Labour and the EHRC: the way forward

29 10 20

HOPE not hate CEO Nick Lowles reflects back on the day when the EHRC published their report into antisemitism in the Labour Party, and argues that everyone in the Party will be judged on their reaction to the report – and their actions.

Today will have been painful for many in the Jewish community. It is another day in which their experiences and pain have been picked over in the newspapers, debated on social media, and dragged into political fights. 


Throughout this crisis, there has been a series of accusations, denials, anger, statements, speeches and listening – but here has been one constant: the pain faced by Jewish people, who have suffered abuse, dismissal, ridicule and harassment. They have had their experiences derided and denied. Their pain is Labour’s shame. 

For several years – and the EHRC report details this in damning and unambiguous terms – Jewish people have been harassed and abused in the Labour Party. Today must be the beginning of the process of putting that right. 

Any apology today is merely one step in a journey of atonement and healing. While today will feel like a dark day for the Labour Party, it can also be the start of a new chapter. The EHRC’s report has today given clarity on what, from a structural perspective, has gone so badly wrong in the past.  The Labour Party’s response suggests that they’re committed and prepared to put things right. While there is a clear process that must now be followed, no-one can mistake the signal sent by the suspension of Jeremy Corbyn as a result of his comments this morning.

As I set out in an essay during last year’s General Election, this crisis was originally sparked by a tiny minority of left-wing antisemites, who, drawing on age-old antisemitic and anti-capitalist tropes, abused and trolled Jewish Labour members. Ignorance of both historic and contemporary antisemitism meant others on the left were drawn into reproducing and amplifying these toxic narratives. The crisis was fuelled by the stubborn refusal of the Labour Party to accept the problem existed, sparking a wave of denialism that in itself trolled the Jewish community. The crisis was charged by the structural failures of the Labour Party to adequately tackle the problem. It didn’t have to be this way – but this is what happened, and the consequent harm done is what Labour now needs to correct. 

This terrible problem need never have reached this stage –  and the responsibility must ultimately rest with the party leader. Jeremy Corbyn proved incapable of recognising, acknowledging  and tackling left-wing antisemitism or even facing up to his own blind spots in this regard. Today, instead of choosing his words carefully and reflecting on the EHRC’s findings, his rush to self-justification led to him being suspended from the party. Much like this crisis itself, it was avoidable, unnecessary and the result of a stubborn inability to reflect on the situation.

The EHRC report made two serious conclusions about unlawful acts within the Labour Party – finding it was responsible for acts of harassment and discrimination by its agents and for acts of indirect discrimination relating to political interference and a lack of adequate training.

But the report makes clear that this was just ‘the tip of the iceberg’ and that these behaviours are intolerable, irrespective of legal responsibility.

We agree with the perspective of the Jewish Labour Movement that the focus should now be on the future. This starts with a culture change. There must be zero tolerance for antisemitism throughout the Labour Party , from the leader on down.

The Labour Party should re-engage in political education on this issue so that Labour’s members have the tools to understand and deal with left-wing antisemitic tropes where they manifest.

The Labour Party must work hard and purposefully to further repair the relationship between the Labour Party and the many sections of the Jewish community that it has alienated itself from. That includes supporting the Jewish members who were left isolated, and in many cases victimised and harassed, because of the Party’s previous inability to tackle this problem robustly. Jewish members were dismissed, ignored and smeared, and it is only through their determination and persistence that we have got to this point today.

Labour must develop a new, independent complaints process for all forms of discrimination, racism and prejudice – and complaints of antisemitism should be guided by, and adher to, the IHRA definition of antisemitism. It must now recognise that transparency is required, not least to re-establish trust. 

The EHRC’s recommendations are the bare minimum. This is a moment for the Labour Party to consider not what it is being made to do, but what it believes it must do, to become an inclusive and welcoming party, free from harassment and intimidation. It must deal with the antisemitism in its ranks, and use this as a moment to consider its approach to anti-Black racism,  Islamophobia, misogyny, transphobia and other issues that have afflicted our society for too long. 

Labour is not the only party to have serious issues with racism and inclusivity to address within its ranks. Labour’s shame today should be a warning to all parties that it is better to proactively address issues as they are raised, and to take action – even if politically difficult to do so – with effective leadership.  

Read our analysis of the EHRC report, the background to the crisis, and other content on the issue in our special online hub.


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