A left-wing Jewish group is taking legal action against the Labour Party

Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn
Emma Guy

As part of our #FactOfTheMatter series, The Canary has been tracking increasing rebellion within the Labour Party. We can confirm that Jewish Voice For Labour (JVL) has now launched its own legal proceedings into the suspension of CLP members and an alleged ban on discussing motions relating to antisemitism within the Labour Party. JVL is also fighting a ban stopping members from passing motions of solidarity with former labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, or discussing the findings of the EHRC report.

It issued a statement on 24 December 2020 outlining the challenge:

JVL and suspended officers Marion Roberts and Louise Regan are challenging the right of the General Secretary to restrict freedom of speech and free political debate at our meetings.

We call upon David Evans, General Secretary, to rescind the existing instructions to Party members and to end the suspensions of any officers suspended for alleged breaches of these instructions.

According to the statement, chairs and secretaries of CLPs are banned from debating motions which include the following: 

  • Expressions of support for the former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn following his suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).
  • The findings of the EHRC Report
  • The merits and demerits of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “Working Definition of Antisemitism” as party policy
  • The Labour Party’s decision to settle the BBC Panorama “whistleblowers” legal action against the party by in effect admitting liability and paying the claimants £600,000 out of party funds.

JVL’s case includes calls to:

(a) rescind the existing Instructions to Party members; (b) agree not to make any further wide ranging and a contextual requirements of this kind; and (c) bring to an end the suspensions of any officers of CLPs who have been suspended as a result of alleged breaches of the Instructions, including Dr Roberts and Ms Regan.”

There are also at least 35 recent or on-going investigations, targeting Jewish party members on grounds related to antisemitism.

Some CLP members have described the investigations as an ‘abuse of Jewish identity’.

An ‘abuse of Jewish identity’

The legal challenge follows increasing concerns from left-wing Jewish Labour members. In December, a statement from a group of 12 suspended Jewish members stated:

We are appalled by the large and growing number of Jewish members of the Labour Party – including ourselves – who have recently been subject to disciplinary proceedings related to alleged antisemitism. This fact alone – over and above the trumped up and politicised nature of the charges – makes a mockery of Keir Starmer’s commitment to ensuring Labour is a safe space for Jews. It is now abundantly clear that this commitment does not cover discrimination against Jewish socialists.

On the contrary, Starmer’s abuse of our Jewish identity and his willingness to exploit antisemitism as a political football is shameful and harmful not only to freedom of expression, but also to the fight against real antisemitism and racism of all forms, both in and outside of the Labour Party.

This is echoed in JVL’s legal action letter:
The General Secretary appears to believe the EHRC Report has given it a mandate to adjudicate on which understandings of Jewish identity are permissible and those that are not. It should be patently apparent it is neither competent nor empowered to do this and, by attempting this, it is further discriminating against, harassing and or victimising a section of its Jewish membership, in breach of the Equality Act 2010.

The legal case, which is being crowdfunded, has currently raised over £20,000 but is still calling for support and pledges.

Measures were never adopted

In 2016, a report by Shami Chakrabarti found the party’s disciplinary processes were unacceptable.

Since then, in a separate legal case, backed by JVL, Labour Activists 4 Justice issued legal proceeding over the Labour Party’s processes.

Whilst the JVL’s legal case focusses on the suspension of CLP members, Labour Activists 4 Justice’s case focusses on the Party’s ‘unacceptable’ disciplinary process, which were highlighted in 2016.

The legal case into Labour’s disciplinary process claims little has been done to implement recommendations from the Chakrabarti report:

Too many members are leaving the Party because they cannot see a way to challenge a leadership that shows no concern for the rules or respect for the members.

The injustice of the disciplinary processes became absolutely clear when Shami Chakrabarti was asked to look into how racism was dealt with by the Party. Her Report in 2016 identified clearly many unacceptable aspects of the Party’s disciplinary process and called for their replacement by clear rules of natural justice, transparency and proportionality.

Although adopted by the Party little was done to implement her recommendations – little if anything in the period when Iain McNicol was General Secretary and not enough under [Jennie] Formby.

Labour Activists 4 Justice has since crowdfunded over £62,000 and counting, to support legal proceedings against the Labour leadership. 

However, it seems it’s not just Labour Activists 4 Justice or the JLV who are taking a stand, as a handful of MPs have reportedly shown their solidarity with former labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour MPs backing Corbyn

The following are MPs have been reported as ‘backing’ Corbyn:

  • Diane Abbott.
  • Tahir Ali.
  • Paula Barker.
  • Apsana Begum.
  • Olivia Blake.
  • Richard Burgon.
  • Dawn Butler.
  • Ian Byrne.
  • Dan Carden.
  • Mary Foy.
  • Rachel Hopkins.
  • Kim Johnson.
  • Ian Lavery.
  • Clive Lewis.
  • Rebecca Long-Bailey.
  • John McDonnell.
  • Ian Mearns.
  • Nav Mishra.
  • Grahame Morris.
  • Kate Osamor.
  • Kate Osborne.
  • Bell Ribeiro-Addy.
  • Lloyd Russel-Moyle.
  • Zarah Sultana.
  • Jon Trickett.
  • Mick Whitley.
  • Nadia Whittome.
  • Beth Winter.

One MP in particular recently stood alongside a suspended party member. Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott showed her support for suspended party member of Chingford and Woodford Green, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi.

Wimborne-Idrissi’s, a JLV member, was suspended after stating at a CLP meeting that antisemitism had been “weaponised” by the Labour Party.

Reports claim that Wimborne-Idrissi claimed antisemitism was being “wheeled out” as an excuse to suppress freedom of speech and “silence socialist voices”.

While Wimborne-Idrissi and the JVL have been vocal in challenging the Labour Party leadership, they are not the only group seeking change.

Also seeking a review of suspensions is a newly established network: Labour In Exile.

A new Labour Party?

The Labour In Exile Network (LIEN) has gained over 500 members, following a wave of suspensions of local party members.

Founding member and ex-chair of South Thanet, Norman Thomas, was recently suspended after branch members collectively agreed to pass a motion supporting Jeremy Corbyn. The motion was reported to have been “proposed, seconded and supported by Jewish members”.

Despite the new group gaining support, Thomas has confirmed that they will not be looking to set up an opposing party.

Thomas told The Canary:

We are not aiming at forming a party at all.

Our new group will be a vital network for those who continue to fight for democracy and socialism in the Labour Party; for those who have been unfairly suspended of expelled in the last five years and those who have resigned from the Labour Party in desperation of the party direction of travel under Keir Starmer and his unendorsed General secretary, David Evans.

Instead, the network’s aim is to develop a ‘plan for change’. A plan that will launch at LIENs own Labour Party conference.

The “alternative” Labour Party conference 2021

LIEN has called for a one-day Alternative Labour Party Conference which will be held on 27 February 2021. The network hopes that the event will launch its own plan for change within the Labour Party.

While the network has not gone into detail about its plans for change, it told The Canary:

The main point of the plan for change is to democratise the party, to make MPs accountable to the members, strip the bureaucrats of their power and transform what is currently a ridiculously hierarchal outfit into a campaigning organisation run by its grassroots.

With increasing friction within the party, suspended members, instead of shrinking into the background of politics, are calling for the party to review itself.

The Canary’s previous investigation included a call for the Labour Party to have an open conversation, even if those conversations are hard. At that stage, it wasn’t clear how far campaigners will go to initiate it. The JVL, Labour Activist 4 Justice and the LIENs actions show that pressure will continue to be placed on the Labour leadership until it changes how the party operates.

The Canary contacted the Labour Party for comment, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

Featured image via Wikimedia

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