One of the most misleading aspects of recent uproars about the Labour Party is frustration – on the part of those making complaints and the subjects of complaints alike – about the way complaints have been handled.
Those accused have often found themselves suspended, without details of the accusations against them, for as long as two years, while at the other extreme some members have been suspended or expelled in what appears to be an almost summary fashion.
One example of the latter is Jewish member Glyn Secker, who was recently suspended – by now-departed General Secretary Iain McNicol, not by Labour’s NEC (National Executive Committe) disciplinary panel – and then reinstated, without apology, just five days later.
Some critics have attempted to use this unsatisfactory situation to attack Jeremy Corbyn personally – and this has led to accusations that the Labour right is cynically exploiting an important issue for factional purposes.
The reality is that Jeremy Corbyn, under Labour rules, has no responsibility for disciplinary issues among members. The administration of disciplinary issues was the responsibility of the (then) right-dominated Labour HQ.
Now new General Secretary Jennie Formby, who formally starts in the role next week, will be the one responsible for reviewing and improving all aspects of Labour’s disciplinary procedures, including the handling of antisemitism and harassment allegations.
Below are the first steps she is likely to take.
Three weeks ago, the ‘Disputes Panel’ of Labour’s NEC confirmed its decision to conduct an urgent review of all the processes and procedures relating to antisemitism claims.
The key aim of this review is to ensure Labour’s processes are quick and fair, so that complainants and those accused can see their case dealt with promptly and rely on a just outcome.
It will also be transparent, so that those accused know properly what they are accused of and have a chance to defend themselves adequately and in accordance with principles of natural justice.
Complaints abounded under McNicol of a lack of consistency and sense in the way complaints were investigated and adjudicated – and these came to a head earlier this month when Disputes Panel chair Christine Shawcroft erupted after union representatives on the panel abstained in disciplinary votes because of alleged inadequacies in the investigative reports presented to the panel.
Ms Formby and the panel will mandate measures to ensure that all staff dealing with complaints are properly trained. Until now, such training has been limited to staff dealing with sexual harassment cases.
While not yet confirmed, the SKWAWKBOX understands that an urgent review is likely of all outstanding cases currently with Labour’s National Constitutional Committee (NCC), to assess the appropriateness of their handling and map out the steps needed to resolve them promptly.
The 2016 ‘Chakrabarti report’ into the Labour Party’s disciplinary rules and procedures, particularly with regard to religious or racial abuse including antisemitism, made a series of recommendations for rule and procedural changes.
In the almost two years since the report was published, Labour’s previous HQ regime implemented almost none of these. A change to the rule on behaviour was approved at last September’s Conference, but little else has changed – to the detriment of the party and its reputation.
Implementing the full recommendations of the report will be at or very near the top of Jennie Formby’s priorities.
The full list of recommendations can be found here, but a few of the key changes expected to be implemented as quickly as possible include:
- the introduction of a General Counsel position – previous heads of legal and compliance have, remarkably, rarely if ever been legally qualified
- recognition that the rules must be applied according to the principles of natural justice
- a limitation period of two years for a complaint to be made – no more dredging up of years-old issues to use against members
- a time-limit for accusations to be dealt with
- the right of the accused to details of an accusation and the identity of the accuser, barring an overriding reason to withhold the information
- the removal from unelected officers and from the NEC of the right to impose ‘administrative’ or ‘interim’ suspension, with its transfer to the NCC under a ‘presumption against‘ interim suspension unless there is an overriding reason for it
- a time-limit of six months on any suspension of a branch or constituency party – some CLPs have been in ‘special measures for as long as twenty-five years under the previous regime
the establishment of a qualified NCC Legal Panel, with a member of the Legal Panel to be allocated to each disciplinary case referred to the NCC
the attendance at all disciplinary hearings of a member of the Legal Panel.
a right of review, on procedural and proportionality grounds, for all members suspended or expelled
Shami Chakrabarti has since been unjustly criticised for her report – which was broadly welcomed by all groups when it was published. But in reality, it is the failure of the previous regime to implement the recommendations of the report which has led to many of the recent problems and frustrations, whether that be among those accused or punished, or on the part of those dissatisfied with the pursuit of issues they have raised.
Ms Formby’s determination to get to grips with the inadequacies of existing rules and processes – which have been frankly unfit for purpose – and to implement changes that should have been made two years ago will be for the good of the Labour party, its members and those who interact with it.
It should be welcomed by everyone who genuinely has the best interests of the party and its members at heart.
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