This is a summary of the discussion held at the Meon Valley CLP call on 10th December 2020 to discuss reviewing and developing the code of conduct in line with the results of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report ‘Investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party’, October 2020.
Below in blue italics is the code the CLP devised to support respectful discussions at CLP meetings which was approved by the regional office and by members in August 2018. It should be regarded as an addition to the national Labour Party Codes of Conduct which are at the end of the Labour Party Rule Book 2020. See p.120 Appendix 9 which has several codes including one on racism and antisemitism.
“Meetings and all CLP related activities shall be conducted in a friendly and orderly manner and are governed by the Labour Party Rule Book – which members are advised to read. Formal complaints can be raised in line with the Party Rule Book, and any informal concerns can be discussed initially with a member of the committee on a confidential basis.”
Attendees on 10th December:
June Kershaw, Daniel Reid, Alison Ridley, Paul Sony, Linda Lake, Sophie Negus, Daniel Dauncey, Angela Sanderson, Dennis Sanderson, Howard Sherlock, Sue Maskell, Hannah Lake, David Stuart
June gave an overview of the main points of the EHRC report. A major concern was the complaints process which the EHRC found to be particularly inadequate for dealing with antisemitism cases. This was in stark contrast to the exemplary processes that the party had developed for dealing with sexual harassment and misconduct.
Howard made the point for the urgency of the matter given the fact that Keir Starmer’s first statement in his leadership acceptance speech was to emphasize his determination to stamp out the scourge of antisemitism in the party.
There was general agreement with Dennis’s comment that it is staggering that a national institution like the Labour Party should be reluctant and slow to respond to previous reports, and that there is an urgent need for a clear procedure with a step-by-step guide for members to be able to raise complaints. The central party process needs to be such that it can be incorporated in a practical set of procedures at a local constituency level so that it is accessible and usable by all members.
At this point in time the party’s draft response has been provided to the EHRC as required, albeit not released to the public domain or the membership. It has been reported in the press that the leadership team is very serious about making substantial and systematic improvements to the party’s procedures for dealing with complaints including those around antisemitism and other types of intolerance.
A large percentage of the complaints examined in the report originated from social media activity. Linda pointed out that social media is a complex and challenging area particularly given the easy anonymity available for people to behave online in an abusive way. Also, Sue highlighted that some people commenting on social media have not researched the topic sufficiently, or can make pointless, unkind comments.
A central plank of the report is around much improved standards of training for the staff who handle complaints. Dan pointed out that this could also perhaps include more widely available political education to encourage a more enlightened and tolerant attitude amongst the membership and discourage improper behaviour.
All agreed that we really need to see the final action plan when it is eventually published, together with any changes to party policy and rules, so that we can adapt our local constituency codes of conduct to align with the national party’s thinking and procedures. June worried that although members all get invited to contribute to policy, great ideas end up being watered down and the end result can sometimes be wishy-washy. We can only hope that this will not be acceptable to the EHRC and more substantial guidance will emerge. Also, Alison pointed out that a CLP like Meon Valley relies on a small number of volunteers who are willing to take responsibility and contribute their personal time and energy, so there needs to be a proportionate degree of guidance and help from the national party to enable those people to do a more effective job.
Sue raised the idea of inclusivity and suggested looking at ways of making the CLP more appealing to people of diverse race, background, ethnicity and identity. There was a general agreement that Labour should be the open, equal and welcoming party. Can we find ways in our predominantly white, middle class constituency of Meon Valley to project this in a positive way to attract more people who do not necessarily identify with the majority demographic? One idea might be to make the CLP web site more inviting with photos that engage across a wider spectrum of diversity. The constituency does cover a range of types of area including quite scenic rural parts – of which we have some nice photos! – but also some more industrial areas so perhaps members could seek out a wider variety of images from different parts of the area that might contribute to a more varied picture.
Alison and Linda discussed what practical and timely steps could be taken to address the need for better inclusion. Alison pointed out that the option exists to create a committee role for an inclusion officer. The web site could be used as a medium for presenting education and presentations on topics like the EHRC report and its background. Perhaps committee members or any other members could research topics and contribute content or presentations. Linda pointed out that it is very important to include fact-checking as part of the process of developing any content. A useful resource for this would be a link to a fact-checking site that could be posted in the CLP Facebook group.
Another suggestion, which is something done by other CLPs, was to invite guest speakers on specialist subjects to address meetings (which could be Zoom calls in the current restrictions).
Alison has used the idea of a book club with work colleagues focusing on key issues of our time like, for example, the Black Lives Matter movement. Howard discussed a book he had been reading which might be a good recommendation on the topic of antisemitism: ‘Antisemitism: here and now’ by Deborah Lipstadt. This is an enlightening read which discusses the anti-Jewish tropes, language and history underlying the problem. Howard has written an overview of the book which is included at the bottom of this meeting note.
Howard described how a significant cause of antisemitism has been opposition to the Israeli government and its treatment of the Palestinian people. Over time this opposition has changed and developed into prejudice against all Jewish people regardless of where they live, their opinions and personal circumstances. Dan mentioned that part of the background to the problem is conspiracy theories and stereotypical images of Jewish people as rich bankers. David suggested that it must be extremely upsetting and stressful for an ordinary Jewish person who is not rich and does not have powerful connections to be considered in this way. One thing that emerges clearly is the use of negative and undermining terms and both June and Sophie stressed that the use of language ought to be a key part of the change in culture alongside the more formal procedural improvements.
Appendix – Howard’s review of the book
Author – Deborah Lipstadt
Each section of the book attempts to address some of the contemporary problems regarding the issue of antisemitism. It is divided into 7 sections and it is the first 3/4 that are most relevant.
An attempted definition that antisemitism is basically delusional and irrational. The problems are how to recognise when a person is being antisemitic or expressing antisemitic sentiments and how to deal and confront its current manifestations.
Types of anti-Semites
The extremists such as white supremacist groups (the BNP etc).
The enablers such as those who while they themselves do not indulge in antisemitism ignore, indulge or associate with people who do.
The dinner party antisemite or the “polite” one who says in conversation that some of their best friends are Jews/black/Asian etc then will proceed to talk about banking stereotypes for example. Such people are never overtly racist, knowing better than to talk publicly and express such sentiments but nevertheless are still among us in society at large.
The clueless antisemites are those who do not realise they are expressing antisemitic conspiracy theories and stereotypes in ordinary conversations.
This section provides some strategies to deal with situations when you are brought face-to-face with antisemitic statements and opinions.
Much of the rest of the book is concerned with things that are happening in the USA today and while interesting only provide some examples that are not necessarily relevant to the UK.