, or tend to agree, with each illustrated statement (see here and here). They seem surprisingly high.It is worth observing that given the 5% prevalence of antisemitism in society, defined as having negative views about Jews, that many of those endorsing the above statements probably do so out of ignorance or for  reasons unrelated to antisemitism.

The same absence of antisemitic motivation may be true for some of the Labour members who have expressed these comments, mostly on social media, as illustrated by the red histograms.

While no direct comparison can be made between the red and blue columns, it seems that the estimated 0.02% to 0.08% range of reported comment prevalences of Labour members (red), set against the 5% to 31% range of those in society who could express similar views (blue), is no indication of proof that Labour has a particularly worse problem, with regard to each statement, than elsewhere.

3. The origins of complaints

Jennie Formby stated in her earlier report that the ‘vast majority’ of allegations were related to social media. We see from the leaked report that few complaints were signaled by victims themselves. Most were generated by groups and individuals using internet trawls. In fact one third of the complaints were from a single individual.

Shami Chakrabarti did suggest in her 2016 report that complaint submissions based on social media trawls should be treated with caution. This is presumably because they may be motivated by a desire to smear the Labour Party rather than a desire to fight all antisemitism that manifests itself in society.

The fact that we could find no published reports of on-line trawls of Conservative Party members lends support to this unjustified ’singling out of Labour’.

The breakdown of the 143 cases, where details were provided, indicated that 90% of incidents were indeed on social media as shown below:

We note that the majority of the 143 complaints did not involve face-to-face incidents.

Of the above three allegations involving meetings, only one was considered to be antisemitic upon investigation, and this had taken place in 2014.

This does raise questions about earlier claims of frequent abuse of Jewish members during Labour Party meetings.

This data combined with Formby’s ‘vast majority online’ description for the 1,325 complaints, suggests between 50 and 100 complaints over several years may have taken place at Labour Party meetings, of which there are over 20,000 each year (CLP/ branch meetings).

We estimate there are between 2,000 and 3,000 Jewish Labour members, which suggests the majority would not have been victim or witness to any antisemitism over this period.

There were some Jewish members on the famous Panorama programme who claimed frequent, even every day, face-to-face incidents of antisemitic abuse, and that they did not feel safe at Labour Party meetings.

Other Jewish members have said they have only very rarely, if ever, witnessed any antisemitism during such meetings and always felt welcome.

It would seem from the complaints data, that the expressed experience of those on for example the Panorama programme Is Labour Antisemitic is not representative of Jewish Labour members as a whole. One must then ask why the voices of other Jewish Labour members are rarely given such media attention, or why they seem to have been marginalized as ‘the wrong kind of Jews”.

Conclusion

Antisemitism is present in British society today, it can create anxiety and fear, and needs to be tackled wherever it occurs.

The content of the leaked Labour report, if reliable, does not provide any credible evidence that manifestations of antisemitism in Labour ranks are widespread, or more frequent than for other political parties or in wider society.

Neither does it demonstrate that serious expressions of antisemitism are more common with Labour members than those of other political parties subject to the same scrutiny.

In fact, the absence of data from comparable scrutiny for other political parties does raise questions about the motivations for this unjustified singling out of Labour, and the unique focus on antisemitism.

Skewered media coverage, including repeated exaggerations, and some evidence of witness bias, probably help explain why perceptions of Labour’s ‘antisemitism problem’ are, according to one survey, 140 fold higher than in reality.

We see nothing in the leaked report findings that would end any Labour member ‘denialism, and their justified challenges to exaggerated smears would not “further hurt Jewish members and the Jewish community”. In fact, telling the truth would be more likely to reassure.

What we do find in the report is that there seems to have been a serious subversion of British democracy affecting millions of voters. The Forde inquiry needs to address this and publicly hold any of those staffers or others involved accountable.

That would reassure us all.

Comments (14)

  • dave says:

    Thanks to Alan for patiently taking us through this again. In the short to medium term nothing is going to change but I’m hopeful that most of us will live to see the (good) history books record the magnitude of the smear against the left and its leadership. Can anyone think of a bigger and longer lasting smear campaign in British politics? Or a more effective one?

    It’s hard to get one’s head around the scale of the smear – when I think of it, it’s like an existential physics question such as how did the big bang happen. It’s stupefying but then rage inducing.

  • steve mitchell says:

    In today’s Observer Nick Cohen finally admits that the danger to our democracy comes from the Far Right. The UK security services have been saying this for months. The ludicrous attacks on the Labour Party, including accusations of antisemitism are all part and parcel of the goal of installing a populist authoritarian government here in the UK. The same has to be said about taking us out of Europe. Many of our colleagues in the Labour Party have assisted the Far Right, albeit unwittingly.
    Corbyn’s Labour Party is still being described as the radical, dangerous Left. Nothing can be further from the truth. The measures set out in the 2017 and 2019 Manifestos were much less radical than the Labour Manifesto in 1945 which ushered in the Golden Age. Most of the policies set out are commonplace in Northern Europe. Those countries enjoy the highest living standards in the world. There has never been the merest suggestion that Labour intended to eliminate the capitalist system. The intention is to make a kinder system as it did after 1945.
    Nick Cohen still rants on about danger from the Far Left. I have been on this earth for 80 years and I know there has never been danger from Left. It was and is hysterical nonsense. The UK was never ripe for a Communist takeover. In my days as an active trade unionist I had several friends in the Communist Party. In sober private conversations they all admitted their dream was hopeless.
    I really is about time people in this country realized where we are heading. In government today there are ministers who have written that British workers are the idlest in the world. There are senior Tories who are supporters of Turning Point. A senior official stated she thought Hitler would have been acceptable if he had confined his activities to his home country. There are Tory MPs who admire the Hungarian and Polish neo fascist leaders. Johnson has purged moderate Tories. We have endured the most right-wing governments in the past decade since the Chamberlain administration in the late 30s. This present government will go even further Right.
    Johnson, a borderline sociopath doesn’t care which way his Party moves as long as he continues in office. The UK media is owned and run by filthy rich ideologues is participating in the destruction of our way of life.
    Across the Atlantic Trump has shown he has no time for democracy. He can use his position to help the Far Right here and already has with his support for Brexit. The only institution capable of protecting our country has been effectively neutered. Some in the Jewish community bear a responsibility for that. One day when they come under attack they will have to turn to their traditional defenders: the Labour Party.

  • Linda says:

    Thanks for this very careful analysis of the facts supporting / disproving Labour’s alleged antisemitism.

    Your statements “What we do find in the report is that there seems to have been a serious subversion of British democracy affecting millions of voters. The Forde inquiry needs to address this and publicly hold any of those staffers or others involved accountable” resonate with me.

    I’m really worried about the threats to UK democracy and clean government which I see in the Johnson administration.

    We are now weeks away from the No Deal Brexit induced collapse of the UK’s food and medicine supplies and a blockage of at least 40% our trade. Cameron, May and Johnson got us into this mess – and Johnson (who’ll have to manage the crisis as it hits) can’t lead or govern, he can only b*******. How bad will things get for this country?

    I hope the Forde Inquiry will tease out exactly how the “serious subversion of British democracy” was achieved, who was responsible and how such dreadful behaviour (in any political party) can be prevented from happening again. I’m not normally pro-punishment but in this instance I’d like those identified of wrongdoing to face civil and criminal court cases for their alleged misdeeds.

  • Dr Paul says:

    I think that the most interesting figures here are those showing that 90 per cent of the reported anti-Semitic incidents occurred on ‘social media’, and only 10 per cent at meetings, or in e-mails or print media, or on the wireless and telly. ‘Social media’ is a largely uncontrolled place in which all sorts of provocateurs, mischief-makers, cranks and other malcontents are able to make the most outrageous, bigoted and inaccurate assertions, things which would not be allowed in other media, and which certainly would be shouted down at a meeting. Many of those making such assertions do so under the cover of anonymity. Many of them are not Labour Party members, or are unknown as left-wing activists. Yet it is these malcontents who are being used to present the party as institutionally, inherently and, some say, incurably anti-Jewish.

    The other figures show that, even taking these malcontents as party members, the level of anti-Jewish sentiments in the Labour Party is very low, below the average level in the British population. There is a problem in respect of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, but I feel that it is one that, were it addressed in a sober manner, could be easily contained and effectively dealt with. But those claiming that Labour is institutionally anti-Jewish don’t want that: they are using these allegations of anti-Semitism to build up a massively inaccurate image of the party, either, in respect of party members making these claims, to destroy the party’s left wing, or, in respect of those outwith the party, to destroy the party altogether.

    It is necessary to present the question in a sober manner, showing that the level of anti-Jewish sentiments in the party is actually minuscule, containable and possible to deal with effectively, and this article is a great help to us in this task.

  • As a campaigner in the last election I faced anger on the doorstep because of the allegations, which the householder believed to be true according to their newspapers and the BBC. My protestations otherwise were guffawed. I want the truth not only to be told but to be listened to and public apologies from the BBC and the newspapers and from the culpable elements of the Labour party.

  • Allan Howard says:

    If you’ve never read it, please check out Ken Livingstone’s (full) resignation statement. The following are a couple of clips from it:

    At 8.50am on 28th April 2016 I was asked by Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London to respond to a social media post by the Labour MP, Naz Shah, quoting Martin Luther King, that ‘what Hitler did was legal’. King’s point, obviously, having been that just because something is legal (talking in the context of racist segregation laws in the US in the 1960s) does not mean it is right. I saw no relevance between Hitler and Labour so I responded in under 40 words pointing out that in the 1930s Hitler had supported Jews leaving Germany – including moving to Israel and he had arrived at a practical agreement with Zionist organisations on this.

    My interview by the Labour Party Disputes and Disciplinary Panel was delayed by seven weeks thus preventing me standing for the NEC.

    I handed evidence to the chair which showed what I said was true, but she replied she was not interested in history, and was determined to avoid what I said and whether it was true. In their report to the NEC there was no reference to the claim that ‘Hitler was a Zionist’ nor did it admit what I had said was true. It was suggested I considered Zionism was equivalent to Nazism and that I ‘raised Hitler as a defence’ – all entirely untrue. That this malign report was submitted to the NEC without my being allowed to see it and challenge it is a violation of justice.

    https://www.jewishvoiceforlabour.org.uk/article/ken-livingstones-resignation-from-the-labour-party/

  • George says:

    Thanks for this analysis which reflects my experience during 50 years membership. Indeed having attended thousands of events in that time , my view is that mysoginy is a much more prevalent issue.

    My fear is that the Forde inquiry will not get to the heart of the allegations because it’s so time limited. I’ve experienced bullying over the last 30 years and deliberate attempts to undermine a series of leaders including Foot, Brown and Miliband as well as Corbyn. However as the inquiry couldn’t guarantee my anonymity, I haven’t made a submission.

    I hope the inquiry is successful in exposing the culture of malevolence at the top of the Party but without the correct historical parameters being set, I’m not too hopeful. I fear for the future of the Party.

  • Doug says:

    The smoking gun appears to be the ‘individual ‘ responsible for one third of complaints and how they were gathered
    Vexatious claims of anti semitism used as a political weapon are clear hate crimes and should be prosecuted
    The last question is who is behind the anti Corbyn brigade and gave them the encouragement to sabotage the 2017 GE
    There is no going back now, anyone who would rather see a Tory government must leave the party

  • Alan Sloan says:

    Thanks Alan.
    I feel privileged to share a first name. You’ve made my day! I’ll take care to share this with the world to show them all what we Alans are capable of when actually get down to looking at the reality behind the hyperbole.
    Yours sincerely,
    Your greatest fan,
    Alan

  • Ian Hickinbottom says:

    We all know that the biased media and establishment would never allow Corbyn to succeed. 2017 was a wake up call to them and their agenda. The establishment are grateful to those within the party mentioned in the internal report, for their tactics in scuppering Labours election chance. The Fforde report will not provide any meaningful answers, it will just be a chance to cover up the the actions of those within HQ at the time.
    Of course anti-Jewish sentiments are present within Labour, along with islamophobic, homophobic and racist sentiments. With half a million members there will always be some whose views, either through ignorance or more deeply rooted, that represent society as a whole. I’m sure other political parties have members whose views reflect society as a whole.

  • John Caley says:

    You say that “The Forde inquiry has to find answers to the following questions:
    Did some staffers and PLP members deliberately sabotage Corbyn’s 2017 general election campaign?
    Were unacceptable racist comments made, even given any context provided?
    Did Jeremy Corbyn and his team try to speed up, rather than impede, the processing of antisemitism complaints?”
    Sadly, aside from the unacceptable racism, those are not the main terms of reference which the enquiry have been tasked with. We can hope that these issues will be addressed in the report, but the Right will be hoping that any such awkward and incriminating findings can be lost in the noise generated by their preoccupation with who commisioned and/or leaked the report, which they will use to discredit its legitimacy, whatever other conclusions are reached.

  • JanP says:

    An excellent summary with evidence. Thank you.
    Yes, I fear for the Labour Party too. But we have to go on.

  • John Bernard says:

    Excellent dissection of the evidence and a lucid analysis.

  • When will we hear from the Forde Enquiry? Not to soon and probably very little! My greatest concern is that some of those who worked against a Labour victory in 2017 are still embedded in the Party and are still working to undermine democracy and socialism. All the indications are there.
    Those hidden remnants of the anti Corbyn cabal will do everything possible to gloss over their “mistakes” and neutralize any discovery of these “mistakes” by the Forde Enquiry.

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