OPINION: A national disgrace that’s gone too far

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OPINION: A national disgrace that’s gone too far

Following the explosive BBC Panorama last week, Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger says the Labour Party's response 'beggars belief'

Sam Matthews, Head of Disputes 2016-2018, was featured in the BBC Panorama. (Credit: BBC Panorama - Is Labour Anti-Semitic?)
Sam Matthews, Head of Disputes 2016-2018, was featured in the BBC Panorama. (Credit: BBC Panorama - Is Labour Anti-Semitic?)

It is almost impossible to be further shocked by Labour’s leadership over issues to do with antisemitism, but its response to last week’s Panorama programme, Is Labour Anti-Semitic?, managed to achieve just that.

Labour is already facing an inquiry by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission over antisemitism, which should be a development that would get the leadership hanging their heads in shame.

Instead, the opposite is true. They attack the messenger, and so the party of antiracism and workers’ rights attacks its former employees who spoke out about antisemitism, and the leadership’s interference in investigations into antisemitism in the party.

They dismissed them as being anti-Corbyn, derided them for having political issues, and ignored the fact that they had suffered considerable stress, and, in one case, contemplated suicide. And they displayed no human response or recognition of their duty of care to their employees.

They attacked Tom Watson, MP, the deputy leader, who has stood up to be counted and has raised his deep concerns about these issues of antisemitism.

They particularly condemned him for blaming Jennie Formby- chief executive of the Labour Party – for any of her actions.

Of course it is horrible for her that she is receiving chemo, but it cannot be right to ignore the mental distress of former staff members, who displayed real anguish on the Panorama programme, and then argue no one can say anything about Ms Formby because she is ill.

Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger (Photo credit: Derek Tamea)

Indeed, the Labour Party claims to be committed to protecting whistleblowers. Yet it asked its former employees to sign non-disclosure agreements when they left, agreements which some broke – extremely bravely and on a matter of principle – to appear on Panorama.

There is some satisfaction to be had from the fact that the Labour high command is to be sued by some of those former employees who broke cover to criticise the party’s handling of cases of alleged antisemitism.

For Sam Matthews and Louise Withers Green, two of the group concerned, believe Labour has defamed them in its response to the claims they made on Panorama. Others are considering joining them. For the Labour leadership simply to proceed to attack the messenger, yet again, without even suggesting it would investigate its own actions, beggars belief. And, to add to that, Labour has complained to the BBC about the programme.

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Yet it is inconceivable that the BBC would not have checked the programme before it went out on air, for accuracy and legality. Jeremy Corbyn has argued that: “The programme adopted a predetermined position on its own website before it was broadcast…..Our party members do have the right to be heard if they’re accused of anything and our party staff have a right to be supported and they are supported.” But in this case, the party staff were not supported. Instead, they were vilified. And Tom Watson was attacked by Unite leader Len McCluskey, in wholly immoderate terms.

There are some signs of hope. 28 Labour MPs, all members of the Tribune Group, issued a statement expressing their shock at reports of the party’s handling of cases and how individual employees have been treated.

They said: “We support former employees in speaking out and commend their bravery in doing so….. Labour has always and always will support whistleblowers in coming forward when they are concerned about wrongdoing.”

But, given that the Labour leadership appears to be unmoved by the evidence from the YouGov poll for Hope not Hate, showing that a third of voters believe that Labour is now an antisemitic party, we need far more MPs to join those 28. And, now that Lords Darzi, Triesman and Turnberg have resigned the Labour whip, we need others to speak out, and, if nothing changes, resign the whip too.

This has gone too far. It is a national disgrace.

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