OPINION: The good, the overreach and the preposterous of the Labour’s Forde report

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OPINION: The good, the overreach and the preposterous of the Labour’s Forde report

Suggesting that Jewish Voice for Labour offers antisemitism training goes against a key finding of the report commissioned by Sir Keir Starmer, argues JLM's Adam Langleben

Sir Keir Starmer (left) alongside former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre)
Sir Keir Starmer (left) alongside former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (centre)

So what is the Forde Report? The majority of readers will be unaware that in April 2020 a report was leaked to media titled The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014–2019.

This report, written in the dying days of Corbyn’s leadership, leaked just as Keir Starmer was elected (presumably to cause chaos), sought to codify Corbyn’s team’s narrative of what they did to tackle antisemitism. It was claimed the report was written to send to the EHRC – however Labour’s lawyers at the time urged the Party not to – in part because it accepted (and perhaps would have exacerbated) the many charges JLM levelled at the Party. Either way, following the leak the EHRC had acknowledged that the document made little difference to their findings.

The report was leaked, deliberately unredacted. It included names and details of dozens of Jewish and non-Jewish complainants to the Party, including myself, who made complaints. It also included an array of internal emails and whatsapp messages from Labour Party staff. Any person who complains of racism should feel assured their privacy will be respected. In this instance whoever leaked the document had no regard whatsoever for the wellbeing of Jewish members, some of whose names suddenly appeared on far right websites following the leak. The Party and the individuals who have been accused of leaking the document – which they deny – are currently involved in legal proceedings and the ICO are deciding whether or not to bring forward criminal charges. Frustratingly, but understandably, Forde doesn’t report on this.

Mike Katz and Dame Margaret Hodge, Parliamentary Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, during a press conference by the JLM at the offices of Mishcon de Reya in London, following the publication of damming anti-Semitism report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

The leaked report itself did acknowledge the scale of antisemitism within the Party and largely accepted that this phenomenon became widespread following the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Where it differed from other analysis was who it tried to blame for the failure in tackling the issue. Broadly and concisely, according to this document, the blame lay with ‘right wing’ staffers who tried to obstruct Corbyn’s team’s efforts. The leaked report claimed that some of those same staffers tried to sabotage the 2017 election campaign and more seriously had made racist and sexist comments about Black Labour MPs.

Upon the leak being made public, Keir Starmer commissioned Martin Forde QC to lead an inquiry that has lasted two years and culminated in the Forde Report, released today. The remit was narrow and I fear that Forde has gone beyond it, which was:

·   The background and circumstances in which the report was commissioned and the process involved.

·   The contents and wider culture and practices referred to in the report.

·   Third, the circumstances in which the report was put into the public domain.

Just as we respected the independence of the EHRC, I have no reason to doubt the independence of Martin Forde QC. He is a respected and eminent QC who I have heard praised by many. He understands racism more broadly without being an expert in antisemitism – but his job here was not to investigate antisemitism – that job was done by the EHRC – his job was to investigate the issues above..

However the single overriding finding in his report throughout is that antisemitism in the Labour Party was a real, serious and widescale problem and fully accepted the EHRC action plan. He wrote “…there is nothing in the Leaked Report (or elsewhere in the evidence we have seen) to support the conclusion that the problem of antisemitism in the Party was overstated.”

Forde was brutal in some respects. He was clear that factionalism fueled the growth of antisemitism by some members who said it was a smear. He argues factionalism entrenched positions and mistrust led to bad practices. This is something we have never disputed.

It is understandable that, through intellectual curiosity, perhaps, Forde wanted to look at the actions the Labour Party is now taking on antisemitism. One he chose to cover was education. For the past year, as Labour’s Jewish affiliate, JLM have been delivering antisemitism awareness education to members, primarily online due to covid. Our training, developed and delivered in conjunction with Labour, following consultation with the community, has been well-received and sought to meet members’ where they are and give them information to challenge antisemitism. It is not training for antisemites on how not to be antisemitic.

With that in mind, we find his recommendations on training out of kilter with our experiences from delivering it. His comment on engaging with Jewish Voice for Labour, who were established to deny antisemitism and provide cover for the previous Labour leadership and the antisemites they tolerated and enabled, is frankly propesterous. Jewish Voice for Labour, contrary to what Forde writes elsewhere in the report, does believe that antisemitism in the Labour Party was overstated and has frequently praised, platformed and defended antisemites that ultimately were expelled from the party. Thus, it is doubly disappointing that Forde decided to talk about JLM’s training in its report, but not talk to JLM about it first.

(back row left to right) Mike Katz, Ruth Smeeth, Adam Langleben, (front row) Margaret Hodge and Peter Mason, during a press conference by the Jewish Labour Movement at the offices of Mishcon de Reya in London, following the publication of damming anti-Semitism report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Forde’s findings are not Labour Party policy. They are his observations and findings as this was an independent investigation. He published it and the Labour Party had an hour’s notice to view the document before it was circulated to the National Executive Committee and later published. And he has issued a number of recommendations – some of which Labour might adopt and others it won’t.

To close and be clear again, this was not a report on antisemitism – that was not part of its terms of reference. That job was done by the EHRC and BBC Panorama and this confirmed their findings. We have had multiple legal cases since that point and all have all vindicated this position. This is a report that sought to find a way through the tough and complicated muck of Labour Party factionalism and kremlinology.

In all likelihood, no one and everyone will be happy with this report. What happened during that time was so multifaceted that in truth no one may ever know exactly what happened behind the closed doors of LOTO or Southside. What we do know and what is most important, is that the Labour Party was found by the UK equalities regulator to have committed unlawful acts towards its Jewish members and it is trying under its new leadership to put that right – something that will take time.

For us and our members who had their data leaked by ex-staff members who had no care for their welfare, the fact that this cannot be covered due to ongoing legal proceedings and criminal investigations means the report does not provide closure.

The Labour left in particular still need a deep reckoning and introspection over what happened on their watch. So far they don’t seem to have grasped the scale of what occurred. Too many still believe that the action taken to date by Keir Starmer represents a witchhunt when in reality it is an institutional reckoning and a cleansing of antisemites, and those who had supported them from the party – its not done and there is more to do. If the Labour left are ever to be taken seriously on this issue they need to understand what they allowed to happen in the first place and commit properly to making sure it never happens again.

— Adam Langleben is National Secretary of JLM

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