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Opinion A boost to Labour’s McCarthyite disciplinary machine

AMMAR KAZMI assesses the implications of Thursday’s High Court judgment in a claim brought by eight Labour activists accused of misconduct

AFTER a lengthy legal battle, eight Labour activists, who alleged that they had suffered “unfair” disciplinary action, finally reached the finish line in their legal claim against the Labour Party on Thursday.

While achieving substantial victories since the case began over half a year ago, it was the party that disappointingly won the final round in the High Court.

In going to court, the claimants had set out to ensure the party would: comply with its own rule book; adhere to the principles of natural justice; and respond to the findings of unfairness contained in last year’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report on anti-semitism in Labour.

Since 2018, and until recently, the party had been secretly applying an unpublished Anti-Semitism Code of Conduct to disciplinary cases. 

The claimants argued that if Labour members are accused of misconduct, then it is only right that they should know what criteria apply to them. 

However, the court agreed with the party’s view that the claimants only needed to know “the gist” of the material being used against them.

The party also continues to use disciplinary processes that the EHRC found to be unfair in October 2020. 

This is despite Keir Starmer’s clear promises to party members — and the country — that he accepted the EHRC report and would oversee rapid changes.

Nevertheless, the court accepted the party’s arguments that the EHRC apparently did not find that its processes were “fundamentally unfair.” 

This surely runs counter to Starmer’s unequivocal public statements about accepting the report “in full” and “without qualification.”

These are the same processes and rules that were used under former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, which supposedly resulted in unlawful “indirect discrimination” and “harassment,” according to the EHRC. Under Starmer, they are now magically fit for purpose.

Lastly, the claimants argued that the party’s confidentiality requirements caused them real harm. 

Some claimants said that they felt unable to tell people that they were even under investigation and unable to respond to public accusations against them.

Yet the court agreed with the party that there had been no unfairness and, even if there had been, the court would not have intervened lest it ended up “micromanaging” a political party.

However, Mr Justice Butcher’s judgment — which resulted from a High Court trial on June 17 2021 — only represented the last leg of the process. 

The claimants began legal proceedings in late 2020 and, during that time, scored a number of victories against the party.

At a preliminary hearing in February 2021, Labour faced a total defeat after it unsuccessfully attempted to prevent two party members from joining the group claim.

Furthermore, as a result of this case, Labour finally published its Anti-semitism Code of Conduct at the end of March 2021 as part of a new Complaints Handling Handbook. 

Astonishingly, the party admitted in open court that it had refused to previously publish this Corbyn-era document because it would have been “politically incendiary.”

Moreover, in what appears to be a similar concession by the party, its national executive committee (NEC) discussed at the beginning of June 2021 the creation of a code of conduct on confidentiality and privacy, to be finalised soon. 

This is likely to be a direct response to the claimants’ confidentiality arguments.

This case has also clarified that members who are subject to disciplinary action are entitled to speak about their cases. They are not “gagged,” as the party strongly implies on its “notices of investigation.”

Additionally, while there were originally 13 potential claimants, the party pre-emptively backed down by reinstating five of them without preconditions before even reaching court, leaving them totally in the clear.

Despite these victories, it could not be more obvious that Labour has become a law unto itself. 

Thursday’s judgment will only give succour to the worst aspects of Labour’s McCarthyite disciplinary machine. 

This case has shone a spotlight on the party’s egregious hypocrisy on its approach to anti-racism. 

That duplicity has become all too transparent over the last few weeks since the Batley and Spen by-election, in which Islamophobia was a centrepiece. 

Despite publicly claiming to support all the EHRC’s recommendations, the party has made it clear in court that it will only comply with the strictest, narrowest legal obligations placed on it by the EHRC. 

Rather than urgently implementing a brand new, independent disciplinary system, it will merely seek to introduce an air of “independence” to the existing one, on a timescale of its own choosing. 

While withdrawing the whip from Jeremy Corbyn and suspending dozens of party activists over trumped-up “transgressions,” the Starmer leadership will apparently stoke anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia at every opportunity.

Meanwhile, anti-zionists in the party — including Palestinians and Jews, like four of the claimants in this case — are treated with contempt.

Despite the many victories the claimants achieved, the party has escaped the scathing verdict it deserved on Thursday. 

And that should leave a bad taste in all our mouths. What this case has proven is that Labour is simply beyond repair. Socialists everywhere must now broaden their horizons.

Two of the claimants were supported by the Left Legal Fighting Fund. They are still accepting donations: www.fightingfund.org/donate.

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