Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
5 February 2019

Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby claims it’s “impossible” to rid the party of anti-Semitism

Formby told MPs calling for answers from the party leadership on anti-Semitism that she answers to the NEC, not them.

By Stephen Bush

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.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How do we secure the hybrid office?
How materials innovation can help achieve net zero and level-up the UK
Fantastic mental well-being strategies and where to find them