Shami Chakrabarti’s report into anti-Semitism, racism and other diversity flaws within the Labour Party is a landmark for me and long overdue.
It is just a shame that the antics of Marc Wadsworth took the headlines away from the report’s public launch. Wadsworth really should know better than to publicly slam Ruth Smeeth and stick to the (excellent) question he had asked the panel.
The report reflects how the Labour Party needs to improve on a number diversity failings.
Personally, I always felt – despite their pronouncements of being an a-grade diverse organisation – the Labour Party has failed to practice fully what it lectures others to do. Especially when they were in government for 13 years.
E.g From the moment Labour were in power in 1998 I felt a sense that they restricted the development of any Black & Minority Ethnic (BAME) politician into senior cabinet ministerial positions.
- Back then the sidelining of Diane Abbott was disgraceful given how well she tackled the then John Major Tory govt on economic policies.
- When Baroness Patricia Scotland was appointed Attorney General in 2007, there was a fanfare because of her race/gender. I had to remind my Whitehall colleagues that her previous Attorney General had cabinet voting powers but she did not.
- I never saw any non-white special advisers and I worked on strategic issues across all government departments from 2001-2006 or at the Home Office later on.
I hope Jeremy Corbyn is given space to carry out the recommendations in Shami’s report. Because many of those who are calling for Corbyn’s head were essentially uphelding the Labour Party’s less than diverse organisation
Shami joined the Labour Party in April 2016. I hope that Corbyn will ensure she is appointed to a senior pivotal role as she has quickly done more for the Labour Party cause than many of his coup detractors.
Below are excerpts from the report.
Page 3: Yet according to the testimony received by my Inquiry and published by various contributors online, there have also been incidences of overt antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of racism in the Party over the years. There has been occasional resort to disparaging ethnic stereotyping (including but not exclusively of Jewish people) and even racially discriminatory legislation in the form of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 designed to prevent East African Asians from coming to the United Kingdom.
Page 9: During the short period of my current Inquiry, I have learned of a new modern-day racist epithet. “Zio” is a word that seems to have gained some currency on campuses and on social media in particular. No doubt it began as an abbreviation of “Zionist” (a term I will discuss later). However, I am clear that no one uses this word to describe their own political or cultural identity. It is a term of abuse, pure and simple, and should not in my view have any place in the vocabulary of Labour members, whether on- line, in conversation or anywhere else. According to the children’s rhyme: “Sticks and stones will break my bones…”. But name-calling will undermine the atmosphere being sought by the Labour Party under the leadership that appointed me to write this Report.
Page 12: Crucially, I have heard testimony and heard for myself first-hand, the way in which the word “Zionist” has been used personally, abusively or as a euphemism for “Jew”, even in relation to some people with no stated position or even a critical position on the historic formation or development of modern Israel. This has clearly happened so often over a number of years as to raise some alarm bells in Jewish communities, including amongst highly orthodox people who, whilst perhaps most “visibly Jewish” (e.g. in dress and or observance), would never see themselves as Zionists.
Page 24: An Afro-Caribbean woman of obvious intelligence, articulacy and experience described how she had been told that her “language skills” were insufficient for her to be put forward for election. Her language skills and advocacy were in fact excellent (at least to my ears). Indeed I have little doubt that English was probably her first language. Nonetheless, she had an accent, as we all do, whether shaped in part by our class, ethnic, national or regional background, or any combination of all of the above. So her experience was of direct racism and this has been experienced by a number of others, including of South Asian origin.
Page 23: I am sorry to report that “a welcoming environment” has not been the overwhelming experience of many BAME (Black & Minority Ethnic) members, including those from Afro-Caribbean, Muslim and Sikh communities in particular. I heard too many stories (from across the country) of members who felt that they were “good enough to deliver votes and leaflets” but not for staff or leadership positions within the Party or to be candidates for public office save (and often not even then) where their own ethnic community provides the majority of the electorate. This kind of testimony was far too common and consistent to be a complete misunderstanding and I do not want to see members of any communities leaving the Party to seek engagement and representation elsewhere.
Page 25: Another excuse with which too many BAME members have been presented as to why they have not been preferred for various leadership or representative positions or candidacies (whether at local or national level) is a lack of appropriate activist experience. Years of active engagement and/or leadership in e.g. a local church, mosque, Gurdwara or other community service or activity, are sometimes thought to be an inadequate alternative to years of door-knocking or attending ward, branch and constituency meetings. Relevant professional experience may also be over-looked (a classic example of the kind of stereotyping which I discussed earlier).
Page 26: Some members have gained the impression that BAME electoral candidates are somehow only welcome in areas with a large population from their own particular faith or ethnic group (an assumption clearly not applied in relation to white candidates). It was further pointed out to me that there is currently not a single Sikh Labour MP in the House of Commons (Sikhs being a minority amongst minorities almost everywhere). There is a fairly wide-spread feeling that BAME candidates are less likely to be selected for parliamentary by-elections in particular. I am not making a finding that there are informal quotas or caps in place, merely voicing the feelings and frustrations of too many loyal Labour Party members who have trusted me with their past disappointments but also their continuing hopes, via the Inquiry process.
Page 26: The Labour Party has good cause to be proud of having more BAME MPs than any other party, and that they now constitute over 10 per cent of its contingency in the House of Commons. However, the proportion of BAME constituents in Labour seats may be as much as double this. So there is surely no room for complacency. Nor, I think, should anyone feel completely satisfied with only 2 BAME members out of 24 on the Party’s NEC.
Page 27: As mentioned above, I further recommend that the Party reviews its Equal Opportunities- Policies and their implementation and seeks to increase the ethnic diversity of its paid staff.