Labour was guilty of harassment and discrimination against Jewish members under Jeremy Corbyn, the human rights watchdog has concluded.
In a damning report, the Equality and Human Rights Commission found evidence of “serious failings of leadership” and “multiple failures” in conduct during Mr Corbyn’s tenure.
Its most damning conclusion relates to 23 identified instances of anti-Semitism in which Mr Corbyn’s office interfered directly with complaints.
We reported earlier this year how Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard had been blocked from suspending a councillor over anti-Semitism concerns.
Mr Leonard had wanted to suspend Dundee councillor George McIrvine over Facebook posts which made reference to the Rothschild banking dynasty – a common target for anti-Semitic conspiracy theories – but was told by Labour’s legal unit the posts “are not” a problem.
Mr Corbyn’s successor, Sir Keir Starmer, admitted the report’s findings marked a “day of shame” for Labour and said he was “truly sorry for all the pain and grief that has been caused”.
The EHRC’s interim chairwoman, Caroline Waters, said there had been “inexcusable” failures that “appeared to be a result of a lack of willingness to tackle anti-Semitism rather than an inability to do so”.
Mr Corbyn said he did not accept all the EHRC’s findings and insisted he had improved the process for handling anti-Semitism complaints.
The former leader also claimed the scale of the problem had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media”.
Equality Act breaches
The EHRC identified three breaches of the Equality Act relating to: political interference in complaints, failure to provide adequate training to those handling anti-Semitism cases and harassment.
The party has been served with an unlawful act notice and has been given until December 10 to draft an action plan to implement the report’s recommendations, which is legally enforceable by the courts if not fulfilled.
The watchdog found that the lack of training for people handling anti-Semitism complaints indirectly discriminated against Jewish members until August 2020, by which time Sir Keir was leader of the party.
Labour has committed to proper training, with the EHRC recommending it should be mandatory and fully implemented within six months.
Recommendations made by the watchdog include commissioning an independent process to handle anti-Semitism complaints and acknowledging the effect political interference has had and implementing clear rules to stop it happening again.
‘Reform was stalled’
The EHRC’s lead investigator, Alasdair Henderson, told a press conference blame could not be placed on one person alone and the problem went beyond Mr Corbyn but added that “as leader of the party, and with evidence of political interference from within his office, he does have a responsibility ultimately for those failings”.
In a statement, Mr Corbyn said: “The EHRC’s report shows that when I became Labour leader in 2015, the party’s processes for handling complaints were not fit for purpose. Reform was then stalled by an obstructive party bureaucracy.
A statement from Keir Starmer, Leader of the Labour Party. https://t.co/p5LkQxOczs
— The Labour Party (@UKLabour) October 29, 2020
“But from 2018, (then general secretary) Jennie Formby and a new NEC that supported my leadership made substantial improvements, making it much easier and swifter to remove anti-Semites. My team acted to speed up, not hinder the process.”
In response to the EHRC report, he said that “while I do not accept all of its findings, I trust its recommendations will be swiftly implemented to help move on from this period”.
Starmer found report ‘hard to read’
Sir Keir, at a press conference this morning, said he would look at Mr Corbyn’s response to the report later, but added: “Those that deny there’s a problem are part of the problem.”
He said: “I found this report hard to read and it is a day of shame for the Labour Party.
“We have failed Jewish people, our members, our supporters and the British public.
“And so on behalf of the Labour Party: I am truly sorry for all the pain and grief that has been caused.”
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said the report was a “saddening and sobering read”.
He added: “We must now work tirelessly with the Jewish community to rebuild trust.
“We also have a responsibility to further educate our members and society at large on anti-Semitism and how to fight it.”