MY LOCAL LABOUR PARTY in Dartford has been beset with toxic factionalism and bullying over the last year as a result of the behaviour of a small group of Progresssupporting Labour councillors. Recent events provide an insight into how this faction conducts itself and how the party bureaucracy treats serious complaints of bullying and discrimination against their political allies on the Labour right.
I went along to my first party meeting in a long time in April to discuss a motion on antisemitism proposed by our local councillors. I had been contacted and asked to do so by local comrades who, like me, wished to condemn antisemitism, of course, but were concerned about the detail of the resolution. We were concerned about its embrace of the full IHRA definition, the fact that it said anyone defending other members even accused of antisemitism should themselves be disciplined, and its vague call for the party to come up with a series of further measures to tackle antisemitism. When asked what this should consist of a supporter of the resolution said, “the immediate expulsion of Ken Livingstone, Jacqueline Walker and others”.
Antisemitism is an evil I feel strongly about as a lifelong anti-racist activist, writer and a discrimination lawyer. I therefore proposed some sensible amendments to the resolution, most of which were carried by the meeting. One of my amendments was that Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) should also be invited to conduct the anti-racism training which the councillors had proposed should be undertaken by the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) alone. This was to reflect the full spectrum of views held by Jewish members on this issue.
I was therefore horrified when one of our local councillors opposed my amendment by accusing JVL, an organisation containing hundreds of Jewish members, of harbouring “holocaust deniers”. When I challenged him and pointed out his remarks were offensive and defamatory he went on to name a well-known Jewish anti-fascist activist, who isn't even a member of JVL, as a “holocaust denier” and JVL member. This was heard by a meeting of approximately 45 people and legal action is pending from the individual who was slandered.
JVL has also since complained about the remarks of this councillor to the local party. In their complaint they say the following:
"JVL has hundreds of members who are all both Jewish and members of the Labour Party. Since its formation in July 2017 JVL has sought to strengthen the Labour Party in its opposition to all forms of racism including antisemitism. The councillor must have been aware that, as with any sizeable group of Jews in Britain today, it was likely that many JVL members would have had distant and close family members murdered in the Nazi holocaust. His words seem designed to cause maximum offence and distress to Jewish Labour Party members belonging to JVL. It is not far fetched to see this as a practical example in action of the very antisemitism which he claimed to be opposing.”
I have also formally complained to the local, regional and national party. Yet Dartford Labour Party, South East region and the party’s national complaints unit have refused to investigate these complaints. Refusing to seriously investigate a complaint of antisemitism from an organisation representing hundreds of Jewish members is institutionally racist under the McPherson definition of institutional racism.
This is a textbook example of how those who work for the party machinery at various levels do not approach such complaints impartially, and use the issue as a factional weapon. When one of their own is complained of they take no action.
Until the party's complaints process is operated fairly and impartially there will be no end to the factional warfare that has beset the party in recent years.