Towards a better Labour Party – Open Labour’s response to the Forde Report

Open Labour welcomes the long-awaited publication of the Forde report and is grateful for the work of Martin Forde QC, the other panel members, Baron Whitty, Baroness Lister and Baroness Wilcox, as well as the secretariat to the panel and their external advisers. Everyone in the Party must reflect on their findings and act to ensure that the Labour Party operates in line with its professed values rather than contrary to them.

When Open Labour was established, we wanted to pursue a party culture that was “modern, open and tolerant.” We have been raising concerns about the sectarian nature of Labour Party politics since we were founded in 2015. In our submission to the Forde Inquiry back in 2020, we were clear that this would be “an opportunity for serious self-reflection, so that we can get our own house in order, rather than continue to allow internal crises to threaten to implode our party and rupture the labour movement.”

Many of the contents of the Forde report are incredibly disheartening, particularly the allegations of rampant sexism and racism, including at very senior levels. However, many findings of the Forde Report are not a surprise, even if the problems identified by it have been ignored or denied for too long.

Importantly, the report highlighted the resistance of progressives in accepting that they can be wrong and make mistakes on issues of racism, misogyny and equality. Often we hear from across the Party that anti-racism and women’s equality are core values of our movement, yet this often is not reflected in practice.

It is important to reaffirm that the investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party by the EHRC has been completed and the Party has since been implementing the statutory recommendations from the EHRC report. Whilst the matter is already settled that the Labour Party had a serious problem with antisemitism and its denial and downplaying, the Forde report further vindicates the experiences of Jewish Labour members. The Jewish Labour Movement put forward their thoughts and concerns about this aspect of the report here.

For years, it has felt like Open Labour, as well as others, like Labour Together, have been shouting into abyss about the sectarian nature of the Labour Party and the need to change this. We therefore welcome the clear and compelling finding of the Forde report that:

Working for the Party, with the aims and values to which it lays claim, should be a collective endeavour, there will always be disagreements about policy on strategy but we would have expected them to be dealt with in a comradely – or at least respectful – manner and in an environment which permitted healthy debate. Instead – in the period we are considering – we have been shocked to find the existence of a toxic atmosphere which appears to have been fuelled by an entrenched factionalism, but also some worrying discriminatory attitudes including racism and sexism exhibited amongst senior staff.”

We are pleased to see that the Forde report recommendations contain a number of suggestions which Open Labour has put forward – such as an updated Code of Conduct, a wider programme of anti-racism training and education, staff diversity audits and targets, and an expectation for staff to operate neutrally not factionally. Yet these steps alone will not be sufficient to address the problems identified by the Forde inquiry. Rather, it will require serious engagement, commitment and action from all parts of the Party.



Whilst members of large, democratic political parties will always organise themselves according to valid traditions and views within the broadchurch, the relationship between those groupings cannot become so toxic as to impede the party’s ability to function effectively. Our disciplinary and complaints systems, party operations, employment practices and other key structures in the party require the confidence and trust of staff, membership and the wider public.

The Forde report “found little evidence of mutual respect and a great deal of evidence of factionalism, so deep-rooted that the Party has found itself dysfunctional.”  The first stage in addressing a problem is to acknowledge it and the Forde report is a vital opportunity for the Party to take this first step. The party must now break with its unsustainable sectarian culture. We cannot remain on a factional seesaw which sees power swing from one faction to another, whilst sectarianism remains rife and the root problems in our party culture fail to be properly tackled.

However, as if on cue, the Forde report was immediately used by some as a means for factional point-scoring, apparently missing Forde’s overarching findings entirely. Some commentary, from tweets to anonymous briefings, demonstrated a retreat into factional bunkers instead of a desire to repair damage done and move forward. Forde’s identification of moral ‘smugness’ in Labour, as a block to cultural growth and changing the way we conduct our politics and debate, will resonate with many members.

The different aspirations of different factions – and any disappointments – have to be managed, not crushed by immoral means. Harassment, abuse and discrimination is never ‘fair game’. All factions, and members, of the party should take a moment to reflect and ask themselves if they have ever engaged in such behaviour for political ends. Recognise this as an opportunity to learn, to apologise and atone for any wrongdoing, to commit to better choices and to be part of the cultural growth of the Party.


Racism and Sexism

Forde investigates the racist and sexist comments in the leaked report, which were horrifying and deeply concerning – but for many women and members of colour they were not surprising. 

The witness testimony in the report given by women and Black and Ethnic Minority staff members includes sickening allegations of racist and sexist bullying, maternity discrimination, and an effectively fast-tracked recruitment process for white men. If we are the party of the trade union movement, we must lead by example in the treatment of our own workforce. 

Many women in the party will not be surprised by allegations of misogyny and sexism in the party, and the report is clear that the party “needs to continue its work to root out sexual harassment and misogyny in its workplaces” and “be alive to the subtler ways in which even senior women can feel excluded and undermined”.

The testimonies from Ethnic Minority Party staff were heartbreaking. It is unacceptable to see many staff experience a place that they didn’t feel welcomed or valued and to hear of the institutional barriers, big and small, which they face in our party.

It seems that factionalism played a part in this, such as specific allegations that staff were being overlooked for white applicants due to their factional leanings with no transparency and accountability. 

Open Labour recognises the importance of diversity in the corridors of power. We should reflect the diversity in the population we seek to represent in government and not take the votes of different communities for granted. In our workforce, lack of diversity can be isolating for people and can contribute to a hostile culture for staff from under-represented backgrounds.

To that end, we welcomed the report conclusion, criticising the culture of racism and calling it “an untenable situation”. The report is right to point out that not enough is being done to tackle all forms of racism or discrimination within the Party, something which, as Forde concludes, is the “least we should expect” from the Party as a whole. The inquiry does not investigate the party’s treatment of allegations of transphobia and other anti-LGBT prejudice but anecdotal evidence strongly suggests this too is failing to be tackled.

We especially welcome the recommendation for more transparent hiring practices and the establishment of diversity targets to make sure our Party staff reflect the electorate. If we want to represent the country in government, we must do all we can to create a Party structure that reflects our nations and the voters.

This report must be a watershed moment and members should come together to demand better from our party.


What happens next? 

Well, we can retreat into factional triumphalism and denialism and make a few cliched commitments that get kicked into the long grass. We could, as some appear to have done, ignore the report and hope the serious problems it highlights magically disappear by themselves.

Or we can take the Forde report – with its inevitable imperfections – and consider its findings and recommendations sincerely. There are many issues to be resolved and, if they aren’t, they will come back to haunt us at the worst possible time.

If we are to create a movement that will sweep us to victory at the next election then we all need to commit to cultural growth in our party. We’re not going to win if we remain in our factional silos, incapable of communicating with each other and about each other humanely, in the way Forde has brutally laid bare.

Read all about it

Tessa Milligan in LabourList

Ann Black’s latest NEC Report

Our 11 party reform proposals for the Forde Inquiry (2020)

Our statement on antisemitism and the EHRC (202

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