You know that moment in your favourite show or movie when the protagonist, exasperated, boldly claims “It can’t get any worse than this!” as the universe smugly conspires to rain down more terror? That is exactly how I felt when – on the backdrop of a global pandemic – the much anticipated but hushedly delayed Labour antisemitism report was leaked.
The 850-page dossier leaked on April 13th revealed the way divisive hyper-factionalism, Islamophobia, anti-blackness and antisemitism ran rampant in the Labour Party costing them the 2017 general election by just 2,227 votes. The report reveals the sinister way racism was used as a tool to fuel factionalism, obstruct the election and disparage Jeremy Corbyn. It made for extremely grim reading surfacing something deep down we knew was definitely true but could not discuss without being dismissed.
In the heat of the antisemitism debate that plagued much of Jeremy’s premiership, high profile cases such as the expulsion of Ken Livingstone were purposefully sabotaged by senior Labour staff and the deputy leader in an attempt to “embarrass [Jeremy Corbyn] and create a crisis”. Racism was nothing but a small stepping stone in a wider plan named “Operation Cupcake” that sought to replace Jeremy with then deputy leader Tom Watson. It laid bare how senior staff in the party saw Jewish people as pawns to fuel an agenda as opposed to real people with valid concerns about the state of racism in the party they supported. The general disregard for these issues became a recurring factor among senior Labour officials. When Dawn Butler was appointed to the shadow cabinet, in a private WhatsApp group of senior Labour staffers her allegations of racism in the party were dismissed and painted as untrue.
“DAWN BUTLER”, said one member of staff, followed by “good grief”. The former head of internal governance replied, “Did she not accuse the LP and its staff of being racist this week? Nice.”
Like many others, seeing the reports of Diane Abbott being abused by the press and right-wing trolls on social media was distressing. She has been a staple in British politics and a political icon for many. Her rise has not been easy. “The campaign was tough,” she writes in the Guardian describing her first election. “A brick was thrown through a window at my campaign HQ. Many Labour party members worked hard to back me, others went missing.” What is most notable in this piece is the way she describes the mistreatment received by those in her own party. Anti-blackness and misogynoir in the Labour Party is not a new issue but an endemic one.
“It once felt like the Labour party was a supporter of black voices, it seems now we must rely on each other”
The leaked dossier showed senior Labour staffers calling Diane “revolting”, “angry woman” and complaining that she makes them “feel sick”. Not only did senior officials mock her intelligence but alongside the then General Secretary Iain McNicol, they made light of the fact she was too ill to be a part of the campaign trail. The day before the Guardian published an article reporting the police’s failure to act on the multiple reports made by Diane’s office regarding racist and abusive messages senior staff mocked Diane for crying in the toilet before reporting her whereabouts and state to Michael Crick at Channel 4.
The response to the leaked dossier has resurfaced prior reports of marginal seats that belonged to pro-Corbyn candidates being defunded or having support withdrawn. Online, constituency Labour parties have been sharing their stories. One of the affected seats was Battersea, a marginal seal won by Marsha De Cordova in 2017 and held on to in 2019. In a tweet this week, the official Battersea Labour Party account shared “during the 2017 General Election, we were repeatedly told not to campaign in Battersea. Now we know why”. The hatred for Jeremy and all his supporters is deeply rooted in anti-blackness. Jeremy’s agenda frontloaded issues that concerned black and brown voters, the movement to quash him and his progressive manifesto was intentionally racist. It discouraged the many black and brown candidates that mirrored his politics, withdrew support from them and reduced their chances.
As a longtime supporter of the Labour Party, this report is truly devastating. As much as I do not regret campaigning for Labour in the last two general elections, I do feel betrayed by the scale at which this obstruction was carried out. As there is racism in society it does crop up in many spheres but to be an anti-racist organisation, you must banish it. These people, allowed antisemitism to become an era-defining trait of the party while anti-Corbyn MPs publicly stated that they were dismayed by the handling of antisemitism. I cannot be a member of this party in good faith knowing that senior officials can run a harmful agenda unchecked.
The calls to end factionalism are futile if the party is united but still fails to take accountability for the very apparent anti-blackness, deep-rooted misogynoir, lack of solidarity with Jewish members and hatred of the left in senior ranks.
What is even more disappointing is the political vacuum that exists to champion black and minority ethnic issues. Who will represent our voices and push for action on the policies that matter to us most? On the back of Windrush and Grenfell, now more than ever, black voices need to become a central part of British politics. It once felt like the Labour party was a supporter of black voices, it seems now we must rely on each other.