OPINION – Lord Falconer: Labour failed the Pete Willsman acid test

OPINION – Lord Falconer: Labour failed the Pete Willsman acid test

With many months until EHRC is expected to report, former Lord Chancellor renews his offer to step in to look at processes of handling antisemitism complaints

Lord Falconer

Lord Falconer is former Lord Chancellor

Peter Willsman arriving for a meeting of the Labour National Executive Committee in London. Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Peter Willsman arriving for a meeting of the Labour National Executive Committee in London. Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

I said 14 days ago that it would be an acid test of the Labour Party’s disciplinary process whether it dealt with the Pete Willsman case within 14 days. The 14 days are up today.

Apart from suspending him, nothing meaningful has happened.

A political party’s disciplinary process sends a message about the sorts of conduct it will not tolerate.

The speed with which it responds shows what it prioritises.

It’s consistency shows whether the party is trustworthy.

The NEC and the leader determine the behaviour the party will not tolerate and the ruthlessness with which they will stamp those behaviours out.

Pete Willsman is on the NEC. He boasts he is Jeremy Corbyn’s protector.

14 days ago today a recording came to light in which Pete Willsman, told an American author writing a book about the UK that the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour Party were total lies‘One of these things about antisemitism is that they’re using that to whip people up. They’ll use anything – any lies. It’s all total lies and they just whip it up.’

He then continued: ‘I’ll tell you what – and this is off the record. It’s almost certain who is behind all this antisemitism against Jeremy, almost certainly it was the Israeli embassy, because they caught somebody in the Labour party, it turns out they were an agent in the embassy.

The recording lasts about 90 minutes. Alleging that antisemitism complaints are lies whipped up by the Israeli embassy is profoundly antisemitic. It involves suggesting at the very minimum that antisemitic complaints or very many of them should be viewed as lies procured by the Israeli embassy.

If a person in a position of authority in any organisation suggested that complaints of racism against the organisation by people from Africa should be treated as mainly lies procured by African embassies there could not be any doubt that this was racist.

If Pete Willsman remains a member of the NEC it is impossible to see how any Jewish person could have confidence complaints of antisemitism would be dealt with properly by the Labour Party when they are happy to tolerate as a member of their ruling body someone who regards most of the complaints of antisemitism as lies.

The complaint against Pete Willsman does not require a complex or lengthy investigation. It requires the recording to be verified, which involves asking him if he disputes the genuineness of the recording. If he does it would have to be examined. Allegations of antisemitism do not attract automatic expulsion. He is entitled to an opportunity to put forward any representations he wants to the body which will decide the appropriate penalty.

Lord Falconer

None of these steps require complicated process. Expulsion is at the very least a real possibility so the matter will have to be considered by the NCC, a body which can be properly constituted with a panel of 3. They must then form a view about whether its antisemitism and if so what the appropriate penalty is.

It could have all been done within 14 days. No lengthy request for time to respond, or talk of a backlog blocking hearing this particular case is remotely convincing when the facts are so clear and the need to deal with so serious an allegation against someone who sits on the party’s ruling body is so urgent . If there are special circumstances of which I am unaware then make them public to reassure party members that we can trust the process.

In the meantime Chris Williamson’s case has been outstanding for 110 days, and other MPs have complaints of antisemitism left hanging uninvestigated unaddressed.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission have initiated a full scale investigation into antisemitism within the party. Shaming but necessary and welcome. Their investigation will take at least 6 months.

In the meantime the message the Labour Party’s disciplinary process sends out is it might tolerate antisemitism, it doesn’t priorities antisemitic complaints and it is not consistent in the way it deals with those complaints.

Whilst we wait for the EHRC report we need to work as hard as we can to ensure that the message is brutal intolerance of antisemitism as a priority consistently applied. I am as keen now as when I offered in February to assist the Labour Party in every way I can to ensure those are the messages of the disciplinary process. I stepped back when the EHRC stepped forward. The inevitable and understandable delay before they report makes me feel it is time to renew that offer.

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