Dismantling institutionalised hate requires honesty at scale of the problem

Baron Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party 2011-2018 (Credit: BBC Panorama - Is Labour Anti-Semitic? - via Jewish News)
Baron Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party 2011-2018 (Credit: BBC Panorama - Is Labour Anti-Semitic? - via Jewish News)

Did I think when I joined the Labour Party five years ago whilst in 6th Form that my experience of the Labour Party would be defined almost entirely by antisemitism? Absolutely not.

I joined because at the time I saw a party that aligned with my values of social justice and equality and I wanted to be a part of building a better country.

Five years on, that Labour Party has all but disappeared.

The airing of the Panorama documentary on antisemitism in the Labour Party last night has shed a critical light on the devastating failings taking place within the Party and its complaints procedures.

Eight incredibly brave whistle-blowers and the former General Secretary, Iain McNicol, defied Non-Disclosure Agreements to speak about their experiences of working in the Labour Party’s complaints department.

They detailed the political interference from Jeremy Corbyn’s office, the undermining of staff and a toxic culture that pervaded.

What was the most shocking was the toll that this took on their mental health.

A culture that leads to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts should have absolutely no place in any workplace, let alone the Labour Party.

The Jewish community owes them a huge debt of gratitude to these whistle-blowers for speaking out on our behalf.

Their testimonies demonstrate the institutionalised nature of antisemitism in the Labour Party that has been allowed to fester whilst the leadership has failed to grapple with the root of the problem. Instead of trying to muzzle ex-staff, the Labour Party should be applauding not attacking those who’ve spoken out.

We know that this problem is institutional. From comments made by members online and in Labour Party meetings, to the series of high profile cases of antisemitism where the Labour Party has either not acted, not acted swiftly enough or failed to give an appropriate sanction.

The National Executive Committee still featured repeat offender Pete Willsman who went on antisemitic rant about Israeli interference in British politics but had been allowed to continue his role after another antisemitic outburst several month prior.

The Parliamentary Labour Party, despite the best of efforts of Jewish MPs and allies have tried and failed to hold the Labour Party to account over its failings.

When Labour fails to act on a clear cut case of antisemitism like that of Kayla Bibby, it reveals a reality where at best, the Labour Party fails to understand antisemitism and at worst where it wilfully allows it to manifest.

Image shared by Kayla Bibby (Jewish News)

Dismantling an institutionalised problem will only be successful is the leadership of the Labour Party recognises the role they’ve played in allowing a culture of antisemitism to persist.

The fact that the Labour Party is now being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission should shock the Labour Party into reflecting on the position we’re now in.

Insisting that steps taken by Jennie Formby to address antisemitism have had widespread positive effect is simply not based in evidence. The complaints department is as ineffective as ever and members like me are still subject to hostile local meetings.

Actions need to be taken, not press-release platitudes about anti-racism.

It’s been made clear from the Panorama documentary that political interference in the complaints system has undermined its integrity.

The Labour Party must move to a fully independent complaints procedure, free from political interference from Jeremy Corbyn and Jennie Formby.

Labour must be honest about the true scale of antisemitism in the Party and take action to address it.

The fact that the Labour Party has refused to do so up until now, has meant the EHRC has had to step in.

We know from the experiences of Labour Party members like myself, that Constituency Labour Parties have descended into a toxic environment and online Labour spaces are rife with antisemitism and denial of the problem.

The work of the Jewish Labour Movement is more crucial than ever in tackling antisemitism in the Labour Party. Our members are committed to fighting it on all fronts, whether that’s whilst remaining members of the Labour Party, or from the outside.

I’m joining the Jewish Labour Movement as their National Organiser at perhaps its most difficult point in its history. It’s going to be a challenge, but one that needs to be faced.

About the Author
Rebecca is the National Organiser for the Jewish Labour Movement
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