In July, the long-delayed Forde Report on accusations of racism, bullying and sexism within the Labour Party was finally released. Peter Rowlands asks why the two-year delay, and calls for Starmer to restore internal party democracy and take action on wider racism
The delay in its publication
Legal disputes and the possible intervention of the Information Commissioner were given as reasons for the delay. The form the report takes is surprising, and hardly welcome to the leadership, who were presumably a substantial cause of the delay, in seeking to revise or edit it to make it appear less damning of those named in the leaked document. It should be remembered that, at the time, Starmer seemed more concerned at the leaking than whether what was allegedly said was true, while payments to those named would appear to have been unnecessary according to legal advice.
The main criticism of the report by the left, rightly, is that the factionalism displayed was equally wrong on both sides. Forde makes the point that the right felt deeply that Corbyn was a disaster for Labour, which implies justification for what they did. Political objection to Corbyn was perfectly legitimate, but not for party employees, whose position is to facilitate and carry out the policy of the party rather than subvert it. The only principled course of action would have been to have resigned and campaigned against the leadership, within the party, through CLP or affiliate activity. Perhaps some did, but there’s no evidence of that. What is unacceptable is that some of the people involved are still in the party, particularly the general secretary until March 2018, Ian McNichol, who apparently still carries out functions within the party as a Labour peer. He and anyone else named in the leaked document should be expelled.
The left strongly opposed the withdrawal of the whip from Corbyn, for which there were no valid grounds, and the procedures were not properly followed. But Forde’s account of the weaponising of antisemitism against Corbyn makes Corbyn’s exclusion from the PLP even less acceptable than before and must mean the restoration of the whip.
While the report shows that allegations of Corbyn and LOTO defending antisemitism are without foundation, at the same time it finds a culture of racism within the party which many BAME staff members had suffered from, and insufficient attention paid to other forms of racism within the party, including Islamophobia. The report also rightly criticises the failure to accept the Jewish Voice for Labour group as an alternative for the provision of education in antisemitism.
5. The response to Forde
The leadership has not yet responded. The right-wing press has tried to use the ‘equivalence’ argument against Corbyn to some degree, but has largely ignored the report. What is worrying is the response from the left. Momentum was quick off the mark with a strong statement, and managed to get themselves on Politics Live the following day. But while its statement called for the expulsion of those named in the leaked report, it didn’t call for the restoration of the whip to Corbyn. I can find no statement from CLPD* or the SCG, and only a model motion from the LRC that doesn’t mention Corbyn. The only statement I can find calling for the whip to be restored to Corbyn is from Ian Lavery MP. Unless I am very wrong, this is a meagre response, to say the least.
6. What now?
The NEC will probably agree a comment and which recommendations to adopt at its September meeting. One commentator has suggested that Starmer could use Forde to try and reunify the party by restoring internal democracy and the whip to Corbyn. That seems unlikely.