20 July 2022

The dreadful Forde report completely misses the point about Labour antisemitism


Unless you have an unhealthy interest in the minutiae of Corbynite politics, yesterday’s publication of the Forde Report will have passed you by – as, indeed, will its existence.

For those of us unfortunate enough to have such an interest, however, it was something of a big deal.

On the face of it, the Forde Report is a rather technical document, intended to examine the specifics surrounding the leak in April 2020 of ‘The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014–2019’, which was produced in the fag-end of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership.

The original ‘report’ was drafted by the Corbynites to be submitted to the EHRC as part of its inquiry into Labour antisemitism, although the party’s lawyers decided it should not be sent. It was intended to portray the Corbynites as the innocent victims of smears by his opponents, acting to root out anti-Jewish racism but frustrated by right wingers for whom antisemitism was no more than a stick with which to beat poor Jeremy.

The leak was unredacted and so it included not only the names and contact details of those who had made formal complaints about antisemitism, but also a series of WhatsApp messages from Labour staff. The leak trampled over the right to privacy of those who complained about racism. The ICO investigation into possible criminal charges around the leak remains ongoing.

Sir Keir Starmer commissioned Martin Forde QC to report on three narrow issues surrounding the leak: ‘The background and circumstances in which the report was commissioned and the process involved. The contents and wider culture and practices referred to in the report. Third, the circumstances in which the report was put into the public domain.’

It’s important to note that the report was never asked to investigate antisemitism itself – understandably, since that job was already done by a statutory body, the EHRC. Nor was Mr Forde asked to get involved in the politics surrounding the issue today. And yet he has done both – to depressing effect.

In fact, all that the Forde report really demonstrates is the danger of the knee-jerk response to any controversy of ‘let’s get a QC to investigate’. Because not only does Mr Forde wholly misunderstand the fundamentals of the issue, by doing so he turns what he surely intended was a serious, technical report into what can only be read as a political whitewash.

Yes, he found that there was terrible behaviour by the Corbynites over antisemitism (although he was not, remember, actually asked to investigate this):

‘Sadly some still deny the existence and seriousness of the problem, or the need to take action to combat it, as the party has now begun to do,’ he wrote, adding that amid continuing ‘evidence of denialism about antisemitism amongst some on the left . . . we have seen no evidence that claims of antisemitism were fabricated by complainants or improperly pursued by the complaints team…there is nothing in the Leaked Report (or elsewhere in the evidence we have seen) to support the conclusion that the problem of antisemitism in the Party was overstated.’

He would, however, have had to be wilfully blind not to reach that conclusion – as wilfully blind as those Corbynites who, to this day, insist on social media that #ItsAScam (the hashtag they use).

In other words, Forde concluded – as did the EHRC – that Labour had a deep-seated antisemitism problem which was not being properly dealt with and which many in the party simply denied.

Forde could, and should, have left this aspect of the problem at that. But no, he could not resist weighing in further – and in doing so revealing a near total lack of understanding of the issue.

In among his comments about the existence of anti-Jewish racism in the party, he writes: ‘It was of course also true that some opponents of Jeremy Corbyn saw the issue of antisemitism as a means of attacking him. Thus, rather than confront the paramount need to deal with the profoundly serious issue of antisemitism in the party, both factions treated it as a factional weapon.’

According to his biography, Mr Forde ‘has a practice which covers all aspects of Health Law’. I suggest that in future he sticks to that. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that he is right that the anti-Corbynites used antisemitism as a stick with which to beat him. Isn’t that wholly to their credit? What Mr Forde is saying is that they did not sit quietly on the sidelines saying nothing – they campaigned against the leader on the basis that he was presiding over a culture of racism, and as such was unfit to be leader (although the actual numbers who did fight against racism were pathetically small).

And yet for Forde, this is no more than a tit-for-tat political argument – racists versus anti-racists as two equally annoying factions – or, as he wrote:

‘The factions ended up in a cycle of attack and counterattack, with each side assuming that the other was acting in bad faith (sometimes justifiably, sometimes not) and responding in kind…Some anti-Corbyn elements of the party seized on antisemitism as a way to attack Jeremy Corbyn, and his supporters saw it simply as an attack on the leader and his faction – with both ‘sides’ thus weaponising the issue and failing to recognise the seriousness of antisemitism, its effect on Jewish communities and on the moral and political standing of the party.’

This is genuinely disgusting, equating those perpetuating racism with those fighting it, and dismissing the latter as ‘weaponizing’ the issue – exactly the word used, to this day, by the Corbynites.

But that isn’t the worst of it.

Although his remit did not include making proposals, Mr Forde decided to offer his wisdom in this area, too. Astonishingly, he suggests that a group called Jewish Voice for Labour, which was set up by a small group of Corbynites with the sole purpose of denying that antisemitism was a problem within Labour, and which has had members expelled from the party over antisemitism, be asked to conduct training in antisemitism. (And no, that’s not – as they might actually be qualified to do – in training as to how to be an antisemite, but how not to be.) Mr Forde writes: ‘There is a number of legitimate approaches that exist within the Party and the Jewish communities respectively.’

With just that one sentence, the entirety of the report is rendered unfit for purpose, because it shows that Mr Forde has not grasped even the most basic parts of the issue – that this was indeed a battle between good and bad, between those who perpetrated and perpetuated antisemitism and those who fought it. There are not ‘a number of legitimate approaches’ to this – one of which is to ask one of those groups which defended and denied the antisemitism to be involved in anti-antisemitism training. The idea is morally, politically and practically repellent.

Sometimes political problems require legal solutions, as the EHRC investigation showed. But sometimes they also need political solutions, as post-Corbyn Labour shows. Sir Keir Starmer will and should be judged on how he deals with antisemitism, not on what QCs he appoints tell him. This is an issue for Sir Keir to deal with. He has certainly made a start, but he needs to get on with it. Without the help of JVL or any of the other defenders of the Corbynite faith.

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Stephen Pollard is editor-at-large of the Jewish Chronicle.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.