Labour is found guilty of institutional racism

The Twitter-sphere is full of misinformation about the judgement of the Equality and Human Rights Commission about the Labour Party’s conduct towards Jews.  There are two rather serious misunderstandings doing the rounds.  The first is the mistaken claim that “the EHRC did not find that Labour was institutionally antisemitic”.  Here is an example, ‘liked’ by more than 1500 people :

 The EHRC report does not refer to ‘institutional racism’ at all.  However, the report does specifically and directly confine itself to actions which can be said to have been the responsibility of the Labour Party, as a collective organisation.   The methodology is explained in Annex 3.    It follows that report’s finding of unlawful conduct is, precisely, a finding against the Labour Party as an institution.  So yes, the Labour Party has been found guilty of institutional racism.

The second claim, as expressed by serial provocateur Chris Williamson, is based in a related misunderstanding: that “Despite cries about ‘institutional anti-Semitism’ and an ‘existential threat to British Jews’, the EHRC based its report on a tiny sample of 70 complaints made over a three-year period. It only found two examples of supposed ‘unlawful harassment’ – out of half a million members.”  The report did not look at the conduct of members (let alone that of former members such as Mr Williamson).    The actions of individuals, former members, and members communicating to other members in an individual capacity, were expressly excluded from the scope of the inquiry (p 127). What the EHRC was looking for was something different: actions which could legitimately be said to be conduct of the Labour Party, rather than of individuals.  And that is what the report has condemned.

I think there is some cause for regret here.  The report’s careful and measured tone doesn’t really get the point over to people who have convinced themselves, over a period of years, that the accusations of racism were fabricated – an allegation that is racist in itself.  There are references in the report to the suggestion that complaints about racism were ‘smears’ – that was a major part of the two examples of institutional harassment – but there is not the warning that was needed to explain to people that if they continued to maintain that position, it would amount to further harassment.  The EHRC needed to say it in terms.


2 thoughts on “Labour is found guilty of institutional racism”

  1. I am curious about your claim that questioning the motive of an accusation of racism is a priori racist (“that the accusations of racism were fabricated – accusations that are racist in themselves”). If so, how would one be able to defend themselves against accusations of racism without being racist in the process of defending themself?

    I am not debating the details of this case, but rather interested in how accusations of racism should be dealt with in principle. It feels as though your wording suggests that to even condemn to a charge a racism as ‘fabricated’ is to commit a racist act. That seems problematic because it is conceivable that some actor could advance fabricated claims of racism.

    Thus, if a charge of racism is in fact fabricated, part of the defense against it would necessarily involve demonstrating the malicious intent behind that accusation. In such a circumstance, then, how could one possibly mount a defense if to even suggest the possibility of malicious intent is a priori racist?

    1. I used the term “fabrication” to mean that the charges of racism had been deliberate falsehoods. The allegation that this was a ‘smear’, which the EHRC directly associated with institutional racism, is equivalent.

      There are two points here that it is essential to understand. The first is that the accusations of racism – the same ones that are being dismissed as ‘smears’ – have come from the victims of racism – mainly people who had been bullied, harassed and isolated within the party. The Macpherson Report established a general, and widely accepted, principle – that “a racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.” The denials of Labour’s supporters, in the face of mounting evidence, effectively claimed that the perceptions of the victims of racism had no validity – that there was nothing there to see. That is one of the reasons why the complaints had to be made to the EHRC in the first place.

      The second point is that antisemitism – racism directed against Jews – has been of a different kind to racism based on skin colour. It has been built on accusations about conspiracies, the abuse of power, manipulation and malice – this is the stuff of Nazi propaganda. When Jews and Jewish community organisations are accused of entering a conspiracy, acting with ‘malicious intent’ – your phrase – it is indeed racist.

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