The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has published its report into the Labour Party’s handling of complaints of anti-Semitism. It has concluded that the party’s procedures for tackling anti-Semitism in its ranks fell short of the standards and procedures Labour put in place for other complaints, and that of the 70 complaints it examined in detail, two concerned unlawful behaviour and a further 18 arguably did so (the EHRC is only empowered to rule that unlawful behaviour has occurred in very clear-cut cases). Furthermore, the report found that the leader’s office under Jeremy Corbyn interfered in 23 instances, which the EHRC describes as “discriminatory and unlawful”.
Most significantly, the leader’s office interfered when a complaint was made against Corbyn himself after it emerged that in 2012 he had questioned the removal of an anti-Semitic mural in Tower Hamlets, east London. That makes it impossible to sustain the argument, made by the former leader’s allies, that their involvement in the complaints process was solely to expedite swift action against anti-Semites in Labour.
The EHRC, which is legally empowered to instruct organisations to change their rulebooks, has made a series of recommendations, including that the party implement an independent process for handling anti-Semitism complaints.
Politically, that frees Starmer from what would otherwise be the most fraught political question arising from the report – whether to take action against those involved with the previous leadership. The Campaign Against Antisemitism has submitted complaints against 14 sitting Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott, Corbyn’s closest political ally in parliament.
Instead, the political battle within Labour will be twofold: the first will be to secure rules changes in line with the EHRC’s recommendations. (While the EHRC’s recommendations are legally binding, there is no legal precedent for what happens if a party’s leadership seeks to make changes and its membership then rejects them.) The second is that, as Starmer’s press conference shows, while a complaints process free from political interference may be desirable as far as the outcome is concerned, it is not necessarily desirable for the political process. Starmer may find that the implementation of the report’s recommendations is resisted both by those who reject its overall findings and those who support them.