Last month’s election was much more than just a political defeat for Labour: it was a moment of profound moral failure, the latest in a series with far too many examples to be recounted. Over the last four years, antisemites have been indulged in the Labour Party, protected by institutional inertia, and encouraged by the conduct of the party’s most senior figures. The culmination came as the Jewish Labour Movement – a society affiliated to our party for a century as of this year – found itself unable to campaign nationally for Labour for the first time in that century. The systemic rot was simply too bad to be ignored. It still is.
The left should stand for equality and justice, if it is to stand for anything at all, and breathing life into those empty words means – as a bare minimum – listening to the pain and oppression felt by minorities. The party which founded the Equality and Human Rights Commission has failed a marginalised group so badly it is now being investigated by precisely that commission, a supposedly progressive movement finding itself in the company of the BNP. But it’s not the hypocrisy which makes this a moral crisis; the behaviour which Jewish people have suffered in the Labour Party is appalling in itself, and it would be appalling wherever it arose. It cannot be allowed within mainstream society or acceptable political discourse. Individual dignity and minority rights are not up for negotiation, and the fact that a minority group felt so threatened by the Labour Party should sicken us all.
We now have a chance to begin the task of undoing this great wrong. The latest chapter in this story of bigot-coddling must be the last. The Labour leadership candidates have a tremendous challenge ahead of them in regaining the Jewish community’s trust – and any attempt to meet this challenge must begin with listening in humility to Jewish people. As such, we would like to call on all the leadership and deputy leadership contenders to make two clear pledges right now. Firstly, they should commit to enacting any recommendations made by the Equality and Human Rights Commission when their report is released. A defensive posture will not be good enough in response to a reckoning likely to be utterly shameful. Secondly, they should promise to implement the Jewish Labour Movement’s 19 steps, laid out in an open letter last November. These provide concrete plans for working to regain the lost trust of the Jewish community in this country. In particular, this involves ensuring that the disciplinary process is fit for purpose – establishing its independence, setting clear penalties for antisemitic conduct, and actually following through on them. It also means giving the Jewish Labour Movement the means and support to deliver antisemitism awareness training en masse. There is no path towards tackling antisemitism which does not start from addressing the concerns which have made Jewish people so frightened of the party. These proposals offer the practical foundation for that effort.
Labour’s leadership contenders have already publicly condemned antisemitism in the party, but this is clearly not enough to rebuild a relationship the party has spent the past four years destroying. A real commitment to eradicating this poison must begin with a long, hard look at systemic complicity, a full and frank reckoning of what went wrong, and an effort to spend every day learning from the Jewish community – to make sure our party never again lets down any minority community so greatly. We believe the two promises outlined above can be the first steps in that process, and that all candidates must be willing to make that pledge now; those unwilling to seriously consider this issue are not acceptable figures to lead the party. Anyone who cannot be trusted by so many members of a minority group cannot be conscienced as a mainstream candidate. This also requires honesty and accountability for past actions, notably from those candidates who have been deeply involved in the internal workings of the party for the last four and a half years. Transparency is not optional, and the senior staff identified by Jewish community groups as responsible for disciplinary failures must not continue at the top of the party; there can be no more covering up of antisemitic behaviour because the perpetrator is close to those in positions of power.
This is not a factional point, and it is not up for debate; the rights of minorities should never be. Our position is not intended as an endorsement of any individual candidates, but it is a red line – the minimum required for these people to prove themselves worthy to be involved in the contest. Implementing the recommendations of the EHRC and the JLM is a moral imperative, and one that will not go away. The next leader must recognise that failing to clamp down on this now could heighten antisemitic discourse and apologism in progressive movements for generations to come, underlining the urgency and seriousness needed in the response. Questions of policy and personality are rightly being contested at this moment, but this is an issue which transcends them all. The future of the party is at stake; it can only be won back by confronting the past.
Henry Coleman, Lead Author and Editor
Joe Hamm, Editor-in-Chief
Michael Bawden, Editor
Hugh Brechin, Editor
Morgan Jones, Editor
Wrenna Robson, Editor
Peter Whitehead, Editor
Tyron Wilson, Editor
Jasper Cresdee-Hyde, Podcast Editor
Beth Desmond, Editorial Team
Ciaran McGurdy, Editorial Team
Sean Smyth, Editorial Team