Equalities & Human Rights Commission launches investigation into Labour anti-Semitism

In its second statutory investigation, the equalities watchdog will probe whether Labour's handling of racism complaints was lawful. 

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The Equality & Human Rights Commission is to launch a full statutory investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, it has announced. 

In what is only the second full-blown investigation launched by the equalities watchdog since its establishment in 2006, the commission will investigate whether Labour “has unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish”. The move follows complaints to the EHRC by both the Campaign for Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Labour Movement, the party’s official Jewish affiliate. 

The watchdog will consider whether Labour staff or representatives have broken equalities law; what steps the party has taken to implement the recommendations of reports on anti-Semitism by Janet Royall, Shami Chakrabarti and the Home Affairs Select Committee; whether the party’s disciplinary processes have been efficient or effective enough in dealing with racism complaints; and whether the party’s response to complaints has been “lawful, efficient and effective”. 

Labour has pledged to cooperate fully with the investigation, which could well take many months to conclude. The first statutory investigation launched by the EHRC – into the treatment of minorities in the Metropolitan Police – began in September 2014 and reported two years later.

The only other political party to have previously been investigated by the EHRC is the BNP, which was forced to abandon its bar on black and ethnic minority members as a result of a commission probe in 2009. The EHRC is also understood to have written to the Conservative Party over allegations of Islamophobia earlier this month, but has yet to launch any investigation.

Labour has rejected the suggestion that it has handled anti-Semitism complaints anything but “fairly and robustly”. It has also questioned whether the commission’s ability to police the obligations political parties have under equalities law had been undermined by budget cuts.

In an email to MPs, Labour’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, insisted that the party was “fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and is implacably opposed to anti-Semitism in any form”.

“There has been a deeply worrying rise in anti-Semitism in the UK and across Europe,” Formby added. “We are taking action to root it out of our party by strengthening our rules and procedures. But the issue can only be properly dealt with by all political parties working together to protect the interests of the Jewish community and to combat racism in politics, the media and society more broadly. That includes the need for the Conservatives and other political parties taking action to deal with racism in their own ranks.”

A Labour Party spokesperson echoed Formby’s words: “Labour is fully committed to the support, defence and celebration of the Jewish community and is implacably opposed to anti-Semitism in any form. We reject any suggestion that the party does not handle anti-Semitism complaints fairly and robustly, or that the party has acted unlawfully, and we will continue to cooperate fully with the EHRC. 

“We support the efforts of the EHRC to draw attention to the obligations all political parties have under the Equality Act. But its ability to do so has been undermined by a 70 per cent budget cut since 2010. Labour is the party of equality and in government we will strengthen the powers and functions of the commission.”

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.