The Delay of the Forde Inquiry Raises Uncomfortable Questions

Almost a year has now gone by without allegations of abuse, racism and bullying of black female MPs being investigated.
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LONDON (Within the Law) - News that the report into Labour’s leaked antisemitism report will be delayed indefinitely will anger many but surprise few. It’s almost a year since the report was leaked to the press. However, at almost every step of the way, Labour’s response has been almost as bad as the contents of the report. 

Forde announced the delay until the ICO has concluded its own investigation. The commission is currently investigating whether Labour broke data protection laws by exposing the names of individuals unredacted. Several of those named in the report have threatened to take legal action. 

Labour has said it does not have the power to release the report. However, that is not sitting well with the MPs. However, that excuse has not gone down well. 

On hearing about the delay, nine MPs including Diane Abbot, Marsha de Cordova and Chi Onwurah signed an open letter warning Starmer that the delay: “risks doubling down on the impression that the party does not take issues of anti-Black racism seriously.”

They were further angered when it emerged several of those who had been suspended by the party in the wake of the report had quietly seen their memberships reinstated.

“As Black Labour MPs, we wish to draw particular attention to the evidence in the leaked report the Forde inquiry has been tasked with looking into, which showed repeated hostility and abuse shown towards Black Labour MPs,” said the letter. 

“The possibility of a racist culture and a hostile environment for Black members within the party needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency and the Forde inquiry is an important tool for doing just that.” 

They argue that there is no reason that those elements of the report which do not relate to the data leak should not be published. 

A growing problem 

The leaked report was intended to be submitted as part of the party’s response to the EHRC’s antisemitism enquiry. However, party lawyers attempted to suppress the report for fear it would increase the chances of the party being found guilty by the regulator. 

The report contained excerpts from WhatsApp messages which appeared to show hostility towards black MPs such as Clive Lewis, Dawn Butler and Diane Abbot. The Hackney North MP was described as an ‘angry woman’. 

When one person discovered her crying in the toilets over the wave of abuse she received online they discussed alerting a Channel 4 News reporter to her location. Dawn Butler, meanwhile, was mocked for having the audacity to speak out about racism in the party. 

Elsewhere the report appeared to show internal party politics got in the way of the party’s fight against antisemitism. Party staff were shown to be misusing party funds to actively work against the party leadership.

Failed leadership

The contents of the report were shocking enough, but the party’s response has been if anything, even worse. After the publication of the report some staffers tried to block a motion expressing solidarity for those MPs who had been on the receiving end of abuse. One staffer who objected was said to have interrupted speakers 25 times. 

The party’s response to a question from OpenDemocracy was even worse. “These were messages exchanged between co-workers in the expectation that they would remain private and confidential and the tone of the language used reflects that,” they also appeared to suggest criticism of the messages was ‘po-faced.’

The Labour party itself initially tried to excuse the details of the report. The party’s Twitter account initially claimed that the comments were supposed to have been private and represented internal banter. In other words, it’s okay to be racist as long as you don’t think you’ll be found out. 

Starmer’s personal response has also left a bitter taste in the mouth. From the outset, he has appeared more concerned about finding out why the report was released than stamping out racism within his own party. 

The impression was further reinforced by comments he made about Black Lives Matter where he appeared to feel racism was ‘a moment’. Faced with an outcry he didn’t appear to understand, Starmer attempted to dampen it all down by being pictured taking the knee before promising to do some ‘unconscious bias’ training.

Legal action 

The leaked report is a difficult issue for Labour. That names were unredacted exposes the party to a hefty fine from the ICO and legal action from those included in the report. However, this just one of the issues thrown up by the report. 

It shows a culture which is toxic, riven by infighting and in which casual racism is par for the course. Regardless of the outcome of the ICO’s investigation, these are issues the party must get to grips with. 

As Ed Miliband’s report into the 2019 defeat shows, a toxic culture in which relationships had been fractured by infighting was one of the key reasons for their defeat. Labour has become a place in which suspicion is everywhere and bullying is accepted. If he is to win in 2025, Starmer has to take positive steps to stamp this culture out. 

However, it is his apparent acceptance of racism within the party which leaves a particularly unpleasant taste in the mouth. To go a year without investigating racially aggravated bullying suggests ambivalence to racism. To reinstate some of those people before any investigation has been concluded suggests you condone those actions. It’s the worst kind of message which no amount of unconscious bias training can undo. 

As Paula Akpan wrote in the Independent in April last year, “black women on the left are between a rock and a hard place: abstain from politics or support a party that believes speaking out is evidence of factionalism.”

The news from the weekend will have done nothing to dispel that notion. 

(Written by Tom Cropper, edited by Klaudia Fior)

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