The media has claimed this evening that a motion put forward by back-bench MPs was ‘passed unanimously‘ by the ‘PLP’ – the parliamentary Labour party – calling on Labour to ‘do more‘ to combat antisemitism. The claims were accompanied by lurid accounts of MPs’ ‘fury’ with Labour general secretary Jennie Formby over the issue.
The reality was very different – and far uglier.
The vote that wasn’t
The most glaring inaccuracy in so-called ‘reports’ was that the vote was unanimous. In fact, no vote was taken.
The PLP chair took the motion and proposed amendments – which Wavertree MP Luciana Berger used as a first opportunity to criticise Formby – and then asked MPs if they wished to vote against them.
Nobody indicated that they did, so no vote was taken. But of course, not intending to vote against a motion is not the same as intending to vote for it. Abstentions exist – and a motion is not carried unanimously unless everyone votes for it.
Also, under the current chair’s rules for PLP meetings, no front-benchers at all are allowed to speak – meaning that anti-Corbyn MPs on the back benches have a disproportionately loud voice in the meetings. In such circumstances, a reasoned and balanced debate of the motion was never going to be possible – and ‘bitterite’ anti-Corbyn MPs take full advantage of the rule.
‘Horrendous’, ‘horrific’ ‘bullying’ ‘a disgrace’Eyewitnesses to last night’s meeting
The behaviour of so-called ‘moderate’ back-bench MPs last night was described as ‘horrendous’, ‘bullying’, ‘a disgrace’ and ‘horrific’ by people who were at the meeting – including by MPs who had expressed their own horror at criticisms of former general secretary Iain McNicol.
But such matters of fact are clearly of little importance to ‘MSM’ journalists with a narrative to push.
Ms Formby then addressed the group, explaining the measures put in place and answering questions raised – but she pointed out correctly that she reports to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC), not to MPs. This did not pleased the group, but then right-wing back-benchers do seem to have trouble recognising that they are not in control of the party.
Points of disorder
No fewer than four MPs were allowed to make essentially the same supposed ‘point of order’ – which was little more than another attack on Formby, coupled with a demand for Cryer to ‘enforce’ the motion – which has no force under the party’s rules and for Formby to return to run the gauntlet next week.
Point of actual order
Labour MPs elect their own representatives to the NEC. If back-bench MPs want to know what the party is doing about any issue, including antisemitism, they can – and should – ask their NEC reps to answer questions on those matters, rather than demand impossible detail from the party’s general secretary to which they have no entitlement under data protection and confidentiality laws.
In this context, a ‘PLP motion’ about a party employee who doesn’t answer to them looks like grandstanding and a set-up for a politically-motivated attack, rather than a genuine concern for action on an issue.
And in that context, the fact that – inaccurate – reports of events in the meeting were reaching hostile journalists while the meeting was still ongoing looks like reinforcement of that interpretation.
The motion: accusation is guilt
The PLP motion, long and badly written, can be read in full here. But a couple of key parts reveal that what so-called ‘moderate’ MPs are angry about is not that cases are not being dealt with – which is not true in any case – but that the outcomes are not what those MPs want.
In other words, they want being accused to equal guilt:
The PLP is very concerned by recent reports that a number of cases of alleged antisemitic activity from high-profile members have been dropped.An extract from back-bench Labour MPs’ motion – emphases added by the SKWAWKBOX
The PLP calls on the Party leadership to adequately tackle cases of antisemitism…
How many complaints about antisemitism have been received and on how many occasions have NEC officers/the General Secretary used delegated powers to take no further action about these complaints or issued a ‘Reminder of Conduct’ letter as an outcome to a complaint.
Of course, the cases are alleged – and a ‘no case to answer’ finding is ‘dealt with’, as is a ‘reminder of conduct letter’. To everyone with a concern for due process and justice, a finding that complaints are unfounded or exaggerated must be possible.
But it seems clear from the motion that to certain members of the PLP, the only ‘adequate’ version of a ‘dealt-with’ case is a guilty verdict. In other words, to be accused is to be guilty.
Which doesn’t look much like a genuine concern to fight antisemitism.
The real response
Earlier on Monday, Jennie Formby issued a response to the motion. It is reproduced in full below – and clearly represents a genuine engagement, as well as showing the extent of her and the party’s efforts to deal with genuine antisemitism and to address genuine concerns:
Monday 4 February: Message from the General SecretaryLabour general secretary Jennie Formby’s letter to the PLP
Please see below a message from the General Secretary, ahead of the PLP meeting this evening.
Dear Parliamentary Labour Party
Further to the PLP motion that is being discussed tonight and has received widespread media coverage over the last 7 days, please find below an update on the actions that have been taken to address the failings in the Disputes Process that existed before I took office in March 2018
For information, this will also be published as an article on LabourList later today.
I look forward to seeing you at PLP this evening.
With kind regards
The Labour Party
When I became General Secretary of the Labour Party last April, I had been a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee for a number of years.
I had witnessed first-hand that our complaints and disputes procedures were not fit for purpose, with longstanding cases that hadn’t been dealt with, alongside new cases coming in, especially in relation to appalling antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories, mostly on social media.
It couldn’t have been clearer that urgent action was needed to ensure our processes for dealing with complaints were robust, efficient and fair; to resolve outstanding cases; and to establish political education to deepen understanding about, and combat, antisemitism within our movement.
Since then, we’ve made significant progress to strengthen and speed up our procedures, for example:
– We appointed an in-house Counsel, as recommended in the Chakrabarti Report.
– We have nearly completed the process of recruitment to more than double the size of the staff team that handle investigations and disputes processes, and they have been working incredibly hard.
– Rather than the full NEC disputes panel dealing with antisemitism cases, smaller panels of 3-5 NEC members have been established, to enable cases to be heard more quickly, with each advised by an independent specialist barrister.
– These, amongst other reforms, have enabled us to clear all of the previously outstanding antisemitism cases from the investigation and disputes panel stages of the process. Only complaints which have been recently received are still under investigation.
– Where appropriate, cases have been referred to the NCC.
– Conference agreed our recommendation to double the size of the NCC, from 11 to 25 members, and elections were completed before the end of 2018 to ensure these hearings happen more quickly. The NCC is now establishing a greater number of hearing panels to allow cases to be heard and finalised as soon as possible.
– The NEC established a Procedures Working Group to lead reforms to the way disciplinary cases are handled.
– The NEC adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and all eleven examples of antisemitism attached to it.
– A rule change agreed at Conference in 2018 means that all serious complaints, including all complaints of sexual harassment and antisemitism, are all dealt with nationally to ensure case consistency.
– There has been clarity on warnings and sanctions. Should individuals who have received warnings commit further breaches of rules, they are highly likely to be referred to NCC for action.
– It has been agreed that education or training must not be used as a sanction. Education should only be offered when there has been a suitable acknowledgement and apology from the member and where they agree it would be beneficial to them.
– I wrote to the admins and moderators of a range of Facebook groups (which the Party is not responsible for and which have no official status) with suggestions about how they can effectively moderate those online spaces and requesting that any discriminatory content be reported to the Party’s complaints team to allow us to investigate.
– No one outside the Governance and Legal Unit can be involved in decision-making on any investigation, including on antisemitism, and there is strict scrutiny at all levels to ensure decisions are taken based on the full facts and merits of each case.
– The Party already has robust safeguarding and member welfare policies which govern how the Party responds – including by disclosing information to the authorities – where material comes to light revealing a threat to a person’s safety. These policies have been properly applied to disciplinary investigations. I have scheduled a meeting with Commissoner Cressida Dick’s Office to discuss how we can make sure this process works effectively. Outputs from that meeting will feed into the Procedures Working Group which is reviewing policies and procedures affecting member welfare.
Further work needs to be done to ensure NCC hearings happen more frequently and with fewer delays. We have cleared outstanding cases from the other stages of our processes, and the NCC must do the same whilst maintaining complete autonomy of decision-making independently of myself, Party staff and the Party leadership. This work is currently underway and we anticipate changes to procedures will be completed by March.
Another priority is education. I am committed to implementing a world-class education programme on antisemitism for our members that can be delivered in seminars, at conferences and events and online. I want to get this absolutely right, and it’s essential that this is done with the support of Jewish organisations, to ensure our education programme commands their confidence and support. I have been having confidential discussions with a number of individuals and organisations to progress on this extremely sensitive and important matter, and very much hope we will be able to move forward on it together.
Previously, Jewish communal organisations were reluctant to engage with the Labour Party as they did not feel confident that we were taking their concerns seriously. However, the actions I have implemented were as a result of listening to those concerns and I hope that Jewish communal bodies will now feel able to re-engage with us on this issue which is of great importance to us all.
I am proud of the progress that has been made but I’m not complacent. Fundamental change takes time, in particular in a democratic, member-led organisation like the Labour Party, where rule changes must be approved at our annual Party Conference. However, wide-ranging changes are already in place.
There is more work to be done to ensure all cases are dealt with quickly and fairly, and to eliminate the evil of antisemitism from our movement once and for all. I am personally committed to ensuring that Jewish members feel safe and welcome in our Party, and in reassuring the Jewish community that we stand with them against oppression and prejudice.
That is my mission. That is what I as General Secretary, our staff and our whole Party must work towards and be committed to
Labour has made huge strides under Jennie Formby in dealing with all kinds of complaints, including those concerning alleged antisemitism, in the nine months she has been general secretary.
Inappropriate motions by the PLP, in the wrong forum and aimed at the wrong person, do nothing either to improve the situation or to demonstrate genuine concern for the issues.
And it’s noteworthy that while all the long-standing allegations of antisemitism were made under Formby’s predecessor, right-winger Iain McNicol, he never faced a PLP inquisition about his department’s failure to do more than park cases on seemingly-indefinite suspension.
McNicol – who was pushed to resign last year after refusing to suspend two right-wing Labour figures in the West Midlands who were accused of an array of behaviour including sexual harassment and racism – apparently qualified for a free pass from the PLP.
That last fact speaks volumes about Monday night’s meeting and the ‘MSM’ coverage of it.
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