What Is The Forde Report And What Does It Mean For Labour?

Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer in front of the cover of the Forde Report
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If you’ve been living under a rock, or maybe so engrossed in the Conservative Leadership contest that you’re not following any other news, you may have missed that the long awaited “Forde Report” into the Labour Party’s internal culture has been released.

In fact you could be let off for not knowing anything about the Forde report, there’s been such a long delay – over two years at this point – that it seems to have fallen from people’s memory.

What Is The Forde Report?

In April 2020 an internal report produced by Labour, which seemingly highlighted a culture of antisemitism, bullying, racism and sexism within the Party, was leaked to the press after the party decided it was too damaging to be released to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) who were conducting an official external investigation into the Labour Party.

The contents 860 page report was so concerning that Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer commissioned Martin Forde Q.C to compile his own independent report into the allegations.

Forde’s report was delayed on several occasions due to legal action being brought against the party from those named in the leaked document, halting the investigation.

A separate investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) into the leaking of the internal report also stopped Forde’s investigation in its tracks with Forde writing to the Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) saying that the investigation would be put on hold until the ICO investigation was over so as not to influence it[1]LabourList: Forde Inquiry report delayed indefinitely, chair tells Labour Party.

So finally, after two years of stop-start investigations, the Forde Report[2]The Forde Enquiry is finally here, despite the fact that the ICO investigation is still ongoing[3]The Guardian: What is the Forde report on the Labour party – and why has it taken so long?.

Where Did This All Begin?

In mid-to-late 2018, the EHRC received several complaints relating to antisemitic practices within the Labour Party. This led them to launching a formal investigation in May 2019 and the results of this were published in October 2020[4]EHRC: Investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party.

While the EHRC were conducting their investigation, as mentioned earlier, an internal Labour Party report on antisemitism and bullying was leaked to the press in April 2020.

Titled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014-2019″[5]Wikipedia: The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014–2019 (catchy, I know), the leaked report highlighted a fractured Labour Party, parts of which obstructed investigations into antisemitism and racism.

While the internal report doesn’t go as far as to label the Labour Party institutionally antisemitic or racist, it does highlight that processes in dealing with complaints were inherently flawed, that management structure was ineffective and that factions within Labour were hampering investigations in disciplinary cases.

The Labour Party report highlighted the issues of antisemitism within the party with the executive summary stating that the report:

“thoroughly disproves any suggestion that antisemitism is not a problem in the party, or that it is all a ‘smear’ or a ‘witch-hunt’. The report’s findings prove the scale of the problem and could help end the denialism amongst parts of the party membership which has further hurt Jewish members and the Jewish community.”

The report also contained hundreds of emails and WhatsApp messages where insults were thrown around, included ableist slurs as well as the fantastic phrase “[their] face would make a good dartboard”. Read the Wikipedia Article if you want some more choice insults to add to your repertoire

The EHRC’s report was detailed and also damning. In the foreword and summary they state:

We [The EHRC] found specific examples of harassment, discrimination and political interference in our evidence, but equally of concern was a lack of leadership within the Labour Party on these issues, which is hard to reconcile with its stated commitment to a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism.
Our investigation has identified serious failings in leadership and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints across the Labour Party, and we have identified multiple failures in the systems it uses to resolve them. We have concluded that there were unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination for which the Labour Party is responsible.

Where Does Jeremy Corbyn Fit Into This?

After losing the 2019 General Election, Corbyn stood down as Labour Leader and Sir Keir Starmer was elected in his place. That should have been the end of it but it would appear that all roads seem to lead back to Corbyn when it comes to the internal Labour report and the EHRC report.

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The internal Labour report blamed a lot of the issues on “Anti-Corbyn” factions within the party disrupting the already ineffective processes they had in place[6]The Guardian: ‘Hostility to Corbyn’ curbed Labour efforts to tackle antisemitism, says leaked report.

Seemingly extremely unhappy with the gains that Labour made under Corbyn in the 2017 General Election they decided to undermine him any way they could in order to trigger a leadership contest [7]Independent: Anti-Corbyn Labour officials worked to lose general election to oust leader, leaked dossier finds – this came after a failed bid to oust him in 2016.

The “Anti-Corbynites” had their victory though as in the 2019 General Election, the Labour vote crumbled and the party lost several key “red wall” seats that had been traditionally Labour for over a century.

When the EHRC report came out they found that Labour, under Corbyn’s leadership, “points to a culture within the party which, at best, did not do enough to prevent anti-Semitism and, at worst, could be seen to accept it.”

The EHRC found that “the Labour Party breached the Equality Act 2010 by committing unlawful harassment through the acts of its agents in two of the
complaints we investigated. These included using antisemitic tropes and suggesting that complaints of antisemitism were fake or smears….This is by no means the full extent of the issues we identified within the files in our sample; it represents the tip of the iceberg….”[8]EHRC: Investigation into antisemitism in the Labour Party (PDF) [9]Labour Overview Of The EHRC Report.

Corbyn, now a back bench MP, did not take too kindly to the EHRC’s findings and released a statement that said:

“The EHRC’s report shows that when I became Labour leader in 2015, the Party’s processes for handling complaints were not fit for purpose.
The scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media. That combination hurt Jewish people and must never be repeated.” [10]The Article: Corbyn and the EHRC report [11]The Guardian: Jeremy Corbyn rejects overall findings of EHRC report on antisemitism in Labour

Many people, both in and outside of the Labour Party, had issues with Corbyn’s response. The lack of acknowledgement there was an issue under his leadership, that he seemed to blame preceding Labour Leaders rather than admitting that the situation had not improved during his time in power and complete lack of an apology upset a large section of the Labour Party and voters alike.

Sir Keir Starmer followed Corbyn’s statement with one of his own saying that anyone within Labour who believed the issue of antisemitism in the party had been “exaggerated” or were a “factional attack” were also “part of the problem and… should be nowhere near the Labour Party”[12]BBC News: Why was Jeremy Corbyn suspended from the Labour Party?.

Following Corbyn’s dismissive statements of the EHRC’s findings, Labour suspended him pending an investigation.

About a month later, a panel made up of members of the NEC, readmitted Corbyn to the Labour Party, however Sir Keir Starmer refused to return the Labour whip to Corbyn meaning that he sits on the back benches as technically an Independent MP after 55 years of being a member of the Labour Party.

Corbyn was asked to apologise for his statements regarding the EHRC report but he refused and, as of the time of writing still hasn’t admitted any wrong doing or made an apology for the EHRC findings and his subsequent comments. Labour have stated that they may not allow him to stand as an MP for the party in any future elections[13]Wikipedia: Jeremy Corbyn.

So, on the back of a damning internal Labour Party report and an even more damning EHRC report, Starmer called on Martin Forde to hold an independent review of internal Labour Party Practices.

Who Is Martin Forde?

Surprisingly, the Forde Report isn’t just compiled by Martin Forde, it’s a four person committee that looked into the issues of antisemitism, bullying, racism and general hostile culture within the Labour Party[14]HITC: Martin Forde QC’’’s career explored as Forde Report published after delays.

So, who are the panel members[15]Forde Enquiry: Panel Members?

Martin Forde QC (Panel Chairperson)

Forde has been a been involved in the legal profession working as a part-time Crown Court judge, and independent advisor and Barrister for over 30 years.

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Lord Lawrence Whitty

Whitty was General Secretary of the Labour Party for 10 years, was Tony Blair’s European Emissary, sat in the House of Lords and is on the board of directors for the Environment Agency and Ofwat.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport

Wilcox is a former leader of the Welsh Local Government Association and first woman to lead Newport City Council. She is currently part of the Opposition Whips office in the House of Lords.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett

Lister is Emeritus Professor of Social Policy at Loughborough University and honorary president of the Child Poverty Action Group and the Social Policy Association.

What Were The Forde Report’s Findings?

The report is quite detailed (you can read the full PDF version of the Forde Report here) so I’ll just pick out a few things that caught my eye.

No Proper Communication Channels

One of the first things that the Forde Report highlights is the use of WhatsApp to manage party business instead of official email channels. This meant there was no proper audit trail of email communication for both The Leader Of The Opposition’s team or Labour HQ.

Different WhatsApp groups were set up for different purposes meaning that getting an overview of what was happening, when and who was involved was also seemingly difficult.

An Internal Witch Hunt

One very interesting point is that a Party supplied laptop had no data on it despite it being forensically examined. They didn’t use the laptop at all for Party business even though that is what it was supplied for.

(Author’s Comment: Not suspicious at all, right?)

What they did use the laptop for though was to send out different versions of a memo to people to see which one (if any) was leaked. What was that about “witch hunts” again?

A Split In The Party

The report goes on to acknowledge that there were seemingly two factions within Labour: Pro and Anti Corbyn.

The Pro faction were the authors of the leaked report and this is why it minimised the impact of antisemitism within Labour, meanwhile the Anti faction used it as a weapon against Corbyn and his supporters.

This meant that neither side wanted to (or could) deal with the antisemitism, bullying and racism complaints. One side didn’t see that it was an issue and the other side was using it to their advantage.

Decentralised Complaints System

There was no database of complaints set up meaning that there wasn’t a proper audit trail; no one knew what type of complaints were being made, how many or when. This information should have been readily available but because it was decentralised people were unable to see an overview of the issues at hand.

This meant that the scale of the problem was unknown and that the Anti-Corbyn faction could manipulate the data however they wanted as it couldn’t be checked and verified easily.

In 2016, there were 5,000 unresolved complaints, almost of third of which related to antisemitism[16]The Guardian: Key takeaways from the Forde report on Labour factionalism.

Election Interference

The toxic atmosphere within the Party in this period was added to by the poor and often argumentative relationship between Labour HQ (LHQ) and The Leader of The Opposition’s Office (LOTO).

LHQ felt that Corbyn was out of step with the majority of Labour members, despite the fact he had a successful run during the 2017 election and his polling amongst members remained high.

The report found that “both HQ staff and LOTO staff wanted the party to win with as many of their favoured MPs in place as possible, which prevented fully objective decision-making; the two sides were trying to win in different ways.”

This also led to funds being moved around in a less than transparent manner to various candidates that each side wished to support.

The report stated that “A handful of staff in Ergon House created an additional fund for printing costs under the code GEL001 (spending some £135,000 in total on campaigns supportive of sitting largely anti-Corbyn MPs and not on campaigns for pro-Corbyn candidates in potentially winnable seats).[17]Independent: Anti-Corbyn Labour officials covertly diverted election funds away from winnable seats, Forde report finds

No One At The Wheel

The report also found that the LOTO office wasn’t run in an effective manner with poor decision management and lack of a clear chain of command.

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The issues were further compounded by Corbyn apparently being unwilling (or unable) to make key decisions and communicate them to LOTO effectively.

Where Do Labour Go From Here?

While the Labour Party have been making progress in improving their complaints and discplinary procedures, the ghost of Leader Corbyn still looms large over the party.

The party seems to be still very much Pro and Anti Corbyn.

With Labour refusing to return the whip to the former leader of the party, the Anti-Corbynites are happy but the Pro-Corbynites are not.

Starmer seems to be keeping Corbyn out of the Labour ranks not only as a matter of principle for the non-apology but also because Corbyn’s radical plans to renationalise the rail networks, provide free broadband and other “socialist leaning” policies scare some elements of Labour a great deal.

Some people have been calling the current iteration of Labour under Starmer “Tory Lite” with policies from Shadow Health Minister Wes Streeting seemingly going against Labour’s assumed pro-NHS stance, Starmer tearing up nearly all of the party’s manifesto policies and a refusal (still, after 6 years) to properly come on one side of the fence or the other when it comes to Brexit.

There are many deep divisions within the Labour Party – not just over Corbyn; Anyone who has had any contact with a socialist organisation are being removed, MPs who don’t vocally support NATO run the risk of having the whip removed[18]New Statesman: Kicking out left-wing dissidents would weaken the Labour Party and MPs are being removed from the front benches for publicly supporting union strike action – a principle that the Labour party was founded around.

Until these rifts are mended, Labour will continue to float along with the political current rather than being propelled under their own power.

The divisions between right and left need to be healed.

The divisions between pro and anti Corbynites needs addressing, not just brushing under the carpet.

Starmer needs to come out with definitive policies so that the more socialist members of the party and union members know where they stand and whether they want to stay a part of this form of Labour movement or leave.

The Labour Party was once the party of the workers and it seems to have moved far away from that ethos. With the current climate of high inflation, massive energy hikes and low wages with no raise in sight, perhaps it’s time that Labour goes back to its roots in order to recapture what they once stood for.

Perhaps more importantly though, until they really acknowledge the deep rooted issues that plague the core of the organisation – the bullying, harrassment, racism, ableism and antisemitism then Labour cannot move forward and they will not be able to win a general election in the state that they are in.

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