POLITICS
22/07/2019 17:17 BST | Updated 22/07/2019 21:32 BST

Jeremy Corbyn Backs Plan To Accelerate Expulsion Of Anti-Semitic Labour Members

Labour leader unveils moves to fast-track disciplinary action, giving new powers to NEC chiefs and general secretary in worst cases.

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Jeremy Corbyn has personally backed new plans to accelerate the expulsion of Labour party members found guilty of anti-Semitism.

In a bid to end the three-year row over the issue, Corbyn told his shadow cabinet on Monday that he supported proposals to fast-track disciplinary action by giving the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) sweeping new powers.

Ahead of a meeting with his MPs the Labour leader tabled two options for taking tougher action against those accused of anti-Jewish hatred.

The main option is to create a special panel made up of the party general secretary and NEC officers, with the power to boot out those guilty of the worst excesses.

Corbyn and deputy Tom Watson both sit on the nine-strong NEC officers group but neither will take part in the new panel, party sources made clear.

The plan, supported by Corbyn personally and then endorsed by his shadow ministers after a three-hour meeting, will now go before the party’s ruling body on Tuesday.

If approved, it will then go before the annual conference for changes to the Labour rulebook in September. It remains unclear which criteria the party will use to define the most serious cases.

A second option, to allow small NEC panels to expel members, albeit with the right of appeal to the party’s quasi-judicial disciplinary body, the National Constitutional Committee (NCC), failed to win approval.

In a statement, the shadow cabinet also said that it supports moves to “introduce independent oversight of our processes, and will continue to seek to engage with Jewish community organisations to build confidence”.

Corbyn expanded on his proposals at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), where several backbenchers used the gathering to denounce the party’s response to BBC Panorama’s special on the issue,

General secretary Jennie Formby also released new figures showing that just eight people had been expelled for the offence in 2019, out of 22 cases concluded.

The new figures showed that in the first six months of this year, 625 members were accused of anti-Semitism, a proportion the party said represented 0.1% of its membership. 

PA Wire/PA Images
General secretary Jennie Formby and deputy leader Tom Watson

At the shadow cabinet meeting, Corbyn told his senior frontbench team: “Some complaints have taken too long to deal with. This is not good enough.

“Our members don’t want to share their party with anyone who is racist – and they want to be able to demonstrate there is no place for antisemitism among them.”

HuffPost UK first revealed on Sunday the proposal to fast-track expulsions in the worst cases of abuse.

The plan set out by Corbyn would mean a break with the past, as until now only the NCC has had the power to expel members.

Watson last week backed a rival plan to make the whole process independent of the party and to make anti-Semitism a cause for automatic expulsion. Senior peers including Labour’s leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith, have also called for a fully independent system.

One shadow cabinet minister said the leadership had on Monday gone closer than many had expected to the stance of Watson and others who demanded tougher action.

“In the end they will be judged by the Jewish community as to whether it is enough,” they added.

A Labour source said: “No political party or trade union outsources the entirety of their complaints process.

“The NEC Officers is made up of members of the NEC who have been elected into those positions by the NEC as a whole, which is elected by the whole Labour movement.”

But Mike Katz, national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said: “We can’t have any confidence in these new proposals. This is just rearranging the deckchairs. 

“The NEC is elected on factional slates on the basis of political patronage. It has an in-built majority for the left which does what the leadership of the Party tells it to. 

“The NEC officers are the very same group that voted by a majority to refuse to even read the Party’s response to the EHRC [Equalities and Human Rights Commission]. This group cannot be trusted to exercise good judgement.

“Nothing short of a fully independent process, first asked for by the Jewish community way back in April 2018, is even going to begin to suggest that the Party leadership really cares about tackling institutional anti-Jewish racism.”

A JLM source added “The NEC officers are creatures of the leadership, they will do whatever the leader’s office tells them. They’re Unite [the union] nodding heads.”

Formby’s latest statistics showed that for the first half of 2019, of 190 decisions by NEC panels, 97 members were referred to the NCC disciplinary panel.

But 41 cases were dealt with instead by a formal warning and 49 with a ‘reminder of conduct’. 

One Labour MP told HuffPost: “So we found 90 cases of anti-Semitism but they were not deemed serious enough for disciplinary action? That’s something that ought to really worry us.”

Other critics pointed out that even though there were 100 complaints a month, the fact that just eight members had been expelled proved that the party had not met its pledges to take tougher action.

However, a party spokesman said: “Publishing this data demonstrates the Labour Party’s commitment to transparency in its efforts to root out bigotry and racism, going far beyond any other political party.

“We are swiftly suspending individuals and the rate at which antisemitism cases are dealt with has increased more than four-fold since Jennie Formby became General Secretary.”

According to the new figures, between 1st January and 30th June 2019, 28 NCC cases were resolved. Of those:

  • 8 members were expelled
  • 3 members received an extended suspension.
  • 4 members received a warning.
  • 1 member received no action, as the NCC found the charges to be unproven
  • 12 members left the Labour Party after being referred to the NCC

Over the same period in 2018, 10 NCC cases were concluded:

  • 7 members were expelled
  • 3 members left the Labour Party

 The party added:

  • 116 members were subject to administrative suspension while allegations of antisemitism were investigated.
  • 162 members were issued with a Notice of Investigation for alleged antisemitism (that is, they were not administratively suspended during the investigation).
  • 100 cases did not present sufficient evidence of a breach of party rules to proceed with an investigation, but the Respondent was issued with a Reminder of Values.
  • 163 cases did not present any evidence of a breach of party rules so no further action was taken.
  • 146 complaints are currently being processed.
  • There have been complaints against 625 members relating to antisemitism, accounting for 0.1% of the party’s membership. Some members have received multiple complaints.
  • There were complaints about 658 people who aren’t in the Labour Party.

Formby, who is receiving treatment for cancer, was applauded and wished well by MPs after she made a short statement on the new figures at the PLP meeting.

During the meeting, Corbyn faced a string of questions from MPs, some of whom condemned the party’s response to the Panorama programme and demanded a more independent complaints system.

Margaret Hodge, Ruth Smeeth, Peter Kyle, Siobhan McDonagh, Neil Coyle and others raised questions.

Afterwards, Smeeth - who had read out incidents of the past month - claimed Corbyn had not responded to her point that whistleblower Sam Matthews had spent three hours with Met Police after receiving a death threat on Saturday.

“It went in one ear, out the other. He didn’t mention any solidarity for the whistleblowers. I don’t understand what humanity is meant to be in our party if this is where we are. I don’t think anything has really changed. I just think this was to get us through to [Commons] recess.”

Coyle asked a question on behalf of a local member who had supported Corbyn, ‘Sharon from Walworth’. “Don’t his actions, appointments and releases in the last few weeks all prove there is a culture of denial and that racism exists?” she had asked.

“And the public have already concluded the problem arose under him, continues in his name and that he cannot be part of the solution as he is part of the problem?”

However others said that several MPs rallied round to Corbyn, saying the PLP should recognise his new proposals were for real change and proved he had listened. The main focus now should be on fighting the new Boris Johnson premiership, one said.

After weeks of controversy and fresh rounds of party in-fighting, Corbyn this weekend underlined his determination to be more proactive on the whole issue with a new website aimed at educating members to tackle the “poison” of anti-Semitism in the party.

Meanwhile, Corbyn won a reprieve when the Labour group in the House of Lords decided against holding a vote of confidence in his leadership over the anti-Semitism row.  The motion will remain ‘on the table’, one peer said.

The group instead affirmed its support for Baroness Hayter, the former frontbencher sacked for saying his leadership team had a ‘bunker mentality’ that was like the last days of the Hitler regime.

It also “expressed solidarity” with Hilary Armstrong and Roger Liddle, both of whom have had motions passed by local parties calling for their expulsion.