Two groups within Labour used antisemitism as ‘factional weapon’, report finds

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Labour rosette (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA) (PA Archive)
Labour rosette (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA) (PA Archive)

A long-awaited report into a leaked antisemitism dossier has found that two groups within the Labour Party treated the issue as a “factional weapon”.

Labour said on Tuesday that its general secretary had received the report and was due to take the document to a meeting of the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC). It has since been published online.

Martin Forde QC, a barrister and former independent adviser to the Windrush compensation scheme, was chosen by the NEC to chair an inquiry into the “circumstances, contents and release” of the “internal” dossier in 2020.

Jeremy Corbyn (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)
Jeremy Corbyn (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)

The leaked 860-page document found “no evidence” of antisemitism being handled differently from other complaints and blamed “factional opposition” towards former leader Jeremy Corbyn for hampering efforts to tackle the issue.

Allies of Mr Corbyn used the dossier to say elements of the party undermined his leadership.

But the foreword to the Forde report, published on Tuesday afternoon, said: “The evidence clearly demonstrated that a vociferous faction in the party sees any issues regarding antisemitism as exaggerated by the right to embarrass the left.

“It was of course also true that some opponents of Jeremy Corbyn saw the issue of antisemitism as a means of attacking him.

“Thus, rather than confront the paramount need to deal with the profoundly serious issue of antisemitism in the party, both factions treated it as a factional weapon.”

The foreword also said the inquiry panel found the disciplinary process was “not fit for purpose” and “potentially prone to factional interference” during the period it investigated – 2015 to 2019.

Many staff felt that specific problems were only dealt with when it was politically expedient and/or essential to do so

The Forde report

However it did say “many aspects of the party’s recent reforms of disciplinary procedures” were to be applauded, and the changes were “generally steps in the right direction”.

The report also found that while “some progress” has been made in relation to sexism, “there is more to be done”.

“The party clearly needs to continue to work to root out sexual harassment and misogyny in its workplaces… but it also needs to be alive to the subtler ways in which even senior women can feel excluded and undermined,” it said.

On tackling racism, it found that “less progress has been made”.

“Many respondents felt they were confronted with a less welcoming atmosphere in which many respondents felt they were forced to immerse themselves daily, and this amounts to a constant drain on the attention and energies of talented people who would prefer to be focused on their work,” it said.

“Many staff felt that specific problems were only dealt with when it was politically expedient and/or essential to do so, and that the party’s more recent steps to address the problems with antisemitism, for example, have not been matched by a commitment to tackle other forms of racism.”

There is a culture of intellectual smugness which exists at the extremes of the political spectrum the party represents

The Forde report

The foreword called for “constructive engagement” with the findings in the 138-page review.

“There is a culture of intellectual smugness which exists at the extremes of the political spectrum the party represents,” it said.

“In the past this has led to the dismissal of valid, albeit sometimes uncomfortable, views. It must now come to an end.”

The report makes difficult reading for all sides of the Labour Party, describing a “toxic” atmosphere fuelled by factionalism during the period 2015-19.

It said: “We understand the intensity of anger amongst many of the membership at the contents of, in particular, the WhatsApp messages cited in the leaked report. Our focus, though, is on how such a toxic situation arose and (more importantly) how it can be avoided in the future.

One of the tragedies of this period for the party is that so many have lost sight of the humanity of those who they see as being in an opposing faction, which is perhaps easier than ever in an age where so much of our communication takes place at arms-length through a screen.”

The review backed the conclusion of a Labour Together report from 2019, which found that the party had “spent substantial periods of the last five years in conflict with itself”.

Keir Starmer is now in control and has made real progress in ridding the party of the destructive factionalism and unacceptable culture that did so much damage

Labour spokesperson

It said: “We believe there is a clear need for individuals to see and treat each other better, regardless of their political views.”

It found that that leaking and hostile briefings reached “unprecedented levels in the uniquely toxic post-2015 atmosphere”.

“Like so many of the problems caused by factionalism, it was self-perpetuating with each new affront triggering a response in kind,” it said.

The report also found that recruitment processes in the party “have long been too informal and insufficiently transparent”, and claimed they had been “weaponised” by Labour HQ and the Leader of the Opposition’s office (LOTO) during the period 2015-19.

This was done in particular by, in LOTO’s case, “duplicating roles traditionally performed by HQ staff in order to shore up a separate power base”, it claimed.

The report also pointed to an “exclusionary approach” to recruitment, which it said meant the party had “missed out on talent” by “creating an atmosphere in which many individuals feel excluded”.

“As HQ became relatively politically homogenous, particularly at the senior level, a degree of ‘groupthink’ appears to have taken hold,” it said.

Allies of Mr Corbyn had accused Labour officials of sabotaging the 2017 election campaign through factional in-fighting.

Addressing those allegations, the Forde Report found that the “approach of both sides to resource allocation was coloured by factional concerns”.

An apparently covert operation run in Ergon House received particular attention, with the report noting: “Several HQ staff told us that they attempted to shore up MPs on the right only in order to rebalance the factional pressures being exerted on resource allocation by LOTO.”

Ultimately, the report finds it was “highly unlikely that the diversion of funds and personnel into the Ergon House operation lost the party the general election. Nevertheless, the Ergon House operation was wrong.”

A party spokesperson said: “The Forde report details a party that was out of control.

“Keir Starmer is now in control and has made real progress in ridding the party of the destructive factionalism and unacceptable culture that did so much damage previously and contributed to our defeat in 2019.”

Initially, the terms of reference said the investigative panel chaired by Mr Forde would “use their best endeavours” to deliver the report to Labour by July 2020, but it has taken two years to come to fruition.

In March this year, Mr Forde wrote to Labour’s general secretary to tell him the content of his review had been finalised, and all that was still needed was “detailed checking for legal and factual accuracy prior to publication”.

Reacting to the Forde report, Mr Corbyn said that it “casts an important light” on recent events in the party, while also offering a “path forward”.

Describing his election as a “major shock” to British politics, he said: “Powerful groups in the party found that change hard to come to terms with.

“This led to a conflict in Labour that created a toxic environment, which the Forde Report lays bare. In any party there are groups and factions, but the resistance we were faced with went far beyond that.”

“Too often the will of the membership was overridden by people who thought they shouldn’t have had a say in the first place,” he said.

“The appalling behaviour that Forde calls out, including the repulsive racism and sexism shown to Diane Abbott and others, should have no place in a progressive party.

“Toxic factionalism is far from over – nor are persistent problems of racism and sexism – and action must be taken, as Forde makes clear.”

He said that Labour now needs to “decide what it is for and who decides that”.

Among the recommendations contained in the report is a detailed reform of the disciplinary process, while changes to party structures and staffing are also called for.

Recruitment should be “formal, open and transparent”, the report says.

On the culture within the party, the report says “behaviour change is required at all levels of the party”.

It calls for a party-wide consultation to “identify shared values and the seeds of a healthy culture” led by the political leadership and Labour HQ.

A designated senior shadow Cabinet member should liaise with party HQ on the issue of culture change, the report suggests.

A revised social media policy is also needed for staff, it adds.

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