Thursday 23 July 2020

The Labour Right's Antisemitism Scandal

This leaked report by the Labour Party is damning. As in, incriminating. As in, possibly actionable. As in, the law might be interested in the conduct documented therein.

Senior figures from the Labour Right are accused, in this report, of using their power to block the handling of antisemitism complaints. And then, of systematically misinforming politicians, NEC members, and the leadership office about it. And then, in some cases, systematically misinform the nation as Panorama 'whistleblowers'. 

If there are any journalists left, they might take more than a passing interest in all this. I don't know if a party has ever so thoroughly cleaned out its own Augean stables.

The evidence, and this is a well-documented report, suggests that hundreds of complaints were sat on. That queries were met with misleading or downright false answers. That false information was given about the handling of complaints, the number of suspensions, and the rules governing these outcomes.

It will surprise no one that this conduct reflected a pattern of hyper-factionalism in the apparatuses, that they worked and hoped for Labour's defeat, that they used violent and abusive language about Corbyn, Abbott and others, and that the term of art for all opponents of these toytown Blairites was 'trots'. 

Nor is it news that the Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) were often as energetic in blocking complaints against members from the Right (Ian McKenzie, Jim Fitzpatrick, Robin Wales, etc), as pursuing groundless complaints against members from the Left, is also not a shock.

That Jim Fitzpatrick was protected over Islamophobic comments, while a Muslim member was suspended after he was subjected to racist abuse on the request of Mike Gapes and Wes Streeting, won't amaze anyone who has paid attention to East London politics for the last couple of decades.

However, to sabotage the handling of antisemitism complaints is not just coarse, is not just cynical, is not just thuggish and venal. It is not just politics as usual. What is it? It is wicked. It is vicious. It is objectively antisemitic. For some of these same people to then style themselves as "whistleblowers": well, that is just the mise en abyme of sociopathy.

As the Labour report points out, during the 2016 leadership election, the disputes staff expanded dramatically. It was able to process information on 11,250 individuals, of whom thousands were suspended or 'auto-excluded'. None of that prosecutory zeal was available in the months from November 2016 to February 2018, in which the Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) managed to suspend just ten individuals, and issue twenty-four Notices of Investigation (NOI) in relation to antisemitism. 

"This was not due to a lack of complaints," the report points out. It was due to a lack of action. The inbox used for receiving complaints was left unattended. Many complaints that were directly drawn to the attention of the GLU staff were not even logged as complaints.

Even those involving the most garish, nasty and potentially violent Jew-hatred. Nothing was done. They only acted on the few cases that they did, often due to chasing by MPs, NEC members, or staff from the leadership office.

Now. Some people talk about a 'witch hunt' over antisemitism. I know why they say this. But just thinking about it, this doesn't look exactly like a witch-hunt, does it? 

Just for examples, look up the cases of Fleur Dunbar, Sarah Wilkinson, Michael Preece, Len Jukes, David Brede, Alan Myers, Patricia Sheerin, Charles Stewart and Tony Olsson in the report.

Look at what they're accused of, the seriousness of the allegations, the damning nature of the evidence against them. Many people have been smeared. Corbyn is the most smeared politician in living memory. 

But these proven antisemites were not even inconvenienced until the new regime got a look at their cases. So, this doesn't look like a witch hunt. It looks like something else.

Not everything that went wrong can be attributed to malice. Some of it was an indirect consequence of factionalism. For example, the failure to suspend many antisemites apparently followed directly from a precedent set in a prior dispute. 

When disputes officials decided to suspend Andrew Fisher, for allegedly tweeting his support for a non-Labour candidate, and not suspend Emily Benn, for allegedly re-tweeting support for the Women's Equality Party, they decided to fudge the issue by saying that they couldn't suspend people for a share or a retweet. 

This illogical precedent, taking no account of context, was then used as a threshold in deciding what to do in cases where members had shared antisemitic content. That's one of the reasons why a number of complaints about antisemitic behaviour were never even logged as complaints.

Another issue, not unrelated to factionalism, is that there was a complete lack of process, professionalism and training in the handling of racism complaints. 

The system was ad hoc, informal, and wide open to abuse. It was presumably meant to be that way. The effect, however, was that even where staff members were diligent and sincere, they would have been totally unprepared to cope with this issue. 

This was an institutional failure. It may even qualify as institutional racism. The Chakrabarti report was, as much as anything, about modernising and professionalising an amateur hour system. 

Even by providing some basic framework, according to the evidence of this report, it had some mildly improving effects. However, it could only have those effects where the problem was institutional, rather than factional.

From the cheap seats, this looks like what happens when racism is filtered through institutional failure and factional corruption. The language of corruption is always perilous, and we should be careful with it. It is not a coincidence that so many reactionary movements have used 'corruption' as a rallying point (Malta) or entrée to power (Brazil). 

As an 'antipolitical' language, the way it evokes a moralising picture of the world, representing problems of power as issues of moral integrity or decadence, is intensely political. 

Nonetheless, what else do you call it when, for purely factional reasons, a party's complaints process is derailed? This is what we have the word 'corruption' for.

The incoming Starmer-Rayner regime has announced an investigation. That is the very least that they could say. However, they appear to want to focus as much on the circumstances of the report's drafting, and it's leaking, as on its substance. Those are not the issues. They know very well who drafted the report, and why, and for whose benefit. 

Who leaked it is, relative to the issues raised in it, a triviality. The issues are racism, institutional failure, and the corruption of the rightist factions who behaved like this.

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