Racism in the Labour Party (again)

Stories have been circulating about how the Labour Party might change its rules to ensure that racists are excluded and that racism is eliminated from the Party. As is usual this is being conducted in secret. It is reported that the Jewish Labour Movement have submitted a Rules amendment designed to make suspending or expelling racists easier. The NEC is considering forwarding the motion to Conference.

New Rules

The proposed rule change defines antisemitic, Islamophobia and racist acts as prejudicial conduct. This renders the perpetrator liable to disciplinary action under the Chapter 6 procedures. It is proposed to add to the rules,

A member of the Party who uses antisemitic, Islamophobic, racist language, sentiments, stereotypes or actions in public, private, online or offline, as determined by the NEC, shall be deemed to have engaged in conduct prejudicial to the Party.’

The second part of the amendment is to add a clause weakening the freedom of speech defence when being judged by the National Constitutional Committee.

The NCC [National Constitutional Committee] shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions { except in instances involving antisemitism, Islamophobia or racism}.

When I started to write this, I was of the view that this established a category of thought crime. On the rereading I am not so sure. I do believe that by writing the rule excepting racism from a freedom of thought and speech clause, the rule becomes too restrictive and that those critics who claim it becomes a charter for thought police & witch hunters are correct. The rule should only make acts of racist speech liable for discipline. However it can be argued that the offence is only defined as an act, and that the free speech defence needs to be, and ought to be unavailable for hate speech. I have no doubt the rule change could have been written better.

About Israel

What makes the issue more complex is the arguments around the definition of antisemitism. The preferred definition of the Jewish Labour Movement and one that is widely adopted, and less widley rejected is that of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. This comes with a definition, and examples. I see no problem with the definition, it’s the examples where we potentially have a problem.

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Two of the examples of prohibited acts of speech relate to criticising the State of Israel. By using the IRHA definition of antisemitism, we create another freedom of speech jeopardy, one recognised even by the House of Commons  Home Affairs Committee, that of being able to think about and debate the conduct of the Israeli state. The HoCHAC recommended exclusions from the definition related to this issue. The IHRA also claim that the Labour Party have adopted the IHRA definition; I have no idea if this is true since the Party’s communication with its members on policy development and even compliance is dreadful.

An alternative view

I am also curious where the rule changes proposed by the Chakrabarti report, which sought to resolve this issue and create a fair disciplinary process conforming with the rules of natural justice has gone. The Chakrabarti rule changes I could support. When I say curious, I know that the JLM opposed the Chakrabarti report and the right-wing majority on the NEC failed to bring it to Conference, co-opted the JLM to its equalities committee and referred the Chakrabarti report to that committee. I have no idea if the rule changes have emerged from there. I believe that the NEC should put the Chakrabarti rules to Conference. A failure to do so is in my view a confirmation of the bad faith being exercised in this debate.

In some stories, it is suggested that the penalty for antisemitism should be life time expulsion, although I can find no evidence that this is being considered. I also oppose life time expulsions. The ECHR has ruled against the UK that indefinite prison sentences without review are contrary to human rights law. Our rules and personal judgements should allow for remorse and rehabilitation. (It’s one of the points that Chakrabarti made, that sometimes an apology and a promise not to re-offend is the most effective remedy).

I hope that Conference is given the opportunity to act robustly and wisely. I don’t have high hopes.

ooOOOoo

I am unclear if I am accurately informed since the JLM’s proposed rule change has not been made public, even by them. This is wrong! Like last year, the NEC’s rule changes are published too late for either debate in the Party or the seeking of mandates.

Rule changes if submitted by a CLP, would be published in the Agenda for 2017, to be debated in 2018. There is a one year waiting period to allow for debate and the expression of mandates, unless the rule change is proposed by the NEC. It seems that the NEC is considering backing the JLM amendment in order to allow the rule to skip the waiting period.

One thought arising from the discussion above, about what the amendment really means, is that Judges over the summer of 2016 while ruling on the meaning of Labour’s Leadership election rules noted that the Labour Party’s rules have grown organically and have multiple authors. This means that at times rules conflict and are unclear. They also said that the most obvious meaning was the meaning, clever constructions won’t work in court.

Another thought about the meaning of the rule, is the repeated use of the Macphearson rule, that an incident should be investigated as a racist incident if the victim believes it be so. The principle itself is about the initiation of an investigation, not the determination of guilt. Again, too much bad faith.

3 Comments.

  1. Antisemitism (in the Labour Party) – breadcrumbs of my mind - pingback on September 19, 2017 at 2:42 pm
  2. The NEC met yesterday to consider a series of rule changes. Rumour has it, because that’s all I’ve got that the worst has not happened, but it still remains secret, presumably until Conference. I think we need a rule on the publication of minutes.

  3. Rules again! | Well Red - pingback on October 3, 2017 at 11:24 am

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