OPINION: Apology isn’t just a victory for whistleblowers – but all who spoke out
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OPINION: Apology isn’t just a victory for whistleblowers – but all who spoke out

Ex Labour staffer Benjamin Westerman says it is welcome and long overdue that the Party is beginning to understand the severity of what it has done and demonstrate contrition.

Benjamin Westerman
Ben Westerman, Investigations Officer 2016-2017 (Credit: BBC Panorama - Is Labour Anti-Semitic?)
Ben Westerman, Investigations Officer 2016-2017 (Credit: BBC Panorama - Is Labour Anti-Semitic?)

This morning, the Labour Party took a momentous first step in beginning to right the wrongs of a shameful period in its history.

Last summer, I found myself in the once-unthinkable position of taking to national television to criticise the party I had been a member of for many years and to whom I had dedicated a part of my professional life. I am hugely proud to have stood alongside seven inspiring colleagues in blowing the whistle on the Party’s handling of its antisemitism problem during the BBC’s Panorama episode Is Labour Anti-Semitic?. We spoke out because we simply could not remain silent any longer. This wasn’t about politics or policy; it was about doing the right thing.

Nothing could have prepared us for the response the party chose to disseminate. Rather than taking this opportunity to apologise, to build bridges with the Jewish community and to learn from the hurtful errors of this period, the Labour Party and its leadership chose to launch a malicious public attack on our collective character and integrity, insinuating malign motives. But this was about more than just us. This was about a whole community and how the Labour Party was treating its concerns.

Labour’s leadership chose to launch a malicious public attack on our collective character and integrity, insinuating malign motives

Words matter, and for the brave young Jewish activists who appeared alongside us on the documentary to describe the racist abuse they had received, the party’s response was unimaginably painful. All this from a party claiming to defend workers, support whistleblowers and oppose racism. It was chilling, and their words hurt.

Today, the Party has chosen to redress this injustice. In making a full, public apology, the Party has taken its first step, though there is much work to be done if the wounds of this period are to heal. Even now, as Jeremy Corbyn describes the Party’s apology to us whistleblowers as ‘political’, it is clear that the journey is far from over. The fact that it has taken a change of leadership for today’s apology to come about itself speaks volumes to both the incumbent and his predecessor.

Last summer, I found myself in the once-unthinkable position of taking to national television to criticise the party I had been a member of for many years and to whom I had dedicated a part of my professional life.

The last five years have been unprecedented and saddening for those of us who so badly want to see the Labour Party at its best return to government. With the Equality and Human Rights Commission due to deliver the findings of its statutory enquiry in the near future, the Party must continue to learn lessons – only when it understands what led to its lowest point can it regain public trust. If the leadership is contrite and uncompromising in its desire to root out this poison, it can make things right. The lessons must be learnt, but the last five years must never be forgotten.

Today isn’t just a victory for the whistleblowers, but for all those who have spoken out. It is about making things right, and it marks the beginning of a process by which the Labour Party can heal from its shame. It is both welcome and long overdue that the Party is beginning to understand the severity of what is has done and, more importantly, demonstrate contrition.

  • Ben worked as a Labour staffer from 2016-17 and blew the whistle on antisemitism in 2019

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