Labour MPs have demanded fresh action on anti-semitism after new figures revealed just under 2% of members accused of abuse have been expelled from the party since the row exploded last year.
Backbench anger spilled over again at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), following the release by general secretary Jennie Formby of new statistics on the scale and extent of abuse against Jewish people.
Of the 18 cases sent for disciplinary action since April 2018, 12 members have been booted out of the party, six received ‘sanctions’ and the rest are awaiting completion. Formby revealed.
But the figures also laid bare that hundreds of members escaped full disciplinary hearings, with 146 receiving a only a ‘reminder of conduct’ and 220 cases deemed to lack sufficient evidence to have breached party rules.
During the PLP meeting in the House of Commons, Jewish MP Louise Ellmann read out an anti-semitic message, complete with abusive imagery, that she had received from one party member who was still not kicked out of the party.
Wes Streeting said that the data released did not “pass the smell test”, because it had key gaps, with thousands of pre-2018 cases not included in the figures.
One backbencher accused Jeremy Corbyn and his allies of “shocking cowardice” in not turning up for the meeting, a week after a motion demanded the party “leadership” respond directly to MPs’ concerns.
Afterwards, Dame Margaret Hodge pointed out that the data was incomplete, while Ruth Smeeth vowed “this is not over”.
Former general secretary Iain McNicol said that Formby was wrong to suggest it was difficult to find data for cases before last April.
Catherine McKinnell, whose motion had sparked the call for the figures last week, said the new statistics “raise more questions than answers - answers that neither the Leader, nor the General Secretary, nor anyone on their behalf, were present at the meeting to provide.”
McKinnell said the use of ‘reminders of conduct’ was worrying.
“We are either serious about taking every possible step to eliminate all forms of racism, or we are not - and this process seems to suggest that some antisemitism can effectively be brushed under the carpet -which really is appalling,” she said.
And Luciana Berger and other MPs swiftly wrote a new letter to Corbyn to demand that he comes up with answers to eight new questions by this Wednesday.
A party spokesman insisted that just the total number of cases amounted to roughly 1% of the party’s 500,000-strong membership, though it said “one anti-Semite in our party is one too many”.
MPs, who had forced the publication of the figures, reacted with dismay at the large number of cases that failed to spark disciplinary action.
The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) passed a motion last week insisting that the party leadership produce the statistics, and were furious when Formby said her hands were tied by the ruling National Executive Committee (NEC).
In a new letter to MPs on Monday, the general secretary said that she had wanted to allow backbenchers who sit on the NEC access to the figures in confidence.
Formby, who had pledged to take urgent action on the issue when she was appointed last year, said that there was a “high level of staff sickness” in the party’s Governance and Legal Unit “followed by several staff leaving the party”.
She said this had created ‘capacity issues’ to deal with the complaints.
Formby also stressed that more than 30% of the complaints received were not about Labour members. The figure rose to 60% for complaints ‘dossiers’ that had been submitted.
And she said that “many of the cases refer to social media posts that are up to 8 years old”.
Formby had warned beforehand she could not attend the PLP meeting, citing a prior commitment. A Labour source insisted it was a ‘business meeting’ and as such there was no formal requirement to for Corbyn or anyone else to attend.
One Labour insider told HuffPost that they were “shocked” to see so many cases received only a ‘reminder of conduct’ and that others failed to get a full hearing by the party’s National Constitutional Committee (NCC) disciplinary body.
It is unclear whether the ruling NEC ever saw any of those cases or whether they were decided on by party officials reporting directly to Formby.
MPs also complained that while the party gave detailed figures for the number of non-Labour cases, it did not list exactly how many cases did involve to Labour members.
It is alleged the figures excluded the many cases reported to the party before April 2018.
One former staffer was furious at Formby’s line that before she arrived there was “no consistent and comprehensive system for recording and processing cases of anti-Semitism”.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “Jennie Formby, after obtaining the NEC’s agreement, has published the figures on anti-Semitism complaints handled by the party and published a report on the work the party has done and is doing to speed up and strengthen our procedures, increasing transparency.
“These figures relate to about 0.1% of our membership, but one anti-Semite in our party is one too many. We are committed to tackling anti-Semitism and rooting it out of our party once and for all.”
Party sources said that the figures demonstrated that allegations about there being thousands of complaints about Labour members were inaccurate.
They added that ‘reminders of conduct’ and formal warnings are still formal sanctions. If any individuals who receive them go on to repeat similar conduct in future, their conduct will be considered as part of future investigations.
Key parts of Formby’s letter:
Before April 2018, there was no consistent and comprehensive system for recording and processing cases of anti-Semitism. Therefore, this data shows complaints received in the period April 2018 to the last anti-Semitism panels held in January 2019 and represents a snapshot of the current situation.
Over 30% of complaints received by the Party are related to non-Labour Party members. For complaint ‘dossiers’ that have been submitted, this figure almost doubles up to 60%.
Many of the complaints refer to social media posts that are up to 8 years old. One specific case reported recently, a complaint was made about someone who died in 2016.
Every complaint that is reported as anti-Semitism is recorded as that, irrespective of the evidence, in line with the Macpherson principle. Where no further action is taken, it therefore does not mean that people have been ‘let off’, it is an indication that there was not sufficient evidence to continue an investigation of the case as an antisemitic incident.
In the period described above:
- 433 complaints received were not about party members
Of those who were party members
- 96 members were immediately suspended
- 146 received a reminder of conduct**
- 220 cases did not have sufficient evidence of a breach of party rules to proceed with an investigation
- 211 were issued with a Notice of Investigation
**A reminder of conduct is a first written warning and as agreed at January’s NEC meeting, these warnings will now only be issued by the anti-Semitism panels, supported by special counsel.
Of the cases who were issued with a Notice of Investigation or suspension, there have been 96 NEC Anti-Semitism Disputes Panel decisions
-42 members referred to National Constitutional Committee (NCC)
-16 members issued with a formal NEC warning
- 6 members’ cases were referred for further investigation
- 25 members issued with ‘reminder of conduct’
- 7 members’ cases were closed as the full evidence suggested no further action should be taken
Of the remaining number of cases which are either under a Notice of Investigation or suspension, 44 left the Party after being presented with the evidence in their case, and the remainder are either still under active investigation as having only been more recently received, or are cases where the investigation revealed evidence that meant the case could not be pursued further.
Of the 42 members referred to the NCC, which is an independent quasi-judicial body, 5 members left the party, leaving 37 cases for NCC review.
The following 18 NCC decisions have been made:
- 12 members were expelled
- 6 received sanctions
The remainder are awaiting completion of the case.