BEFORE politics in the UK was rudely interrupted by either the indolence or design of the Chinese Communist Party, the most eagerly anticipated political event was not the UK’s formal exit from the EU, but the publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s (EHRC) report into Labour’s anti-Semitism. Labour politicians of all shades of red dishonestly promised to implement all of the recommendations. They were being dishonest because recommendations from the EHRC are statutory; Labour would have no choice or leeway in the matter. This makes some sense. An organisation recognised as institutionally racist by an official body charged with curbing racism can hardly be given an option to ignore or water down the official prescription. However it is probable that the EHRC will pull its punches. Instead of condemning Labour as institutionally racist, the blame will fall on the officers rather than the organisation.
Institutional racism was defined in the Macpherson report into the botched police investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence as consisting of ‘the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness, and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people’ (op cit para 6.34). The report goes on: ‘It persists because of the failure of the organisation openly and adequately to recognise and address its existence and causes by policy, example and leadership. Without recognition and action to eliminate such racism it can prevail as part of the ethos or culture of the organisation. It is a corrosive disease.’ It would appear that the conduct of the Labour Party falls squarely within this definition.
Were Labour to be so officially defined, the party would be second after the openly-racist BNP to fall foul of the EHRC. However there are important differences between the cases. In the case of the BNP, this was a legal action as it was discovered to have a party rule restricting membership to white people. The case of the Labour Party is radically different.
The EHRC states ‘The Commission suspects that the Labour Party (“the Party”) may have itself, and/or through its employees and/or agents, committed unlawful acts in relation to its members and/or applicants for membership and/or associates.’ The scope of the investigation starts from March 11, 2016. The date appears to have been selected as to be just after Labour ‘excluded’ Trotskyite entryist Gerry Downing for anti-Semitism but just before news broke of the re-admission and election to ‘vice-chair’ of Labour’s Woking branch of Vicky Kirby who had been suspended in 2014 for anti-Semitic tweets. Labour pledged to suspend Kirby should new evidence of anti-Semitism emerge, and some did within hours. Kirby was duly suspended.
The explosion over Labour’s anti-Semitism problem was the revelation of Bradford MP Naz Shah’s support for the mass deportation of Jews from Israel and Ken Livingstone’s subsequent unforced Hitlerite defence of Shah on live radio. That took place in late April 2016. After this, media focus on Labour’s anti-Semitism was intense and unrelenting. However, any official actions by Labour did not stop a slew of its MPs from quitting the party. In fact Labour’s inability to deal properly with its members’ anti-Semitic activity was the leading cause of MPs quitting the party between 2016 and last December’s general election.
Labour has been trying coyly to influence the EHRC report. Its first approach has been to suggest that the party would be bankrupted by any findings that expose Labour to lawsuits from British Jews. The second was to try to pin the blame on anti-Corbyn staff at party headquarters. The Corbynists produced an 860-page dossier to try to prove this. Labour’s lawyers refused to submit the dossier to the EHRC, probably because it contained information that breached the privacy of Labour Party staff. There were numerous internal communications and it might have been possible that the EHRC could have demanded full access to all party internal communications given the selective nature of those contained in the report. Facing a failure of this ploy, the report was leaked to the public. But the finger-pointing of the report misses the point. The complaint is about the totality of the Labour Party. Blaming the party’s institutional failures on an alleged faction is to acknowledge the party’s institutional failures. Labour now faces more potentially-bankrupting lawsuits from those mentioned in the leaked document whose privacy was compromised, which included some Jewish complainants.
All this damning evidence overlooks the role of the EHRC. It may be fanciful to assume that this official body is studiously neutral in these matters, just as it would be fanciful to assume that the EHRC is led and staffed by some people who are members of the Conservative Party. In fact the reverse is more likely true. It is probable that many staff at the EHRC are Labour members or supporters. We have seen recently how this kinds of political bias works on the television news. Labour activists pretending to be neutral professionals have been regularly been provided airtime to make anti-government statements. The unelected officials of this Blairite quango now find themselves in the position of potentially being able to destroy one of the parties in our two-party electoral system. For this reason, it is possible they might soften their words out of political sympathies and instead give Labour a slap on the wrist. Socialists will also surely object to faceless officials determining the course of British politics when they believe this should be left to an electorate. It is possible that EHRC officials, who are merely appointed, may have been reminded of the potential to be accused of being ‘undemocratic’.
There is ample evidence that party loyalties sway those in ostensibly impartial public positions and it is possible that party loyalties and sympathies will be at work at the EHRC. Militant anti-racism has long associations with socialism and it is more likely that committed socialists will work in the anti-racism ‘industry’. The Blair revolution was less concerned with economic reform than a ‘long march through the institutions’ which, instead of abolishing capitalism, would regulate it and reshape public culture according to socialist ideas. The EHRC cannot help but be inherently Left-wing.
So don’t hold your breath over the EHRC report. Given the high stakes – that the Labour Party may cease to exist – it is probable that the report will blame ’employees and/or agents’, but not ‘the Party’. If the institution is let off the hook, there is no institutional racism, and thus no lawsuits against the institution, only against individuals, and it seems easy for sufficiently-prepared individuals to avoid the worst aspects of bankruptcy. Labour may reform itself, purge a few individuals, but there may be little chance the EHRC will seek to alter the course of the next general election by knocking out one of the contenders well before the bout.