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Tue, 1 December 2020

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EHRC investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party finds unlawful acts of discrimination and harassment

Equality and Human Rights Commission

7 min read Partner content

The Labour Party has been served with an unlawful act notice after an investigation into antisemitism by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found it responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination.

Following initial complaints from Campaign Against Antisemitism, and further complaints from the Jewish Labour Movement, the EHRC launched its investigation in May 2019.

The investigation has identified serious failings in the Labour Party leadership in addressing antisemitism and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints.

The Party is responsible for three breaches of the Equality Act (2010) relating to:

  • Political interference in antisemitism complaints.
  • Failure to provide adequate training to those handling antisemitism complaints.
  • Harassment

The equality body’s analysis points to a culture within the Party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent antisemitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it.

This is in direct contrast to the comprehensive guidance and training in place to handle sexual harassment complaints that demonstrates the Party’s ability to act decisively when it needs to, indicating that antisemitism could have been tackled more effectively.

The investigation states that the Party needs to instil a culture that encourages members to challenge inappropriate behaviour and to report antisemitism complaints.

The EHRC has warned that, despite some recent improvements, the Labour Party must do more if it is going to regain the trust of the Jewish community, the public and many of its members. It has set out clear, fair and achievable recommendations to help the Party make positive changes to its policies, processes and culture. The new leadership’s public commitment to implement our recommendations is welcome.

The Labour Party has until 10 December to draft an action plan to implement the recommendations, which is legally enforceable by the court if not fulfilled.  

Caroline Waters, Interim Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“The Labour Party made a commitment to zero tolerance for antisemitism. Our investigation has highlighted multiple areas where its approach and leadership to tackling antisemitism was insufficient. This is inexcusable and appeared to be a result of a lack of willingness to tackle antisemitism rather than an inability to do so.

“It is encouraging to see the Party’s new leadership has committed to implementing our recommendations in full. If the Party truly wants to rebuild trust with its members and the Jewish community, it must acknowledge the impact that numerous investigations and years of failure to tackle antisemitism has had on Jewish people, and take swift, sincere action to improve.

“Politicians on all sides have a responsibility to set standards for our public life and to lead the way in challenging racism in all its forms. There have been recent examples of behaviour from politicians of various parties that fall well below the standards we would expect. While freedom of expression is essential to proper political debate, politicians must recognise the power of their language to sow division. Our recommendations provide a foundation for leaders to make sure that they adhere to equality law and demonstrate their commitment to diversity and inclusion through their words and actions.”

Political interference

The EHRC found evidence of political interference in the complaints process, with 23 instances of inappropriate involvement by the Leader of the Opposition’s Office (LOTO) and others in the 70 files looked at. This included LOTO staff influencing decisions on complaints, especially decisions on suspensions or to investigate a claim. Some decisions were made because of likely press interest rather than any formal criteria.

The Labour Party adopted a practice of political interference in certain complaints and the evidence indicates that it occurred more regularly in antisemitism cases. The EHRC has found this to be indirectly discriminatory and unlawful. The practice puts the person making a complaint of antisemitism at a disadvantage as they could face different and detrimental treatment and a risk that their complaint would not be handled fairly.

A transparent and independent antisemitism complaints process, where all cases of alleged discrimination, harassment or victimisation are investigated promptly, rigorously and without interference is an essential part of the reforms needed to rebuild trust.

Complaints processes and training

The Labour Party’s response to antisemitism complaints has been inconsistent and lacking in transparency in its process and decision-making. The report also identifies issues with record-keeping, lengthy delays and communication with complainants.

Those making complaints were poorly served by the Party, and those responding to complaints were often treated unfairly. For example, the complaints inbox was largely left unmonitored for a number of years and no action taken on the majority of complaints forwarded to it. Sixty-two of the 70 files reviewed had records missing, which required the EHRC to seek further information.

The report acknowledges the recent improvements made to the Party’s complaints and disciplinary procedures. However, the system is under-resourced and those responsible for it are not trained to the necessary standard.

The failure to provide adequate training to those handling antisemitism complaints contributes to a lack of trust and confidence in the complaint handling system. We find that this failure indirectly discriminated against Jewish Labour Party members up until August 2020. The Labour Party has now formally committed to provide proper training for those handling antisemitism complaints and we recommend that this should be mandatory and fully implemented within the next six months.

Unlawful harassment

Two individuals are identified whose antisemitic conduct the Labour Party are responsible for, resulting in a finding of unlawful harassment. Their conduct included using antisemitic tropes and suggesting that complaints of antisemitism were fake or smears. These comments were made by Ken Livingston, former Mayor of London and a former member of the Labour Party’s NEC, and social media posts made by Pam Bromley, a Labour Party local authority councillor in Rossendale. As these people were acting as agents of the Labour Party, the Labour Party was legally responsible for their conduct.

In each case, the EHRC considered the perception of those affected by the conduct, and Labour Party members told the EHRC that the comments contributed to a hostile environment for Jewish and non-Jewish members.

These cases were only the tip of the iceberg. A further eighteen ‘borderline’ cases were found where there was not enough evidence to conclude that the Labour Party was legally responsible for the conduct of the individual. These were people such as local councillors, local election candidates and Constituency Labour Party office holders. Many more files contained evidence of antisemitic conduct by an ‘ordinary’ member of the Labour Party, who did not hold any office or role and the Labour Party cannot be held directly responsible for under the Equality Act 2010.

Recommendations

The final report sets out a number of recommendations to the Party to incorporate in their legally binding action plan, which include:

  • Commission an independent process to handle and determine antisemitism complaints, as soon as rule changes allow. This should last until trust and confidence in the process is fully restored.
  • Acknowledge the effect that political interference has had on the handling of antisemitism complaints.
  • Implement clear rules and guidance that prohibit and sanction any inappropriate interference in the complaints process.
  • Put in place long-term arrangements for independent oversight of the complaint handling process, to make sure that standards are monitored and enforced, and adequate resources are in place.
  • Audit its complaint handling process to address any ongoing issues.
  • Measure staff and stakeholder confidence in the complaint handling process.
  • Publish a comprehensive policy and procedure, setting out how antisemitism complaints will be handled and how decisions will be made. This should include published criteria on what conduct will be subject to investigation and suspension, and what will be considered an appropriate sanction for different types of proven antisemitic conduct.
  • Review and update its ‘Code of Conduct: Social Media Policy’ to make it clear that members may be investigated and subject to disciplinary action if they share or like any antisemitic social media content.
  • Commission and provide education and practical training for all individuals involved in the antisemitism complaints process. This should be implemented fully within six months of publication of this report and, from that date, should be mandatory before any individual is allowed to be involved in any stage of the antisemitism complaints process.
  • Ensure all members found to have engaged in antisemitic conduct undertake an educational course on identifying and tackling antisemitism, regardless of the level of sanction applied.

Engage with Jewish stakeholders to develop and embed clear, accessible and robust principles and practices to tackle antisemitism and to instil  confidence for the future. 

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