In the 1993 film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character relives February 2nd over and over again. For Labour MPs, the Parliamentary Labour Party meeting of February 4th felt like our own version of Groundhog Day: reliving our own nightmare of the Labour Party’s abject failure to tackle antisemitism.
For months, the Parliamentary Committee – the group of Labour MPs elected to meet weekly with the Leader of the Labour Party on behalf of backbenchers – have been asking for information about the progress being made to tackle antisemitism within our Party’s ranks. Having been dissatisfied with the lack of clear answers and having been presented with too many cases where the Party has failed to live up to the ‘zero tolerance’ that was promised, they brought a motion before the Parliamentary Labour Party demanding a written report in seven days outlining how the Party is dealing with antisemitism, including data on the number of cases that the Labour Party has dealt with, how they have been treated and how many are outstanding.
The motion was passed unanimously, but within minutes the General Secretary of the Labour Party, Jennie Formby, was on her feet regurgitating an article on LabourList she had published prior to the meeting and refusing to publish the data requested by Labour MPs on the basis that she reports to the NEC, which refuses to publish such data.
It’s Groundhog Day. The Labour Party says it is taking the issue seriously, even when there are plenty of examples of people caught red-handed being let back into the Labour Party. Labour MPs are again being accused of using the issue antisemitism to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, and now Jennie Formby, even though concerns have been raised privately for many months and Jewish MPs experience the worst of the backlash every time this issue arises. And Jewish people are staring into another round of broken promises from a Party that promised ‘zero tolerance’ and a ‘militant fight against antisemitism’.
Let’s be clear: Jennie Formby could publish this information today if she wanted to. She enjoys the full support and confidence of Jeremy Corbyn. No Leader of the Labour Party has ever enjoyed such a commanding grip on Labour’s NEC. Contrary to the propaganda circulating on social media alongside, Jennie Formby’s position as General Secretary isn’t under attack. The idea that the victims in all of this are the Leader and General Secretary of the Labour Party is deeply offensive and a kick in the teeth to Jewish members who’ve been subjected to abuse, threats of violence and physical intimidation at Labour Party meetings and on social media. The have both the power and authority to act, they just need the will to do so.
On too many occasions in recent years, Labour’s antisemitism crisis has been exacerbated by a failure to recognise well-founded and sincere concerns about the scale of the problem. Jeremy Corbyn has acknowledged the problem and the failure to properly address it. Jennie Formby has been crystal clear that she doesn’t dismiss concerns about antisemitism as ‘smears’ and wants to address it. It’s time to get on with it.
But the Party is falling short. As Labour MPs we see example after example of this failure. Like the Labour Party activist who shares Rothchilds conspiracy theories online, but had his suspension from the Party lifted. Or the activist who claimed that Israel ”
‘is the cause of all the dirt in the media about JC’ and also called John Mann MP a “Zionist apologist to the highest order”, but was let off with a warning.
Then there’s the higher profile cases – like that of Cllr Jim Sheridan, the former Labour MP. Cllr Sheridan was suspended last year for claiming that Jews were conspiring with ‘Blairite plotters’, yet has been readmitted and faces no further action, despite him claiming that his accusers “were misguided and overreacted”. Or Jenny Rathbone, a Welsh Assembly member, who suggested that security fears held by Jewish worshippers at a Cardiff synagogue – her own constituents – were only real in “their own heads”. She was readmitted to the Party at the start of January following a short suspension. Or another Scottish councillor, Mary Bain Lockhart, who made the sickening assertion that “Mossad assisted campaign to prevent the election of a Labour government”. She’s also back in the Labour Party. So much for zero tolerance.
Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The claim that the Labour Party has dealt with all outstanding cases stretches the boundaries of credibility. Until victims can see the outcome of their complaints and we’re transparent with the public about the number of complaints and how they’re handled, we have no chance of rebuilding confidence. It’s not too much to ask – and by now it should be obvious that those of us campaigning against antisemitism within the Labour Party are fearless, relentless and we are not going away.