Chris Williamson accuses the EHRC of undermining Corbyn’s leadership

Chris Williamson, Jeremy Corbyn
Fréa Lockley

In a new video and essay, Chris Williamson claims that despite its “noble name”, the way the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) operates “tells a very different story”. On 29 July, The Canary reported that Williamson had launched a crowdfunder to legally challenge the EHRC after finding out he’s named in its report into antisemitism in the Labour Party.

The former Labour MP for Derby North’s latest appraisal of the EHRC reveals a worrying pattern of vested interests, racism, lack of independence, and right-wing allegiances. Ultimately, the Commission may have played a significant role in undermining Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Issues from the outset

Established in 2006, the EHRC insists it “operates independently”. It also states:

We use our unique powers to challenge discrimination, promote equality of opportunity and protect human rights.

But, as Williamson says, “only two years after it was established, six members of its ruling body resigned”. This signalled serious questions about EHRC chair Trevor Phillips. Williamson notes that during this time, Phillips:

questioned the concept of ‘institutional racism’; called for Britain to “scrap multiculturalism”; and said that the country was “sleepwalking [its] way to segregation” with “fully fledged ghettos”.

Subsequently, Phillips made several controversial comments about Muslims. In 2020, the Labour Party suspended him for these “alleged Islamophobic statements”. Phillips is now a senior fellow at leading right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange. He’s recently been further criticised for selling software to the Metropolitan Police, the use of which has raised serious “concerns about racial profiling”.

Williamson also points out that in 2017 “the Commission was accused of targeting Black, Muslim, and disabled staff for compulsory redundancies”. And as The Canary reported, the EHRC’s only Black and Muslim commissioners in 2012 felt they lost their roles because they were “too loud and vocal” about issues of race.

Phillips also appeared to have close links with a “number of high-profile figures” in New Labour.

From the outset, this called the body’s integrity and independence from government into question.

“Pernicious smear campaign against Corbyn”

In May 2019, the EHRC launched an investigation to determine whether the Labour Party, under Corbyn’s leadership, had “unlawfully discriminated against, harassed or victimised people because they are Jewish”. Yet Williamson stresses:

The number of alleged cases of antisemitism in the Labour Party are miniscule, and were clearly exaggerated as part of a pernicious smear campaign against Corbyn and his supporters. But that didn’t stop the Commission from targeting the Party.

Indeed, evidence from Labour showed that accusations of antisemitism involved around 0.1% of its 540,000 strong membership under Corbyn. While one antisemitic incident is one too many, this doesn’t support claims that Corbyn becoming PM would have constituted an “existential threat” to British Jews.

Meanwhile, despite a wealth of evidence and pressure from the Muslim Council of Great Britain, the EHRC refused to take action “against the Conservative Party over Islamophobia”.

According to Williamson, the EHRC “singled out” Labour’s opposition under Corbyn. Meanwhile, it failed to offer similar scrutiny of the Conservative Party despite it “being responsible for some of the most egregious racism exhibited in public life today, targeting Muslims and Black people in particular”.

Williamson’s analysis builds a compelling body of evidence. It seems the EHRC may well have played a significant role in undermining Corbyn’s Labour.

Compelling evidence

Although set up under New Labour, the EHRC has mostly operated under a Conservative government and continues to do so. Williamson’s examination demonstrates ways it appeared to undermine a potential Corbyn-led government. But alongside that:

The Tories have stacked the EHRC with business-friendly Commissioners, none of whom have a history in the anti-racist movement and many who have significant conflicting interests. Most notably, they appear to have personal, financial, or professional interests that would have suffered under a Corbyn-led government.

Williamson outlines several high-profile EHRC commissioners’ business links. The Corbyn-led manifesto posed a significant threat to many of these. For example:

Caroline Waters worked for a time and continues to holds shares in BT, a company whose value would have been threatened by the 2019 Labour manifesto pledge to deliver free full-fibre broadband to all by 2030.

Suzanne Baxter worked for over 20 years at the outsourcing firms Serco and Mitie, and retains shares in Mitie. Both companies would have been threatened by Labour plans to move against outsourcing.

Such “conflicting interests”, Williamson explains, “could provide part of the explanation for the EHRC’s skewed decision-making processes”.

Impartial?

The key push for the EHRC to investigate antisemitism under Corbyn’s leadership came from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) and the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA). Williamson painstakingly builds evidence to show that both “organisations are strongly committed to Israel”.

Life-long anti-racist Corbyn, meanwhile, openly supported the campaign for Palestinian human rights.

As Williamson shows, in 2016, the Anglo-Jewish Association (AJA) donated £5,000 to the CAA. AJA’s deputy president is married to EHRC chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath. He continues: “Contrary to the EHRC’s rules, Hilsenrath did not disclose this conflict of interest arising from her husband’s involvement with the AJA”.

In 2018, Hilsenrath oversaw the EHRC’s response to antisemitism complaints in Labour. Six months later she stood down after disclosing that she “was an active member of the Anglo-Jewish Community”. Williamson points out that the board “decided that there was no evidence of any conflict of interest”.

The EHRC said it took “impartiality and independence very seriously” and that:

Our investigation into the Labour Party has robust procedures in place to ensure its impartiality and anyone with a conflict, or perceived conflict of interest, plays no part.

Williamson also explains why it was problematic that Adam Wagner and Sarah Sackman both held roles in the EHRC. Both were also JLM members. He also goes on to note an article in the Jewish Chronicle about EHRC chair David Isaac that flags further issues of impartiality.

Hilsenrath herself also challenged Issac’s impartiality from government. Added to this, Williamson notes:

Isaac has also written for the conservative thinktank Bright Blue, which has been provided with ‘support’ by the Commission on his watch. The thinktank also published an attack piece ‘The Corbynites and antisemitism’ written by Stephen Pollard, editor of the pro-Israel Jewish Chronicle.

“Right-wing attack dog”

Williamson’s conclusion is damning. “It seems pretty clear”, he writes, that the EHRC “lacks independence, is institutionally racist, and has been abusing its legal mandate by attacking the Official Opposition”. He continues:

In our view, the Commission’s conduct played a leading role in derailing Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and in legitimising a McCarthyite smear campaign that only gets more menacing by the day.

Williamson says: “It would appear that, far from being an ‘equalities watchdog’, the EHRC has become a right-wing attack dog”.

In light of Williamson’s evidence, we all need to ask serious questions about the body that is meant to protect equality and challenge racism in all its forms.

Featured image via Chris Williamson, used with permission / Fréa Lockley

Get involved

  • Please share details of the crowdfunder and donate if you are able to. Although it reached the initial target, “Chris has pledged that all funds that are recovered or left unused will be donated to the Left Legal Fighting Fund to assist other activists”.

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  • Show Comments
    1. One hundred working class voters were recently questioned regarding their views on the left leaning independent Canary.

      Not one had even heard of the Canary let alone had views.

      Up the workers and the Canary. Finger on the pulse.

    2. This most be an important and insightful article if JohnnyTurk feels compelled to disparage it. Thanks for the pointer. Nudge nudge…
      I had thought that ‘yer typical’ working-class voter is clear in their attitude to politics – ‘I’m not political’. Well, that’s the BBC portrayal (or is that betrayal?).

    3. Trevor Philipps is a “useful idiot” for the Tories! The EHRC is the most inappropriately named organisation since the “Freedom Association”! If Jeremy was an anti-semite, then I’m Henry VIII! And for the record, I’m a front-wheel skid, a hooknose, a Red Sea Pedestrian, and a Tottenham Hotspur supporter! (to quote Brian of Nazareth).

    4. Inevitably the Tories will ensure a body like the EHRC can’t damage the interests it stands for. Since when did Tories promote “equality”? There world view rests on the notion that inequality is creative. “Don’t cut down the tall poppies” as Thatcher rhapsodised. She might have added, “but trample all over the daisies”.
      Go to the heart of the matter. The “New Anti-Semitism” and “Real Anti-Semitism” have been around a long time. Forster and Epstein published their famous and risible book in 1974 and the equally laughable Perlmutters theirs in 1982 (that tells you a lot about the publishing industry: it publishes distorted tosh and keeps good work away from the people). There is a quotation in the Perlmutter’s book everyone should learn by heart: “Essentially, this book’s thesis is that today the interests of Jews are threatened not so much by their familiar nemesis, crude anti-Semitism, as by a-Semitic governmental policies the proponents of which may be free of anti-Semitism…” See how it works? You can be “free of anti-Semitism” (like Corbyn) but if you support a governmental policy which is “a-Semitic” ie which does not advance the interests of Jews, then you become an anti-Semite. Yes, it’s lunatic. Yes, it’s a catch-all. If you support the re-nationalistion of the railways, you’re the enemy of Jewish interests as the policy is “a-Semitic”. As an enemy of Jewish interests, you’re an anti-Semite, even though you’re “free of anti-Semitism”. In short, we Zionists decide who is or isn’t an anti-Semite and the rest of you must shut up and accept it. Yes, it’s totalitarian. Orwell and Kafka together couldn’t have made it up. But it’s what has permitted the Labour Party to be ludicrously dubbed “institutionally anti-Semitic” and Corbyn smeared as a racist. It’s vicious. It’s nasty. It’s dishonest. It’s irrational. It’s intellectually feeble and morally abject. But it’s the way the Zionists are misusing history and the Nazi genocide to drive their political agenda and attack anyone who criticises them, however mildly. They undermined Corbyn and they have turned Labour into a spineless, jellified, compliant, masochistic body. Learn the Perlmutter quote and expose this vile, false, malicious doctrine and campaign.

    5. The EHRC says it has unique powers, and declines to say what they are. A successful coup de tat on Corbyn looks to be a talent they proclaim to have.
      Willaimson is absolutely right here.
      The EHRChas become a deeply subversive element, and ally working for the deep military state of mind undermining the concept of voting in an election.
      I say voting because it appears the Labour Party Hustlings ignored the 450,000 voters for Corbyn having already a preprogrammed idea of where they are going by using groups such as the Integrity Initiative to dominate their human fanatasy ecosystem.
      The depth of this subversion is serious trouble for anyone who views democartic principals as having respect.
      I don’t think the seriousness of what is going on here is appreciated.

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