The task of regaining the trust of the membership and re-vitalising the democratic thrust of the Labour Party lies with its new leader, Keir Starmer, pictured here with Jeremy Corbyn. FLICKR JEREMY CORBYN

Last week a report, meant to form part of the evidence submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for its investigation into anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, was leaked. The report sought to give context to the investigation but also ended up exposing a toxic culture of bullying, harassment, racism and political sabotage within the party. The revelations of the report illustrate how ‘moderates’, such as General Secretary Iain McNicol who has since resigned, conspired against Jeremy Corbyn during his tenure as leader and actively obstructed his attempts to tackle anti-Semitism in the party. 

The strength of the Labour Party is in its membership, the power of which was shown most potently in Corbyn’s 2015 election as party leader, against the odds of the media and the party establishment. The leaked dossier shows that there are figures within the party who truly fear this power and are actively seeking to curtail it. The sheer contempt for the party membership is perhaps best illustrated by the diversion of election funds in 2017 away from campaigns in marginal seats and towards those of Tom Watson and other party wreckers to assure they retained their seats, poised to lead a coup after the election wipe-out they hoped for. Whilst such figures have a foothold in Labour, the party cannot be the progressive force for social change that millions so urgently need. Far from being a ‘Broadchurch’ encompassing a range of views on the left of centre, the Labour Party has become a disparate band of factions, some of who would rather the party lose elections than see another lead it into government. 

"...the party is veering dangerously towards becoming a corporate-style political machine as opposed to a movement with a vision of social change at its heart."

The use of racist and Islamophobic tropes by senior party figures and the politicisation of the anti-Semitism complaints process shows that the party still has a major battle on its hands to completely rid itself of racialised discrimination. For too long the Labour Party has complacently expected the support of minority groups while not doing enough to make itself a safe place for them. There are those in Labour who believe their very involvement with the party places them above displaying prejudice – the political equivalent of ‘I can’t be racist, I have friends that are Black’. 

The idea that being in the Labour Party is a form of anti-racist praxis in itself has allowed racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism to ingrain itself into the bureaucratic fabric of the party. Labour must prove that its claims to be progressive and inclusive are more than lip-service and show how integral those values are by rebuilding trust with the respective communities affected by this exposé. This starts with a zero-tolerance approach to this report; those shown to have expressed prejudiced views of any kind must be at the very least suspended. There also needs to be a review of the Labour hiring practices that have evidently allowed an elitist, anti-Black clique to form at the top of the party. 

The report also revealed an astonishing overlap between the bureaucrats involved in the campaign for a second referendum and those responsible for the sabotage of the Labour leader. The People’s Vote campaign was the vehicle for a successful Labour Party leadership coup played out over the course of two years. Figures such as Patrick Heneghan and Francis Grove-White spent 2017 undermining the election chances of Jeremy Corbyn from within the party then assumed senior roles in the People’s Vote campaign and continued their wrecking operation from the outside.  The campaign helped to dismantle Labour’s 2017 voting coalition - which hinged on respecting the referendum result - in the 2019 election by moving the party to a position that was perceived by Leave voters to reject the democratic mandate of the 2016 referendum, while allowing it to be outflanked by the Liberal Democrat ‘revoke article 50’ position on the Remain side. 

The enthusiasm with which Labour establishment figures dismissed the views of nearly 4m Labour Leave voters and the rest of the 17.4m Brexit voters reflects an open contempt for an electorate that dared to vote against the status quo. They would have sooner seen the result overturned and the whole episode swept under the carpet than address the feeling of marginalisation that led to it. The report discloses how the party wreckers referred to anyone ‘to the left of Gordon Brown’ as ‘trots’; a term used pejoratively to denote ideological extremism. In a political climate where the majority of the public support nationalising the railways and want to see higher taxes for the rich this is politically tone deaf and illustrates a major disconnect between the party establishment and the voters it should be looking to appeal to. 


Mountain View

Moving back to the centre will not solve Labour’s problems

A Labour Party that does not win elections is functionally useless to Britain’s working class and other marginalised groups. The internal struggle for power at the expense of winning elections shows that the party is veering dangerously towards becoming a corporate-style political machine as opposed to a movement with a vision of social change at its heart. The frustration of Jeremy Corbyn as party leader illustrates the presence of anti-democratic, reactionary bureaucrats who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo at the top of a self-proclaimed progressive, democratic party.

Looking to the future, Labour must strengthen its democratic structure in order to secure the party against those who oppose its advance. There is a very real potential for a mass exodus from the left of the party and among minority groups if the response to the report from party leadership is not deemed to be adequate. This report could prove to be one of the defining issues of Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership and how the inquiry is conducted will be crucial in determining whether Labour can continue to be a radical force for change within the British political system.