The Forde Report: Labour's factionalism, racism and cynicism
Last week the long-awaited Forde Report was finally published. The report was commissioned by the British Labour Party in 2020, after the leak of another internal dossier which exposed racism, misogyny, and factionalism as rife among senior staff at Labour Party Head Quarters (HQ).
The leaked dossier had been compiled as part of Labour’s response to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation into claims of structural antisemitism in the Labour Party, and in particular allegations that this had been facilitated by the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn interfering with internal disciplinary processes.
Martin Forde QC was commissioned to investigate the issues raised in the leaked dossier, and the broader internal culture of the Labour Party. His report makes uncomfortable reading: it catalogues pervasive sexism, structural racism, and destructive factionalism embedded in the Labour Party. It also concludes that during the tenure of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the party, allegations of antisemitism were used as factional weapons, both by opponents of Mr Corbyn and his supporters.
''In this regard, the Forde Report fundamentally undermines the oft-repeated claims about the Labour Party under Corbyn was an antisemitic party. This is an important finding and lends credence to other analyses which have shown that the issue of antisemitism was cynically exaggerated to undermine Corbyn and his left-wing political project, rather than from any genuine concern with addressing the wider societal problem of antisemitism and racism.''
The report further found that during the time of Corbyn’s leadership senior members of staff were openly hostile to Corbyn’s leadership, and to his supporters. It notes how anti-Corbyn Labour staff would delay or frustrate work to promote the Corbyn campaign, and how in the 2017 General Election, decisions were taken to surreptitiously funnel £175,000 to support right-wing/non-Corbyn supporting candidates, rather than supporting left-wing candidates in winnable Tory seats.
Forde concludes that while this activity was not unlawful, it was wrong and spoke to a culture of disfunction and entrenched factionalism that undermined what should have been the shared goal of electoral success.
A crucial contextual factor for both the leaked dossier in 2020 and Forde’s investigation and Report was the persistent claims that under Jeremy Corbyn antisemitism was rife in the Labour Party, and Corbyn and his allies underplayed or tacitly supported this.
Forde’s report rejects this, concluding that under Corbyn, as the leaked dossier from 2020 showed, the Labour Party accepted antisemitism was a real problem, was working to address it, and that delays and disruptions in the processing of allegations were caused both by the inadequacy of the existing complaints process, and the obfuscation of right-wing members of staff.
In this regard, the Forde Report fundamentally undermines the oft-repeated claims about the Labour Party under Corbyn was an antisemitic party. This is an important finding and lends credence to other analyses which have shown that the issue of antisemitism was cynically exaggerated to undermine Corbyn and his left-wing political project, rather than from any genuine concern with addressing the wider societal problem of antisemitism and racism.
Indeed, the findings in the report that there was “a hierarchy of racism or discrimination with other forms of racism being ignored”, and structural anti-black and Islamophobic racism has been borne out by the Party and media’s response to the Forde Report.
The line from Keir Starmer, and the Labour leadership, is a combination of “we knew there was a problem, but that was because of Corbyn and co and we've addressed it”, to effective silence on the wider issues of ongoing, structural racism in the party.
One Labour MP, Kate Osamor, has stated that the Party’s silence on the findings in relation to anti-black and Islamophobic racism felt like a “kick in the teeth”. With another black, female MP, Dawn Butler, arguing that response of the Labour leadership to the findings of racism was “just not good enough”.
The Labour Muslim Network commented that it, “is difficult to read this report and reach any other conclusion than there being institutional Islamophobia within the Labour Party”. Both the media and the Labour leadership have been content to let these findings of the Forde report pass with little or no comment.
This, of course, tells its own tale. The original leaked dossier in 2020 and the Forde Report both emerged from the extensive claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party. The media, and many Labour MPs and party staff hostile to Corbyn, amplified and, as Forde found, weaponised these claims to undermine the Corbyn leadership.
Since the right of the party is now comfortably back in control, with the left rendered toothless and sterile, there is no appetite within the Labour Party or the wider media to address the clear, systemic racism now documented in the Forde Report.
This shows, depressingly, that some forms of racism are just not politically useful. The real issue of antisemitism was cynically exaggerated and weaponised to undermine Corbyn and the possibility of a modest social-democratic government in Britain.
It is likely that the official Labour Party and media response to the Forde Report will be to consign it to oblivion. The cynically weaponised account of antisemitism has served its purpose, and neither the party nor the newly minted “anti-racist” media commentators who so vehemently attacked Corbyn, have any real interest in addressing racism, whether in the party or in society more generally.
The factionalism that the Report documents and bemoans persists, with the right of the party now the unquestionably dominant force. Indeed, it is noteworthy that a number of the senior figures identified in the leaked 2020 dossier, still occupy senior roles within the party.
The left of the Labour Party continues rudderless and will lean on the Forde Report to ground empty calls for “greater unity” or for the need for “something to change”. In this regard they will show themselves to have learned the least from the experience of the last seven years.
If nothing else, the Forde Report will stand as a crucial illustration of realpolitik. The “factionalism” that the Report, and many Labour members, bemoan is not some aberration, but the very stuff of politics. When historical happenstance presented the left of the Labour Party with the leadership, the right pulled no punches – and, in the end, the right won.
Paul O'Connell teaches law at SOAS University of London.
Follow him on Twitter: @pmpoc
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