Labour MPs have unanimously voted through a motion calling on the party leadership to provide detailed answers to 11 questions about their handling of anti-Semitism within the party’s ranks, including the total number of cases, and how they intend to ensure a duty of care towards Labour members, including MPs, targeted by anti-Semitic abuse within the party.
But the party’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, has told MPs that she answers to the ruling National Executive Committee, not to them, in an indication that further clarity will not be forthcoming.
As far as the Labour Party rulebook is concerned, Formby is entirely correct: it is the NEC, not the PLP, that elects the general secretary and only the NEC that can remove them. The last meaningful decision made by a backbench Labour MP as far as the workings of the party are concerned was on 15 June 2015, when 35 MPs put Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot.
It may turn out to be unwise to have rubbed MPs’ noses in that fact, not least because Formby’s comments that it is “impossible to eradicate anti-Semitism” from the Labour Party and “dishonest” to pretend otherwise fly in the face of her conciliatory message to Labour MPs (published in full on LabourList), in which she said it was her “mission” to eliminate anti-Semitism from the party.
The direct political cost to Labour of these rows has been limited but the opportunity cost to Labour can be large, as the row over the IHRA definition last summer showed. It may be larger still if it persuades MPs flirting with leaving the party that they should put their words into action.