News of the decision to not discipline two students over claims of anti-Semitism and bullying at Oxford University Labour Club was met by a chorus of consternation – and, just as notably, a distinct lack of surprise.
It’s worth recapping for those who’ve lost track of a lengthy saga that has been the subject of no less than three inquiries. Last February, the former head of the Club resigned claiming that members had “some kind of problems with Jews”. A senior peer appointed by Jeremy Corbyn concluded following an investigation that there were “incidents” of anti-Semitism and passed on at least two names to the party’s general-secretary.
Yet many reacting on social media offered little more than a sarcastic “shock!” or a resigned “of course” at revelations that no action will be taken. No further evidence is required about the hammering Labour-Jewish ties have taken over the past year but, for those who have vowed to fight on for that relationship, such a level of resignation is a reminder of the uphill struggle they face in persuading others of the merits of that path.
But there is an aggravating factor to this case that makes it all the more troubling – and ought to have made the dispute panel’s decision especially shocking.
Party HQ, indeed those who had been investigating this case for months, recommended that the pair be handed warnings.
It may have represented little more than a tap on the wrist, but at least it would have been a public acknowledgement that the behaviour relayed to Baroness Royall is unacceptable.
There is a reason why several member of Oxford Labour Club refused to return and disciplinary action would have shown acceptance of that. To achieve this, the panel needed do no more than accept the recommendations of those most acquainted with the case.
Instead, it had to go out of its way to rule against those recommendations – in the process sending out the opposite message to those involved in this case and beyond.
This latest case shines a spotlight on the process as much as the outcome. Every disciplinary case has to go through the dispute’s panel, which is made up of members of the politically-charged NEC. Although the NEC is finely balanced between the hard left and moderates, outcomes could come down to which factions turn up in greater number on the day. All eyes will now be on what happens when the Jackie Walker case reaches that same panel.
A further worrying aspect of the Oxford case is the fact none of the complainants were kept informed of the progress of the investigation throughout the months-long probe. I’m not someone who would describe Chakrabarti’s report as a whitewash, as some others have. It contained some useful starting points but they were just that. Not the end game.
John Mann, the veteran campaigner against anti-Semitism, said to me on the day of the report’s launch last summer that it would make especially bad reading for Ken Livingstone. His case differs from Oxford referred by the dispute’s panel to the next stage of the party’s investigative process but it’s little wonder that Baroness Royall wondered this week whether the former London mayor could yet win his case for readmission.
Despite the tone of resignation after this week’s news, I’d like to think that, after everything, that would still be a surprise. That really would cause the ultimate offence.