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READING about the angry demands of a small number of right-wing PLP members towards Labour’s general secretary Jennie Formby over the contested claims around Labour and anti-semitism gave me a flashback to the early 1980s.
At that time I was working as a van driver for Central Books (the Communist Party book distribution company).
I had to deliver a couple of boxes to the CP Congress when this happened: on the floor of Congress, as I arrived, an irate questioner was on his feet, bellowing a question at the chair of that session.
The chair gave him a calm and detailed answer, but then the questioner was up on his feet, shouting: “But you haven’t answered my question!”
To which the chair replied: “I have answered your question. I have NOT answered the question to your satisfaction,” and then moved on to other matters.
Now, it was difficult to judge who was right and who was wrong. I do, however, feel much more able to pronounce on the long-running saga about allegations of anti-semitism in Labour that have surfaced repeatedly since 2015, as I’ve been watching it closely (and intervening here and there along the way.)
Two weeks ago some PLP members demanded to know what had happened to all the allegations of anti-semitism against Labour.
They were anticipating an inadequate reply and were already preparing their follow-up.
But Formby wrong-footed them by listing, under a series of headings, a comprehensive set of responses showing the progress that had been made in streamlining the process following complaints, making it quicker, fairer and more effective.
But the PLP questioners were not satisfied yet, and demanded facts and figures, which this week Formby supplied — only they don’t make very comfortable reading for those elements of the PLP who have been determined to elevate the existence of some incidents into a party crisis and proof of “institutional anti-semitism.”
On the other side of the arguments there are some who wrongly and unhelpfully dismiss all accusations of anti-semitism against Labour, but most of those responding from the left, including the Jewish left, have calmly said that a problem does exist in pockets but it has been artificially exaggerated, that many allegations lack substance, and it is doubtful they are all emanating from Labour Party members.
We have now been vindicated by the facts: approximately 1,100 complaints were lodged between April 2018 and January 2019, but 433 (nearly 40 per cent) were found to relate to non-Labour Party members, which brought it down to 673. (That still leaves a problem in wider society though.)
Of those complaints there was no evidence of a case to answer in 220 of those complaints, and we can speculate that those accusations were either wildly exaggerated or vexatious.
That still leaves more than 400 members (out of approximately 550,000 — so around 0.07 per cent) who had expressed views concerning Jews that were judged as requiring further investigation and disciplinary action.
Some received suspensions, others formal/written warnings about their behaviour, while just 12 were expelled.
The PLP agitators on this felt this was much too small a number of expulsions but on the basis of the Chakrabarti recommendations that expulsion should be a last rather than first resort, and that education should be the preferred response — to me that is a positive outcome.
There are 24 cases that have reached the highest panel that remain outstanding, so that expulsion figure may well rise but not dramatically.
There were two other statistics that seem important from Formby’s exemplary response: one is that 44 members quit Labour while their hearing was pending. That suggests that Labour is not at all a hospitable or comfortable place for anti-semites. They knew they would be found out and they jumped before being pushed out.
The other statistic relates to Margaret Hodge — who has been leading a crusade on this matter. She had personally submitted 200 of the complaints, but these were not 200 separate individuals.
They concerned 111 people, and 91 of them — 91 out of 111 — turned out not to be members of the Labour Party.
So, the 20 Labour Party members with a case to answer notwithstanding, Hodge was one of those most responsible for false and exaggerated claims against the Labour Party over anti-semitism. Now why am I not surprised?
This article is written in a personal capacity.
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