I have been struggling to read the Forde Report, but there are plenty of people who are willing to help me understand what it says. I made a brief comment on Article 7 on this blog but at Labour Conference I found this article in the CLPD Campaign Briefing Conference edition and have reproduced it with the author’s, George McManus, permission. DFL

A damning indictment on Labour HQ

The Forde Report should be read by everyone with any interest in the future of the Labour Party and our democracy. Its contents are truly shocking and illustrate what we’ve known for many years. This didn’t start with the election of Jeremy Corbyn; it’s been going on for years.

 I believe, we owe a debt of gratitude to those who compiled and leaked the 800+ page report into what went on at Labour HQ, without which the truth would have never exposed.

Forde, an eminent QC, forensically examined the leaked report and its background. He has exposed that the senior staff we employ and pay to work on our behalf, who were meant to act in a politically neutral way, were actually working to undermine the Party’s elected leader and his team. And that the fundamental rule of the Labour Party, that ‘we exist to maximise representation in Parliament’ was being sabotaged by our own side.

Sadly, after more than 2 years’ investigation, and with only three specific terms of reference, Forde admits he’s unable to shed any light on who was responsible for the report or its leaking. But his conclusions are a damning indictment on practices at Labour HQ.

Forde investigated a number of issues including the discriminatory culture, poor staff management, and failings in the disciplinary processes, all of which predated Jeremy’s leadership.

Factional and discriminatory WhatsApp messages

 Forde describes a Labour Party where a toxic culture exists and where racist tropes are cited by senior members of staff, and his comments on the Senior Management Team’s WhatsApp messages are damning.

When the leaked document first emerged, it was alleged that members on the left were ‘cherry picking’ quotes for partisan reasons. Forde disagreed: “We find that the WhatsApp messages are deplorably factional… and at times discriminatory attitudes are expressed by many of the Party’s most senior staff.” He goes on: “Criticisms of Diane Abbott… are expressions of visceral disgust, drawing on racist tropes.” And: “We were told that many of the comments were made in jest. For Party staff to consider such ‘jokes’ acceptable suggests they have become detached from professional and personal norms.”

A different view on Anti-Semitism

His comments on Anti Semitism are scathing.

When Panorama broadcast its ‘Is Labour Anti-Semitic’ programme, Ofcom received a flood of complaints. All were dismissed. The programme was nominated for a BAFTA.

The programme alleged interference by Jeremy Corbyn’s office, suggesting that his office had aggressively imposed themselves on the disciplinary process to get his allies of the hook.  Forde has a different view. An eminent and learned, cautious, legal expert QC, Forde refers to such media reports as “wholly misleading” and concludes that the issue of Anti-Semitism was treated “by both factions as a factional weapon”. This is a stake through the heart of an issue which caused so much damage to Labour’s election chances.

 But there can be no equivalence in how both factions responded to AS. The right had clearly identified this as an issue to beat the left with and when Panorama got on board it was raised to a new level. This was at a time when senior figures on the right were demanding that Jeremy Corbyn should intervene to kick people out of the Party and then alleging misconduct because he was intervening in the process. Activists will recall how for over a year, on a daily basis, we were hearing media reports of how AS was a scourge in the Labour Party and not being taken seriously because Jeremy Corbyn was an Anti-Semite. It came up time and time again on the doorstep.

Anti-left SM investigations

Forde writes in detail about the validation exercises employed in 2015 and 2016 ahead of ballots being issued in the leadership elections. Hundreds of abusive search phrases were used in social media searches to root out infiltrators. But Forde found there had been no legitimate reason why such phrases focussed only on abuse from the left, whilst attacks on left MPs including Jeremy were ignored. He concluded that the intention of the exercise was to remove ballot papers from Corbyn supporters.

Sabotaging the 2017 GE

For many activists the most damaging part of the Forde report relates to activities surrounding the General Election of 2017.

Forde found that senior staff siphoned off £135,000 of Labour Party funds to be used as national spend in seats held by anti-Corbyn MPs rather than in winnable Tory seats. This fund was set up covertly, without the agreement of the Campaign Committee: they broke the rules if not the law.

 Instead of a single election strategy there was the Party strategy and the covert Ergon House strategy. The former targeted Tory winnable seats, the latter on shoring up anti-Corbyn MPs. Forde says he could neither prove nor disprove whether this approach cost us a Labour victory, although he thought it unlikely. Either way, Labour lost a number of Tory seats by small margins whilst majorities in some Labour seats were piled high.

 Forde concludes that “the Ergon House operation was wrong” and that “it was unequivocally wrong for HQ staff to pursue an alternative strategy covertly… and that the anger amongst the membership on the issue is justified”.

Recruitment bias

Forde is also scathing on recruitment. Long term nepotism and cronyism is cited by members of the GMB; many attitudes were “deep rooted”; and a “Mono Culture” had developed in which staff were not recruited on merit but because they were a mirror image of those doing the recruiting.

This was reflected in a lack of diversity and the under-representation of BAME and women, which Forde goes into in some detail. Forde goes into depth into the allegation that a racist, sexist, and otherwise discriminatory culture exists in Party workplaces. This is an area of greatest concern for a Party which exists to oppose all forms of discrimination and to be champions of diversity.

Problems were cited not only in LOTO and Labour HQ but also in regional recruitment. Staff were appointed and promoted not so much on merit but on a factional basis. Evidence is listed of staff feeling unsupported and overlooked in a culture which was deeply embedded pre-Corbyn.

Forde concludes that there are serious problems

Forde feels that the principle of staff being the politically neutral ‘Civil Service’ of the Party has been seriously undermined and paints the picture of a “working environment totally at odds with the values the Party stand for” and of “senior levels of management actively engaged in this sort of abuse”, and points out that if recommendations from this report are ignored, then the “hostile, exclusionary monoculture in Labour HQ will leave the deep-rooted problems untouched”.

Forde talks of the “undoubted overt and underlying racism and sexism in WhatsApp messages from senior staff”, of the Party’s failure to deal with staff complaints, and of many examples of staff reporting abuse. He accepts the leaked report’s allegation of a toxic culture in the Party, and provides the evidence to back it up, including sexism and bullying.

 Forde insists that the culture must change, and his recommendations are extensive, covering areas including the disciplinary process, complaints process, rights of appeal, transparency and time limits, sanctions, reforming party culture, social media policy, recruitment and management of staff, and relations between LOTO and HQ/Regions. Political education and training will be key, and he’s “disappointed that there has been a refusal (by the Party) to engage with Jewish Voice for Labour’s proposals for training and that CLPs are not even allowed to enlist their help”. He recommends clear and transparent Codes of Conduct, especially for staff, which some have been demanding for years.

We must act on Forde’s recommendations

 Forde’s recommendations must all be taken on board – and seriously. The Labour Party must now agree to fully implement these recommendations, because if change doesn’t happen then factionalism will remain at the heart of the Party’s problems, and will only be solved by a large section of the Party walking away and setting up a new party.

It’s not good enough for the Leader’s office to say that factionalism has been rooted out, or for the General Secretary’s office to act in a manner which appears to be diametrically opposed to the recommendations. Measures taken the last 2 years clearly work against Forde’s principles.

Nor has anybody been held accountable. That wasn’t in Forde’s remit, but someone led on the Ergon Strategy, someone decided the priorities for the 2015/16 validation exercise to root out Corbyn supporters, and someone failed to address the discrimination which was reported.

The Forde Report is not a whitewash. It must now be implemented and not swept under the carpet.

Why Labour must welcome The Forde Report
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