Perhaps more than any other party in Western politics, the Labour Party has always been a home to contention and huge internal conflict. This is partly due to our electoral system, which forces politicians and activists into one of two main camps, within which many people may have remarkably little in common. As such, the factional struggle for control of Labour and its institutions has dominated much of the culture of the Labour Party throughout its history, and the battles between the ‘Trots’, the ‘Blairites’ and all the groups in between have often been the primary cause of concern for many Labour members and workers. The recently leaked dossier into the party’s handling of anti-Semitism and complaints during the tenure of Jeremy Corbyn as leader does not do anything to ease these worries.
The dossier, running at 851 pages, has a fairly clear agenda, but that does not serve to discredit all of its findings. It appears to have been produced in defence of General Secretary Jennie Formby and her allies and was apparently intended to be submitted to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into anti-Semitism within the Labour party. Its key disclosures are from the Whatsapp messages of senior Labour staffers in party HQ, known as Southside. These messages reveal the vitriolic levels of distaste towards Corbyn and the Corbyn project from many of the senior figures in the Labour party, including previous General Secretary Iain McNicol, now a Labour peer. As well as horror at the prospect of Corbyn, and Labour winning the 2017 General Election, the report discloses a number of abusive messages about various members of the Labour Party, notably including the use of racial tropes about Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler, the two most senior women of colour in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet. Abbott in particular was mocked for crying in a toilet after receiving death threats, a shameful look for senior figures in the party of the British left.
What the report ultimately demonstrates is the toxicity of the culture in the Labour Party. The entrenchment of the conflict between the ‘Trots’ and the ‘nots’ is hugely damaging to the political mission of the Labour Party and those within it. This mission, which must always be for all serious political parties, should be taking power in government. From this report and from the long history of the Labour Party it is apparent that many of those involved in its factional battles are far more concerned with seizing control of the Labour Party than taking power of the country as a whole. Even the leaking of the report, compiled to use the scourge of anti-Semitism to itself further factional conflict and which leaks the personal data of some of the members of the party, is an example in itself of the way in which Labour staffers prioritised pursuing factional games above all else.
It is not, however, those high-ranking officials who are the victims of their actions, but rather the minorities and the working-class in whose interests they profess to work. Surely all of those who work for the Labour Party would rather Labour win any given general election than the Conservatives. If they do not then they should resign immediately, rather than trying to sabotage their own party from the inside in forms that would never be seen among the Conservatives, for example.
The most shameful aspect of the whole affair is the treatment of Jewish members of the Labour Party. The main conclusion of the report is that members of the party’s Governance and Legal Unit (GLU) deliberately slowed the handling of complaints, including some cases of anti-Semitic abuse ,for their own internal political gain. While the provenance of these accusations, and indeed the report as a whole, must be taken into account, the dossier is compelling in its portrayal of those in the GLU as being more interested in attacking the ‘Trots’ than in protecting their Jewish members from disgusting abuse within their own party.
The experience of Jewish Labour members must be recounted – A Jewish Labour member at Warwick told me “my experiences over the last few years have mostly been of intolerance; of dissenting opinions and narratives but also notably towards many Jewish members who raised the uncomfortable truth of anti-Semitism within a party that describes itself as anti-racist.” The demonisation of Labour members for speaking at the abuse they and their community faced has been one of the most shocking elements of the crisis in Labour. That some of those responsible for ridding the party of the vile stain of anti-Semitism were more concerned with factional fights makes a mockery of those very conflicts. Labour has always been a fractious environment, and while disagreement can be healthy, intolerance is incredibly unhealthy. Perhaps with a new leader whose primary quality seems to be pragmatic and unifying (or attempting to unify), the ferocity of the factional splits, which has only increased in recent years, will start to ebb. One thing is clear however – never again. Never again can Labour allow its factional fights, which are often petty and juvenile of the highest order, to stop it from protecting its own members and the vulnerable communities of Britain.
Photo: Jeremy Corbyn//Flickr