Hope not Hate: Labour’s ‘shameful’ path to the EHRC investigation

Ahead of the rumoured launch of the report this week, Liron Velleman looks at how Labour got to this bleak milestone.

The day that brought shame to mainstream British politics when the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) launched a statutory investigation into the Labour Party over multiple complaints of antisemitism.

The only other political party ever to be subject to this process was the British National Party. So how did things to descend to this point?  

What is the EHRC and what powers does it have?  

The EHRC is a statutory non-departmental public body established by the Labour government within the Equality Act 2006. They use their powers to support organisations in challenging discrimination and protecting human rights and have a statutory power to take action against those who do not comply.   

Section 20 of the Equality Act 2006 allows the EHRC to carry out investigations in organisations suspected of committing unlawful discrimination. The EHRC only launches investigations when they suspect an organisation has committed an unlawful act. Thus, the investigation itself shows that the situation reached a significantly high level to warrant the EHRC’s full involvement. 

Why did the EHRC launch the investigation?  

The EHRC made their decision to launch a full investigation having considered the evidence from a number of complaints, including from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), of which I am Policy Officer on their National Executive Committee. 

It is important to stress that the investigation is not into whether the Labour Party is institutionally antisemitic but instead whether the Labour Party committed unlawful acts towards their members.   

The terms of reference for the report make clear that the EHRC, using their powers under the Equality Act, will look at:  

“Whether unlawful acts have been committed by the Party or its employees or agents, whether the Rule Book and the Party’s investigatory and disciplinary processes have enabled or could enable it to deal efficiently and effectively with complaints of race or religion or belief discrimination and racial harassment or victimisation and whether the Party has responded to complaints of unlawful acts in a lawful, efficient and effective manner.”  

Nonetheless, this report is likely to be the most expansive look at antisemitism in the Labour Party, being the first truly independent investigation into the issue and moreover an investigation that could demand a whole host of evidence not uncovered before such as emails and private messaging communications.  

What were the nature of the complaints?  

The past few years have given plenty of individual examples of antisemitic behaviour, as well as the denial, obfuscation and minimisation of the problem. 

However, the nature of the complaints were more specific than just a litany of incidents. They covered the institutional failings that have allowed the problem to continue.  

We know that at least 70 current and former Labour Party staff members gave sworn testimonies and statements to the EHRC, whistleblowing on the extent of the problem within the Labour Party.  

The examples highlighted included some high-profile cases such as abuse directed at Jewish MPs but also chronicle the negative experiences of a widespread group of rank and file members. This included one individual who detailed 22 examples of antisemitic abuse he received at CLP meetings including being called ‘Zio scum’ and being told ‘that Hitler was right’ by fellow Labour members.   

Alongside clear examples of antisemitic abuse, the submission also covers how leading figures in the Labour Party, responded in a defensive or even hostile way to claims of antisemitism. This spread from defending those engaging in Jew-baiting such as Chris Williamson to denying the existence or extent of the problem of antisemitism to the active victimisation of those calling out antisemitism.  

The JLM’s original submission raised concerns not just about the many stark examples of antisemitic behaviour by Labour employees, agents and members but also the flaws in Labour’s procedures for dealing with antisemitism and their inadequate implementation. 

Whilst all of the above was important, context and framing for the EHRC to run an investigation, the key contention of the submission is that the Labour Party is culpable for multiple unlawful acts under the Equality Act. The reason why the EHRC decided that the crisis warranted the full investigation was primarily the clear indication that unlawful acts had been committed.   

What will the report say when it’s released?  

The report was completed and subsequently the EHRC sent a copy of the draft report to the Labour Party and gave them a minimum of 28 days to provide written comments on the document. During that time period anyone who was named in the report also received the sections where they are mentioned. The final report is expected to be published this week.  

If the EHRC finds that the Labour Party has committed unlawful acts, such as discrimination, harassment or victimisation of Jewish members, the EHRC can issue an unlawful act notice which details the breach and recommends any steps to rectify it. They can also require an action plan to be prepared by the Labour Party.  

The report and its recommendations should be a useful blueprint to move forward in ensuring the Labour Party returns to being a safe place for its Jewish members. The recommendations should look to tackle both cultural and procedural issues in order to ensure that widespread antisemitism in Labour can be stamped out.  

However, the Labour Party will have agency to go above and beyond the Commission’s recommendations to address wider issues which would not be deemed as committing unlawful acts, and should stand in solidarity with both Jewish Labour members and the wider community who will find the release of the report both a troubling reminder but also hopefully to end of five years of pain and hurt. 

Liron Velleman is HOPE not hate’s Political Organiser.

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