In an effort to make The Forde Report more accessible, Spotlight Newspaper is publishing a summary of the inquiry into the leaking of the report on the handling of anti-Semitism complaints within the Labour party. We’ll also be scrutinising some of it’s findings, where appropriate to do so. In this first part, we’re covering the contents of the foreword by the author (the Chair of the Inquiry, Martin Forde QC) which, in itself, is rather revealing and gives us an idea of the scope and limitations of the inquiry.
Forde Report Summary (Pt1): Foreword Martin Forde QC
The Chair, Martin Forde QC, makes it clear on page 4 that this inquiry has been “entirely dependent upon voluntary cooperation” because they didn’t have the same powers of the Information Commissioners Office (ICO). The ICO can prosecute people, bring criminal sanctions against them and demand disclosure of relevant documents but the Forde investigation had no legal powers so couldn’t compel witnesses to come forward. Forde points out that some key witnesses refused to speak to them or provide any documentation. Not wishing to compromise the ICO investigation the Ford Inquiry decided not to investigate the source of the leak and chose, instead, to focus on two other specific terms of reference – 1) The truth, or otherwise, of the main allegations in the leaked report and 2) the structure, culture and practices of the party organisation.
On Page 5, Forde explains that submissions received by the Inquiry “made for challenging read” and included complaints “of discrimination across the whole range of protected characteristics,” including religion, race, gender and sexual orientation, as well as allegations of “bullying and harassment at local level.” These allegations, he says, were supported by “a wealth of evidence” and some of the evidence demonstrated “discrimination and a perceived hierarchy of protected characteristics.” Forde then explains that “this meant that some [characteristics] were less highly regarded.” The Chair goes so far as to declare that the party does not, as it claims, welcome diversity nor encourage inclusivity. Instead, he describes evidence of a culture of deep rooted “factionalism” that has left the party “dysfunctional” and, as such, unable to mount an effective opposition, let alone offer effective government.
On Page 6, Forde reveals that the Whatsapp messages he had seen clearly showed “a real antipathy toward LOTO [Leader Of The Opposition] by Labour HQ staff, after Jeremy Corbyn won the party leadership.” He notes how staff had subsequently segregated into two camps, during campaigns, and were even engaging in online abuse and negative briefing to the media. He also confirms that some Labour HQ staff were operating a “deliberate go-slow” policy, designed to frustrate the efforts of colleagues in the opposing faction.
However, Forde also makes some rather astounding claims. First he implies that there is an element on the left who are in complete denial when it comes to allegations of anti-Semitism, regarding them as an exaggeration “by the right to embarrass the left,” but he doesn’t make it clear what evidence he is referencing in order to draw that conclusion. Nor does he make it clear what number (or percentage) of Labour Party members actually hold that view. He then takes a statement from the authors of the original leaked report in which they say “this report thoroughly disproves any suggestion that anti-Semitism is not a problem in the party or that it is all a smear or a witch hunt” and then remarks how sad it is that “some still deny the existence and seriousness of the problem, or the need to take action to combat it.” It’s clear that, in their statement, the authors of the initial leaked report did not clarify the extent of anti-Semitism within the party, they merely identified that there had been some genuine cases of anti-Semitism. All cases of anti-Semitism are, of course, serious but for the party to have a ‘serious problem’ would require that there was a disproportionate number of cases, comparatively speaking, to other parties, to wider society or to previous records within the Labour Party. This does not appear to be the case so, under the circumstances, I would suggest that Forde is wrong to dismiss ‘every’ single allegation that claims of anti-Semtism were being used to ‘smear’ people and it is also wrong of him to simply dismiss the claim that there was a ‘witch hunt’, based on that statement alone. Forde does, however, go on to acknowledge that some on the right couldn’t have cared less about actually dealing with anti-Semitism and were far more interested in finding ways to weaponise anti-Semitism in order to attack Jeremy Corbyn. It’s quite shocking to think that some members on the right were happy to stoke fear and distrust, across the entire party membership, simply to serve a right wing political agenda.
Forde then explains that the party has an inadequate disciplinary process which is “potentially prone to factional interference” and points out that there was no “auditable database of cases,” so it was impossible to provide figures on how many disciplinary cases were still pending or how many had been processed. This was the case even before the party had seen a surge in membership under Corbyn. Forde then goes on to make a number of interesting recommendations, including recommending that “Independent members working within the disciplinary process must have expertise in regulatory law and must be selected for expertise in regulatory and disciplinary processes – not factional allegiance.” What Forde is actually telling us here is that the disciplinary process was not fit for purpose (even before Corbyn became leader). He describes a team that had no expertise in regulatory law or in disciplinary process and who had been appointed, primarily, to serve factional interests and not for their suitability for the job. It is his view that the disciplinary process is still open to factional abuse because there are still “no published procedures governing the use of administrative suspension” and the team “appear to be operating without clear criteria for their use.” Forde also acknowledges that the party has been using computer algorithms that are not “professionally devised” and not “data protection compliant… to search for historical social media posts.”
One would imagine that some of these revelations would be of significant interest to party members currently challenging the Labour Party through the courts.
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