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28 March 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 4:42pm

We tried to call out anti-Semitism in our local Labour party – we felt ignored

We were called “far right” and face investigation for “bullying and intimidating behaviour” on social media. 

By Richard Ferris

On 29 October 2017, Alan Bull – a man who appeared to repost content referring to the Holocaust as a “hoax” – was selected as Labour party candidate for Stanground South ward in Peterborough.

In addition to this content, which Bull says was taken out of context, a screenshot has circulated of Bull apparently describing David Miliband as “a jew he is paid by Rothschild [sic] who owns Israel and also controls mossad who kill people for Israel and Zionism…people like JFK”. Bull has said the posts were “doctored”.

In July 2017, a member of Bull’s constituency Labour party made a complaint of anti-Semitism against him to the Labour party regional office in the East of England, but no action was taken. When made aware of the images that were circulating, we both fully supported the complainants.

To find out that he had been selected as a candidate, while these questions were still unanswered, felt shameful. In November, we both made complaints making clear we would resign if he was elected. Other complaints were also submitted by other CLP members. The Labour party, however, dithered. In spite, or perhaps because of all of this, our Local Campaign Forum endorsed his candidacy, rubber stamping his right to a platform.

In February 2018, the Peterborough Telegraph reported on the alleged anti-Semitic Facebook posts. Bull told the paper the posts had been manipulated. That same month, we set up Labour Councillors Against Anti-Semitism (@AntisemitismOut). Sick and tired of the lethargy in taking action, we protested at Peterborough’s full council meeting on 7 March wearing t-shirts with the slogan “Labour Councillors Against anti-Semitism” – Bull was attending as an observer. We felt quietly shunned by our colleagues. Sometimes speaking out is awkward – that is why it so hard but so necessary. And still, no action was taken by the party.

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On 21 March, having received an invitation to canvass with Bull in Stanground, we republished on Twitter the Facebook posts that had raised so many questions in the first place. We were not going to canvass with a person we believed had bigoted views – it was the last straw.

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Yet only when the Jewish Chronicle picked up the story, did the party decide to act. At this point, it did so swiftly. Bull was finally suspended on 22 March, pending an investigation. It should not have taken half of this time.

What happens if you blow the whistle in the Labour party in 2018? Since Bull has been suspended we have been, first, called “far right” and “race baiters” on Tony Greenstein’s blog. Second, our CLP secretary in a members-wide emailing attacked us for highlighting “allegations that are not substantiated” and warning that “individuals choosing to ignore the social media policy are currently damaging the Labour Party at a crucial time for our local election campaign”. Third, we have been investigated by our councillor colleagues, the Peterborough Labour group, for “bullying and intimidating behaviour” on social media. You could not make it up.

We love the Labour party, all it has achieved and are proud to be Labour councillors. Being a councillor is a remarkable privilege. Getting to stand on a Labour ticket is about more than any one manifesto, it is a statement of values – we speak up for the underdog, face down racists, defend the facts of the Holocaust and pledge to do all we can to ensure people of all backgrounds can reach their potential. Anti-Semitism is a vile evil – you should not have to be Jewish to say so or be offended by it because it is a scar in our society that damages each and every one of us. We, as Labour councillors, will not stand for it. It is time everyone in the Labour said the same, acted accordingly and if they cannot, leave.

A Labour Party spokesperson said in response to this article: “Alan Bull has been suspended from the Party pending investigation. Labour takes all complaints of anti-Semitism extremely seriously, which are fully investigated and appropriate disciplinary action taken in line with our rules and procedures.

“Anti-Semitism has absolutely no place in the Party, and we are committed to challenging and campaigning against it all its forms.”

Richard Ferris and Matthew Mahabadi are councillors in Peterborough and founders of Labour Councillors Against Anti-Semitism @AntisemitismOut. Alan Bull was contacted for comment, but had not provided a response by time of publication.