Labour 'in total disarray' over antisemitism allegations, campaigners claim

Activists warn anti-Jewish sentiment becoming 'institutionalised' in party and call unit responsible for tackling complaints 'disjointed, confused and chaotic'

Benjamin Kentish
Political Correspondent
Saturday 03 March 2018 20:04
Labour MP Ruth Smeeth says the party should allocate more resources to its compliance unit, which handles claims of wrongdoing by members
Labour MP Ruth Smeeth says the party should allocate more resources to its compliance unit, which handles claims of wrongdoing by members

Labour activists campaigning against antisemitism in the party have hit out at officials for failing to deal with allegations.

Labour Against Antisemitism (LAAS) said the party’s compliance unit, which handles claims of wrongdoing by members, was “in total disarray”.

The group claimed antisemitism is becoming “institutionalised” in Labour and called for “immediate and decisive” action to address the issue.

Labour has been blighted by allegations of antisemitism in recent months, despite the party insisting it takes a no-tolerance approach to all forms of racism.

In some cases disciplinary hearings have been delayed for more than a year, while Jewish activists have also voiced concern that in others people have been let off lightly or allowed back into the party.

LAAS said the problem has got worse since the resignation of Iain McNicol as Labour’s general secretary earlier this month, despite the fact he is continuing in the role until a successor is chosen.

The group says it has reported thousands of cases of alleged antisemtism and bullying in the last year, the vast majority of which took place on social media.

But it claimed the response from the party’s compliance unit was often “disjointed, confused and chaotic”.

The unit reportedly responded to one allegation of online bullying by a Labour member by saying they had been unable to identify the person in question. LAAS said the user, who had already been suspended from the party, was clearly identifiable from their Twitter account.

The unnamed LAAS activist who reported the incident said: “I couldn’t believe what they were saying to us. The guy we had reported is a prominent Brighton-based activist and his suspension is very well-known, having involved several other Labour members. And compliance were saying they’d never even heard of him.

“There is something wrong in Labour’s compliance unit if they are making these sorts of mistakes. They just aren’t sorting things out at all.”

LAAS said other activists had received similar emails from party officials, including one which reportedly said the compliance unit had been unable to identify a person, despite them being a sitting Labour councillor.

Euan Philipps, a spokesperson for LAAS, said: “Our organisation puts a lot of effort into identifying and reporting antisemitism and abuse by Labour members, and we have engaged with the compliance unit previously to ensure our reporting procedures are aligned with their disciplinary processes.

“When mistakes like this happens, it does not engender confidence – in fact, it seems like the system is in total disarray.

“It is vital that the next general secretary, whoever he or she is, gets a grip on this as a priority. Antisemitism is becoming institutionalised within the party structures and without immediate and decisive action the problem will continue to worsen.”

Jeremy Corbyn's campaign team tackle accusations of antisemitism

Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, who has been the subject of antisemitic abuse, told The Independent: “Staff in the compliance unit are working as hard as they can with the resources they have.

“I don’t blame them for this. This is about political will. The Labour Party needs to allocate more resources to the compliance unit to make sure cases are being dealt with quickly and effectively.

“These people have no place in our party so we need to be dealing with allegations swiftly so that they can be thrown out.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “This is completely untrue. The Labour Party takes all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously and is committed to challenging it in all its forms.

"Any complaints of anti-Semitism are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures and action taken, including all complaints made by Labour Against Antisemitism.”

Labour sources said more than half the complaints sent by LAAS related to people who were not Labour members. LAAS said this suggestion was completely untrue and that it is careful to always provide supporting evidence.

The latest claims come days after LAAS suggested Unite official Jennie Formby, one of the frontrunners to succeed Mr McNicol, may have “acted with antisemitic intent”. It pointed to allegations she had objected to a 2016 inquiry into antisemitism being carried out by Baroness Royall on the grounds that the Labour peer was a member of the Labour Friends of Israel group.

In response, Unite released a strongly worded statement calling the accusation a “malicious smear”. Ms Formby is currently the union’s south-east regional secretary and was previously its political director.

The statement said: “Jennie Formby voted for Ms Jan Royall’s appointment, and argued for her inquiry to be properly resourced by the party.

“Ms Formby is a lifelong opponent of antisemitism and all forms of racism. LAAS’s smears have no place in Labour’s democracy or political culture.”

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