The Labour Party has published its new Complaint Handling Handbook, as part of its compliance with the Action Plan devised in consultation with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) after it delivered its damning report into antisemitism in the Party.
While the handbook pertains to the complaints system as a whole, it makes specific provision for complaints relating to antisemitism and sexual harassment, which are both areas where the Party has been deemed to have fallen short in recent years to the point that, in the case of the former, it became institutionally racist.
The publication of the handbook is in principle an important step as the Party begins to address its woefully inadequate disciplinary system, and there are some positive provisions, such as the social media policy. There is also a more advanced discussion of the nature of antisemitism than previous reports by the Labour Party have presented, and there will be a requirement for anyone found to have engaged in antisemitic conduct to attend training, presumably in addition to any other appropriate sanction.
Notwithstanding these welcome developments, in other areas the handbook is also deeply disappointing.
Although anyone can submit complaints about Labour members, if the complainant is not directly affected by the matter, i.e. is a “third party”, then the Party will “be unable to provide any ongoing information due to confidentiality and data protection reasons”. In other words, the complaints process will continue to operate without transparency and with complainants left in the dark about how their complaints have progressed or whether any decisions have been reached or sanctions imposed.
Campaign Against Antisemitism has submitted numerous complaints against MPs and other officeholders; under this regime, we are unlikely to be informed as to how the complaints are progressing at all. (Although the handbook states that complaints will at least be acknowledged and the complainants will be told if the complaints are being investigated, we have not received any such acknowledgement to our complaints, months after submitting them.)
The handbook also limits the purview of complaints to the conduct of individuals or organisational bodies during their time of membership or affiliation, and will not consider conduct prior to the period of membership. This means that if a Labour member or officeholder or organisation is found to have engaged in antisemitic conduct prior to joining the Party, there is no recourse.
In a concerning instance of little having been learned, the handbook cites the recommendation of the whitewash Chakrabarti Report that Labour members should “resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular.” That report fell short of designating such comparisons as antisemitic, as they are under the International Definition of Antisemitism.
Most astonishingly, the handbook presents numerous anonymised examples of how complaints relating to antisemitism were dealt with. These examples, far from demonstrating the Party’s progress in addressing the problem, in fact illustrate just how broken the current disciplinary system is and make the case for the independent disciplinary system that the EHRC has mandated.
In one example, a Labour member “posted and shared several things on social media that were antisemitic; using Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine”. In other words, they breached the International Definition of Antisemitism in at least one and possibly multiple ways. Yet the sanction was merely that the member was given a Formal Warning, which would remain on their record for eighteen months.
In another example, a Labour member had “posted several articles on social media promoting conspiracy theories suggesting that Jewish people were responsible for real and imagined wrongdoings”, as well as “articles that minimised complaints of antisemitism within the Labour Party”. But an investigation “concluded that no Labour Party rules were specifically breached but a Reminder of Conduct was issued to the member”.
Another member “posted online the details of an email they’d sent which presented emotive, personal views” including that Labour’s Jewish affiliate and its pro-Israel Parliamentary group “should be disbanded”. The member refused to retract those views and was merely given a Formal Warning. They later resigned their membership.
Yet another member “responded to a social media post in a way that served to repeat antisemitic tropes”. Nevertheless, it was concluded that no Party rules had been breached, so the member only received a Reminder of Values.
Clearly, these illustrations, which appear to be presented as examples of best practice, are not remotely reassuring. Formal Warnings are not going to eradicate antisemitism from the membership ranks of an institutionally racist Party.
Joe Glasman, Head of Political and Government Investigations at Campaign Against Antisemitism, said: “Labour’s new complaints handbook is like a bad April Fool’s joke. The idea that a prospective member can be as antisemitic as they’d like until they join the Party is another Chakrabarti-like attempt to turn a blind eye and move on.
“The illustrations of current practice, far from inspiring confidence, show just why the system is broken: for someone to be able to breach the International Definition of Antisemitism, which Labour adopted only after a massive row, and only get a formal warning, is a betrayal of the Jewish community.
“If this is what Sir Keir Starmer was referring to when he vowed to tear antisemitism out by its roots, then we can be sure that the fight against antisemitism in the Labour Party is very far from won.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism has lodged a complaint against Jeremy Corbyn, holding him responsible for conduct that is prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party, as the Leader during the period of the EHRC’s shameful findings. Given the serious detriment that this conduct has caused, we are seeking Mr Corbyn’s immediate resuspension and, if the complaint is upheld, we will be requesting his expulsion. On the day of the publication of the EHRC’s report, we also submitted a major complaint against Mr Corbyn and other sitting MPs. These complaints are yet to be acknowledged by the Party, and they must be investigated by an independent disciplinary process that the EHRC has demanded and Sir Keir has promised but has yet to introduce.
The Labour Party was found by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to have engaged in unlawful discrimination and harassment of Jews. The report followed the EHRC’s investigation of the Labour Party in which Campaign Against Antisemitism was the complainant, submitting hundreds of pages of evidence and legal argument. Sir Keir Starmer called the publication of the report a “day of shame” for the Labour Party.
Campaign Against Antisemitism’s Antisemitism Barometer 2019 showed that antisemitism on the far-left of British politics has surpassed that of the far-right.
Campaign Against Antisemitism advocates for zero tolerance of antisemitism in public life. To that end we monitor all political parties and strive to ensure that any cases of concern are properly addressed.