The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has announced it is prepared to launch an investigation into whether the Labour Party is institutionally antisemitic, following submissions by the Jewish Labour Movement and Campaign Against Antisemitism last year. The organisation has given Labour the opportunity to respond to the charge that it has “unlawfully discriminated against people because of their ethnicity and religious beliefs,” before it decides whether to press ahead.
The decision has the potential to blow open Labour’s antisemitism crisis, putting the involvement of Jeremy Corbyn’s office in disciplinary cases under the microscope.
An investigation would give the EHRC the right to demand access to emails and text messages between party staff. It could reveal whether the recently leaked emails, showing Corbyn’s staff interfering in individual members’ disciplinary cases, are one-offs or just the tip of the iceberg.
It would also mean that former Labour party staff, many of whom were pushed out of their roles when Jennie Formby became General Secretary last year, will see their non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) made void for the purposes of investigation. NDAs were offered alongside large redundancy payments to many senior staff, to avoid the risk of them leaking to the press after they left their roles in Labour’s HQ.
Current and former party staff can also be interviewed by the EHRC. Failure to comply with an investigation could leave those in charge of the Labour Party in contempt of court.
There has never been such an investigation into one of the main political parties, although the EHRC have at times conducted lower level inquiries. The closest parallel in the political sphere to this announcement is when the EHRC took the British National Party (BNP) to court in 2009/10 over its membership rules for excluding non-white people. The BNP was forced to remove the clause from its constitution.
An EHRC spokesperson said: “Having received a number of complaints regarding antisemitism in the Labour Party, we believe Labour may have unlawfully discriminated against people because of their ethnicity and religious beliefs. Our concerns are sufficient for us to consider using our statutory enforcement powers. As set out in our enforcement policy, we are now engaging with the Labour Party to give them an opportunity to respond.”