Corbyn’s diversity chief criticises failures over Oxford Uni probe

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Corbyn’s diversity chief criticises failures over Oxford Uni probe

In an exclusive interview with the Jewish News, Dawn Butler reveals plans to involve Naz Shah in educating Labour members about anti-Semitism

Justin Cohen is the News Editor at the Jewish News

Dawn Butler speaking in the commons
Dawn Butler speaking in the commons

Jeremy Corbyn’s new communities chief has criticised the failure to update those who complained of harassment at the Oxford University Labour Club about the investigation.

Dawn Butler, who took on the new role of minister for diverse communities in the shadow cabinet this summer, made the comments in an interview with the Jewish News in which she also revealed plans to use formerly suspended MP Naz Shah to educate others in the party about anti-Semitism.

It came two weeks after the first face-to-face talks between Butler and Jewish leaders focused on the cases of Ken Livingstone, Jackie Walker and the OULC – which the MP acknowledged were “unfinished business” which must be dealt with before they would be ready to engage in full discussions on broader issues. The delay in the latter case – which is due to be heard next month – was the subject of a clash between the head of the Jewish Labour Movement and a senior member of Corbyn’s inner circle during the meeting.

But seven months after the Labour leaer’s office confirmed that allegations against a ‘small number’ of individuals had been passed by Baroness Royall – who conducted an inquiry – to the party, complainants have yet to receive any progress report. “I think part of the process means that if somebody has made a complaint they should be informed as to the progress of their complaint. If that hasn’t been done it should be done,” Butler told the Jewish News.

She said there was an urgent need to put in place “solid processes” to ensure any allegation of prejudice is taken seriously and both the complainant and alleged perpetrator are kept updated, and a transparent outcome emerges. She added: “If you believe in equality you believe in it for everyone. If you are offended by something it’s not for me to say it doesn’t sound very offensive. The fact is you are offended and I have to take it at face value and see if there’s anything I can do. If I’m the person doing the offending I would need to change my behaviour and apologise.”

Its “evident” some complaints of anti-Semitism haven’t been adequately dealt with to date “otherwise we wouldn’t be in the position we’re in,” she said. “There has to be a better understand how complaints are dealt with.”

Her first port of call on issues of concern to the community is the JLM, while Momentum’s former national organiser James Schneider and local figures in her Brent constituency including Councillor Neil Nerva are also go-to points for advice. She will be holding talks with members of JLM’s parliamentary council, headed by Luciana Berger, early in the new year. JLM is part of her advisory committee.

But Butler said she was confident the Jewish community-Labour relationship could be “rebuilt because everybody wants it to be done. We want to get to the point of discussing other issues”.

While she insisted she was not able to comment on the three high-profile cases discussed during her community meeting, she insisted they must be “dealt with quickly and fairly”. Asked if she expected theses outstsanding issues to be resolved before the end of the first quarter of 2017, she added: “If this was still rumbling on in 12 months, I’d probably be hitting my head, saying ‘what are we doing’ but I want the party to get it right.

Another member of her advisory group is Naz Shah, who apologised profusely after being suspended by the party for sharing a post advocating the transportation of Israelis to America, has been applauded for her efforts to understand her error and build ties with the community. Butler believes she can now be a “valuable asset” in helping to educate others.

She said: “As minister for diverse communities I will be using Naz and she’s willing to be used. The party is developing training programmes and I expect her to be central to that. We’re having a conference with all the friends of groups which she will be part of. We need to have a solid programme of training not just on anti-Semitism but on racism, sexism, on unconscious bias which sometimes includes anti-Semitism.

“You’ll say something you don’t realise is offensive. To insult Israel is to insult British Jews’ homeland and that’s offensive.”


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