Racism, bullying and factionalism: Labour needs to do better

Former Corbyn adviser ANDREW FISHER, pictured left, gives his assessment of the Forde Report, and how it reflects what has been happening in the party in Croydon

The Forde Report – the investigation into the culture of the Labour Party – has uncovered some unsavoury truths.

The Labour hierarchy would do well to reflect on them and improve. What I had walked in to was immediately apparent when I arrived to start my new job in the party in September 2015, but Forde lays it out in detail, with evidence: “By 2015, the majority of the party’s senior staff did not see their roles as requiring perfect neutrality, or even the appearance of it.”

Withering report: Martin Forde QC

Martin Forde QC, a distinguished and experienced barrister, chaired the independent panel, which was appointed in April 2020 to investigate allegations surrounding racism and antisemitism contained within a leaked internal party dossier. The resulting Forde Report was finally made public at the end of July.

In the report, Forde said that there was “a real antipathy towards the Leader of the Opposition’s Office by HQ staff after Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership” and that there were “straightforward attempts to hinder LOTO’s work”.

Forde found a toxic factional culture, he said that a hierarchy of racism operates within the party, and he discovered several instances of wrongdoing.

The factionalism wasn’t just an ill in itself – it debilitates the party’s ability to tackle other issues, as any issue becomes subsumed within the battle for factional advantage.

As Forde says, “Factionalism had played an important and destructive role in the Party’s mishandling of antisemitism complaints”, as the staff responsible “prioritised ‘hunting trots’ ie. suspending members who supported Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 and 2016, over dealing with complaints of antisemitism, Islamophobia or other types of complaints”.

Fund manager: former General Secretary Ian McNichol

The Forde Report found that in 2015 and 2016, party staff attempted to rig internal elections for the party leadership. Both times, Jeremy Corbyn won by such an enormous landslide that it didn’t affect the result. But Forde is clear, “the intention and effect of both validation exercises was to remove ballots from individuals who would otherwise have voted for Jeremy Corbyn”.

It comes to something when the staff employed by a party that constitutionally affirms “democratic socialism” cannot be trusted to deliver democracy.

Forde also found that party staff diverted election funds during the 2017 General Election campaign without the constitutional approval of the campaign committee. These weren’t the actions of a few rogue staff but “signed off by the General Secretary”, Iain McNicol, someone who today sits as a Labour peer in the House of Lords.

Disappointingly, when the Forde Report was published, the Labour Party’s official response was somewhere between dismissive and complacent. A spokesperson said, “Keir Starmer is now in control and has made real progress in ridding the party of the destructive factionalism and unacceptable culture that did so much damage.”

Starmer himself said, “I didn’t need the report to tell me we needed to take action.”

Denialism: Keir Starmer has so far not taken action over the findings in the Forde Report

To me this smacked of the kind of denialism that we heard from Cressida Dick in her final days as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

In another parallel with the Met, senior staff in Labour HQ were found to have sent messages that Forde concludes were both racist and sexist. “We note the recent cases of members of the police being sanctioned as a result of sharing [such] material in WhatsApp groups,” the report states.

Brent Central MP Dawn Butler, herself critical of the Met’s failings, wrote in The Voice newspaper, “Does the Labour Party have a greater tolerance for bigotry than the Met Police?”

Butler is not alone. Both Edmonton MP Kate Osamor and Hackney North’s Diane Abbott MP have spoken about the party’s failure to deal adequately with anti-black racism in the party.

As the chair of Croydon Central Labour Party, I can say categorically that anyone who spoke in abusive terms, especially the discriminatory abusive terms chronicled by Forde, would be immediately stopped and asked to leave the meeting. Thankfully, in my time in the party – whether as chair or as an ordinary member – no one ever has.

But there are some lessons locally too – even with the limited autonomy that local parties have. Local parties have to work at doing more to ensure that our membership is representative of Croydon’s community, and being more inclusive of all members, rather than just those in the right cliques.

Before the last set of local elections, independent-minded local councillors like Jamie Audsley and Andrew Pelling were de-selected and hounded out. Pelling’s ward colleague in Waddon, Robert Canning, complained to the party about the “bullying, intimidation or harassment” suffered by Pelling. As far as I am aware, nothing was ever done about that complaint.

These two decisions alone – resulting in the demoralisation of members, and Pelling standing as an independent – were probably enough to cost Labour the 500 or so votes by which Val Shawcross narrowly lost the Croydon mayoralty. It certainly lost the party a council seat in Waddon.

Left out: David White (right, before his expulsion from Labour) with Jeremy Corbyn

In a reflection of a changing culture, the leader of the Labour group on the council, Councillor Stuart King, has circulated a report to members and spoke at our recent CLP meeting taking questions from members.

There was frustration under the previous Labour administration that local members were kept in the dark and not consulted by councillors. Even councillors outside the “inner circle” felt likewise.

That cliquey culture must be consigned to the past – and the signs so far are positive.

Another serious allegation, investigated in the Forde Report, was that some senior Labour Party officials had actively tried to undermine Labour’s 2017 General Election campaign. That was the election in which, as policy adviser to Jeremy Corbyn, I had worked on the For The Many, Not The Few manifesto.

In that election, Labour defied expectations and surged in the polls, taking the Croydon Central seat from Gavin Barwell, and reducing the Conservatives’ majority in parliament, leaving Theresa May scrabbling around to do a deal with the DUP to stay in office.

If Labour had taken just a few more seats, the Conservatives would have been unable to form a government, and a minority Labour government would probably have been the only option.

Forde confirms that officials set up a covert operation “spending some £135,000 in total on campaigns supportive of sitting largely anti-Corbyn MPs and not on campaigns for pro-Corbyn candidates in potentially Tory winnable seats”.

Forde summarises that section of the report by saying, “It was unequivocally wrong for HQ staff to pursue an alternative strategy covertly… We are absolutely clear that this should never have happened, and we consider that the anger amongst the membership regarding the issue is justified.”

Perhaps most damning of all is that Forde concludes it’s the case that “factionalism within the party has seen it fail its supporters and undermine the party’s contribution to the UK’s democratic process”.

In other words, the party’s culture hinders its ability to hold the government to account, and ultimately to form a government itself.

The party’s complaints system, that has seen David White expelled – a local member, former councillor and the CLP secretary with 50 years membership – is subject to scathing criticism: “There appear to be no published procedures governing the use of administrative suspensions and that these appear to be operating without clear criteria for their use”. David White lodged an appeal against his expulsion in January; we still await a response from the party.

Despite factionalism being increasingly entrenched rather than tackled by the current national leadership, we will do what we can locally to improve our ways of operating and to focus on winning back the trust of Croydon’s voters.

Some of Andrew Fisher’s recent columns:

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Andrew Fisher, Andrew Pelling, Croydon Central, David White, Gavin Barwell, Jamie Audsley, Robert Canning, Stuart King, Waddon. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Racism, bullying and factionalism: Labour needs to do better

  1. It’s amazing how fast Croydon Labour moved when expelling Andrew Pelling and David White and deselecting Jamie Audsley, yet it proceeds at a snail’s place in dealing with Tony Newman and Simon Hall, and has done absolutely nothing about Paul Scott and Alison Butler.

    • “Croydon Labour moved when expelling Andrew Pelling and David White and deselecting Jamie Audsley”.

      And if it hadn’t, it might well still control the council and had the mayoralty.

      Insane hubris from idiots.

      • Ian Kierans says:

        Perhaps Hubris – but idiots?. Unless you believe that there was not an intentional strategy to isolate and expel those that would/could have lifted the lid of a very sordid set of circumstances factions and vested interests?
        Perhaps a prime example of factionalism at its most self centered?
        Or maybe they are all idiots – who knows?

  2. sarah says:

    Martin Forde is an exceptionally well respected and a very impressive barrister whose report is strong . He has headed many Inquiries .

  3. Gregor Forde says:

    During that period there was a sense within the Labour Party (by some) that rather a Tory government than Corbyn in No 10

  4. Lewis White says:

    Labour’s complaints policy is unfit for purpose. No sense of wisdom or fairness.

  5. The expulsions of Andrew Pelling and David White and the deselection of Jamie Audsley forced me to think again whether I wanted to volunteer to help in any Labour campaigns. Certainly as the LCF is currently structured and run I feel no desire to do anything to help. I used to be a keen door knocker and distributor of election material and so on. Not now.
    I’m not too sure whether the domination of one closely-knit faction of the party is good thing for it in the long term. While I support the Labour Party nationally, I don’t feel like supporting it locally.

  6. Ian Kierans says:

    Politics and political administrations are murky and self serving with little transparent controls. It is not just Council Executives that fail to answer for their actions. Nor is it just Labour and the Co-operative Party.
    The same antics go on in other Political Parties, Trades Unions, Lobby groups, Businesses, So called Think tanks and Policy Review Groups, Even local School Governing bodies, Trusts and Quango’s.

    I do understand Mr Starmers point of view that he did not require a report to tell him what was staring him in the face, Albeit a poor choice and timing of words, the sentiment of despair was quite valid. Having seen the antics that have gone on, not one item in the report is a surprise. In fact I surmise it does not go far or deep enough.

    in Croydon – the Labour Administration showed wards they no longer determine who they get as a Councillor and the voters wish is irrelevant and that was reflected in the turnout and as Andrew said cost them control by expelling vote winning candidates and not de-selecting vote losing councillors or administrators.

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