Jewish leaders are right to worry that Labour’s internal processes aren’t fit for purpose

The incentives on political parties to go soft on their own supporters are always too high.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

LBC’s Theo Usherwood has got hold of the transcripts from Ken Livingstone’s final appearance in front of Labour’s national constitutional committee, the party’s top disciplinary body, and one person in particular is causing distress to Jewish community leaders: NCC member Russell Cartwright, who asked a series of softball questions and heavily implied people who had criticized Livingstone’s remarks of being motivated by anti-Labour animus.

Jonathan Arkush, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has said that the leaked remarks have left him concerned about the impartiality of Labour’s internal processes. And he’s right to worry.

The value of the leaked transcript is that it demonstrates something that is intuitively obvious but hard to prove: that no political institution will ever effectively be able to root out bigotry in its ranks. It’s not that wider society is any less prone to bullying, sexual harassment, Islamophobia or anti-Semitism, all of which we have seen brought to light in the major political parties in recent years. But the incentive for cover-up in any organisation that you might call “mission-based” – whether that mission is to elect Labour or Conservative MPs or to reduce poverty, such as Oxfam – is considerably higher. The incentives of a stationery company not to discipline a manager repeating anti-Semitic tropes on Facebook are pretty low, but the incentives on one political party not to expel supporters of its faction or its elected officials is high.

And the incentives in a political party are considerably higher than in a charity. Bluntly, no HR department outside a political party is dependent for its continued success and the achievement of its ambitions on the votes of the people it is nominally in charge of disciplining: the HR processes of political parties are. That’s one reason Labour has been so poor at tackling anti-Semitism and one reason why the Conservative Party reacted so poorly to bullying within the party’s youth wing.

In a sense, Cartwright’s questions are the least troubling manifestation of that problem because the bias is so blatant that it is easy to identify and criticise. But as Helen and I wrote when the MeToo movement first emerged, most of the time, the problem manifests in a more subtle way.

That’s why, until the demand of Bex Bailey and other campaigners in the Labour party for an independent complaints procedure staffed not by party officials but by an independent organisation, contracted in to investigate and bring sanctions against party members, are met; the political parties will continue to disappoint anyone looking for serious action against these problems.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics. He also co-hosts the New Statesman podcast.

Free trial CSS