Break the cycle: Open Labour response to the leaked internal investigation on anti-Semitism

The dossier leaked this weekend is utterly shocking in its content and requires a response which is full and considered. The initial reaction to many aspects of what has been leaked have so far been unedifying and predictable in their selectiveness, their sectarianism, and their one-sided (and thus inadequate) conclusions. 

The revelation of malice or mismanagement should be taken as an opportunity to fix things, but there is now a considerable risk that it is only used to make them worse. Responsible politics rests on admitting that it is doing what is right that matters, not which ‘side’ you take.

Our statement below is lengthy and considered; for a document of over 800 pages, we feel that anything else simply cannot do justice to the implications of the document, or the circumstances of its publication.

As may be expected, we welcome and stand fully behind the joint statement made by Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, their promise of a full independent investigation into all aspects of the report, and for a period of calm before conclusions are formed. We would like to remind party members that the dossier contains many issues which will be disputed, and that it is quite possible that several of them may be disputed legally.

We also agree with the statement issued by the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs calling for a transparent process for investigation, and publication of the report (in redacted form). We share the disappointment that members will feel having campaigned hard for a Labour government should the allegations that they were systematically undermined by senior staff prove to be true. We agree that there are cases that require due process on bullying, harassment, sexism and racism.

First we wish to comment on the leaked report itself.

The allegations contained in the report are deeply shocking, but they include forms of behaviour that many of our members have witnessed in full or in part over the years.

The alleged offences in the report are all offensive to the concept of ‘open politics’ which define Open Labour as an organisation.

Action on the nature of the allegations

1. A full investigation is required into the allegations of racism, misogyny, disability prejudice and mental health slurs at HQ level.

2. The report makes a strong case, if the facts can be evidenced, that there was a deeply sectarian culture in headquarters which was working against, or at least willing against, victory at the 2017 General Election. This is not an acceptable situation and the party must act swiftly to make sure it does not happen again. To that end we have added some recommendations in principle to our statement.

3. The report argues that structural mismanagement occurred that allowed complaints, both around anti-Semitism and other disciplinary issues, not to be followed up appropriately. This is unacceptable and must lead to though reform, and the resourcing needed to make sure that the GLU can keep all of our members in a healthy and safe environment.

4. Individuals found to be involved in any of the above behaviour must face immediate and full disciplinary action, subject to their employment rights.

Manner of the release and the contextual relationship to anti-Semitism

We have a clear view we wish to make with regard to the nature of the release of the report, in terms of its form, its intention, and the circumstances of its release.

1. This report confirms that Labour has a large and serious anti-Semitism problem among its membership. It also shows that anti-Semitism and a range of other issues which flagged complaints such as racism and sexual harassment were subject to bitter internal disputes based on the sectarian allegiances of those involved. Labour Party staff are there to serve the whole party, and to act competently and professionally in securing our collective and democratically agreed aims in a neutral but democratic way. The culture of sectarianism among party staff must be utterly eradicated and a new work culture implemented in the professional ranks of the party.

2. The report is not a substitute for a full independent investigation. We expect the party to continue to comply with the EHRC investigation and implement its findings in full. In the meantime the Party must continue to take steps to improve its disciplinary process and action disciplinary cases.

3. We know even from our own members that the report is a partial account and that the EHRC have been given a much greater mass of evidence around cases which were covered in part in this report. It is not clear under what authority the report was commissioned, or how its mandate is meant to complement that given to the EHRC. The NEC must find out and   clear to members what officers knew about this report, how it came to be, what its intended purpose was to be, and what legal advice was given which frustrated this process.

4. The report leaks the names of complainants which is a clear data breach and puts complainants at risk of face threats or abuse as a result of this disclosure. The investigation must uncover how an unredacted report came into such wide circulation. The report also labels some individuals as Jewish when discussing complaints, without contextual need, and in at least one case, incorrectly. This is also a dangerous precedent given that the whole premise is about complaints regarding anti-Semitism. The report appears to include several serious data breaches – again, the inquiry must discover and publish what data governance procedures were in place around this report and why GDPR appears to have been breached. Finally, the report names minors. This is again totally unacceptable, and requires investigation and explanation.

5. The report appears to have offered no right of reply or ability to contradict the evidence given, where evidence is given at all. This is contrary to natural justice.

6. Given the myriad problems outlined above, it is very difficult to have confidence in the contents to a legally sound level. Though its contents remain extremely concerning, we would advise party members and OL supporters directly to exercise caution in treating the report as authoritative.

Political allegations and the need for culture change

Many allegations contained in the report are of a political nature and perhaps do not directly concern anti-Semitism. They are however still worthy of comment.

1. The deliberately inaccurate use of terms such as ‘trots’ by party staff functions knowingly sectarian political abuse rather than fair comment. The use of such terms by staff is unprofessional, immature, and bullying. Again, the use of such terms is contrary to the idea of open politics – it helps to build a culture of gatekeeping aimed at keeping members from feeling included or getting involved. The same would be true of calling other members ‘Tories’ etc.

In our view the sectarian and inaccurate use of terms of abuse should be considered misconduct, and should probably be avoided even where the language is accurate. Staff should understand that using terms such as this will result in disciplinary action.

2. Party Staff must act impartially and the abusive and sectarian language used against senior Members of the Party is unacceptable and intolerable.

3. We note that had some of the messages contained in the report been aired publicly   they would arguably have been considered ‘campaigning against the Labour candidate’ and thus forming a ground for expulsion. It is clearly unacceptable that staff involved in administering membership and disciplinary processes should be able to air such opinions with impunity. Labour Party staff should be considered the party’s equivalent of civil servants. There should be a clear staff requirement to avoid giving sectarian opinions of the use of sectarian language. Staff should also be required to suspend their own opinions on internal politics, and make a clear commitment in their code of conduct to serve the party as a whole, as well as its agreed objectives. This should be made clear to staff through training and the example set by senior managers. Codes of conduct for Labour staff must be made clear not just in codified terms, but in the culture exemplified and reinforced at all levels. We are concerned that the requirement to be factionally impartial is already stipulated but a widespread culture of flaunting of this confuses the message for staff of what is expected and acceptable.

Our conclusions

1. The allegations made in the paper are serious and shocking. They warrant an equally serious response.

2. We call for a full and independent investigation of all of the issues raised by this paper. This must include the serious allegations made against staff in the paper, but also the circumstances around the paper and its publication. This must be made public.

3. The circumstances and nature of publication are highly suspect and lead to further questions worthy of an investigation and response.

4. We call on the party to continue cooperation with the forthcoming EHRC investigation and to await its findings. Though it may well expand the scope of guilt, this may not have been subject to a just process. Further, the report cannot absolve anyone in advance of the ECHR verdict. We must await the ECHR findings.

5. The party should make a statement clarifying that it considers the matters of anti-Semitism, all other forms of prejudice, and sexual harassments to be squarely above sectarian politics; that they must be taken seriously regardless of the factional allegiances of the alleged offenders. It must also acknowledge that mishandling of the issue has both factional and non-factional aspects, and is complex.

6. Before other investigations take place or conclude, the NEC must draft and publish a clearer code of conduct for staff and ban explicitly sectarian behaviours of the type we have outlined above, for as long as people are on the party payroll.

7. The leaked report does not explain away all institutional failures on anti-Semitism by some distance, nor does it excuse the ineffectual political leadership on the issue which has come in many ways to define the last few years. We expect the EHRC report to still be extremely important for these reasons and we will await its conclusions. 

8. There is now a danger that this report will add to the already frequent arguments made at grassroots level that the existence and apparent widespread nature of anti-Semitism in the party can simply be explained away as an anti-Corbyn conspiracy. As even the leaked report makes clear in several ways, this is untrue. Party members must confront the case that anti-Semitism can be dismissed as an anti-Corbyn conspiracy, which is a claim that the paper itself does not make – quite the opposite.

9. We note the calls for the suspension of staff who have had allegations made against them. We have sympathy with this demand but also call for due process to be followed in this regard, in line with the relevant employment rights. It is clear that should several of the incidents mentioned be proven satisfactorily, then they should face serious sanction including potential dismissal.

10. Labour staff at all levels should act as neutral civil servants in carrying out the party’s democratically agreed aims, act towards a professional rather than sectarian culture and be neutral on factional issues when this remotely concerns or impacts their work. Any other way forward simply perpetuates the cycle of sectarianism, and makes the achievement of open politics within the party impossible. This would then have the effect of making democracy within the party pointless and hollow.

It is clear that our aim must be to deal with cases appropriately, and change the culture permanently.

Party staff should act in support of the decisions made firstly by conference, secondly by the NEC and regional boards, and thirdly by elected politicians headed up by the party leadership. The wellbeing and safeguarding of members who face abuse or harassment must be paramount. Factional considerations should be kept as far away from the work of party staff as much as possible.

Members from all wings of the Labour Party should be able to have confidence in our staff.

The answer to these issues is not more sectarianism, but a hard line eradication of internal sectarianism among staff. The culture must be reformed and the cycle must be broken.

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