Exclusive: full PLP briefing document on BoD/JLC meeting

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A briefing document has gone out from the Labour leadership to all of the party’s MPs, outlining the discussion points, agreed actions and follow-ups of Jeremy Corbyn’s meeting with the Board of Deputies (BoD), Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) and Community Security Trust (CST).

The SKWAWKBOX has obtained a copy of this briefing – and it sheds a somewhat different light on the meeting and the media spin put on it. Below are some of the key points, including reasons the BoD/JLC/CST were not granted some of what they proclaimed themselves disappointed about:

Timetables

The leadership discussed the organisations’ demand for fixed timetables for dealing with accusations of antisemitism but, as the briefing notes, guarantees were general and rightly so:

The General Secretary outlined her proposals to streamline the disputes panel process. She gave a guarantee to expedite the high-profile cases. As with all legal proceedings, a cast iron guarantee cannot be given on a date of conclusion due to the possibility of litigation by any party, but the expectation is that existing cases would be heard by the July NEC Disputes Committee meeting.

Expedite the longstanding cases involving Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker

It was agreed to expedite these cases as a priority. Steps have already been taken to begin this process. Barristers have been put in place to facilitate this process, and an advert has gone out for a General Counsel to ensure cases can be processed more effectively.

It’s hard to avoid the sense, listening to the statements by the groups and their parliamentary supporters, that only one outcome in cases of antisemitism allegations will be acceptable.

This is particularly so in the cases of Livingstone and Walker – and, given the pronouncements and behaviour of some back-bench MPs yesterday, that of Marc Wadsworth – but they remain allegations at the moment. The Labour Party is the party of justice and due process and, of course, cases must be allowed to come to their legal and just conclusions.

Platforms

No MP should share a platform with someone expelled or suspended for antisemitism

It is an expectation that MPs do not share platforms with those suspended or expelled from the party after being found guilty of antisemitism.

This is a significant concession in the case of those suspended, because – as the party rightly avows, suspension is not proof of guilt of anything, but rather an administrative step as part of an investigation. This concession will displease many Labour members, but is an indicator of the genuine readiness of the leadership to meet genuine concerns.

IHRA definition

The above Jewish groups have demanded that the ‘IHRA working definition’ of antisemitism be adopted ‘in full together with all its examples’. The IHRA definition itself is considered by many to be less than perfect in its clarity, but many commentators – including Jewish observers – recognise that aspects of the examples attached to the definition are more problematic still and risk conflating antisemitism with political opposition to the behaviour of an Israeli government.

Labour’s reasons for declining the demand are more pragmatic. Based on the party’s rules and constitution, it is not in the gift of the party leadership to agree it:

Adopt in full the IHRA definition of antisemitism

We agree with the IHRA ‘working definition’ of anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as a hated towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” The Labour Party adopted the IHRA working definition of antisemitism in 2016.

If there were to be further changes to what we have adopted, they would have to be agreed by the NEC.

In fact, they would have to be agreed by the NEC and ratified by Labour’s annual conference, but the pragmatic reason remains.

Oversight

The issue of oversight of disciplinary procedures is one of the most thorny aspects of the BoD/JLC/CST demands. Those organisations want what has been described as an ‘independent ombudsman’ to oversee disciplinary processes – and report to them.

This would, in effect, hand control of Labour membership to outside – and generally right-leaning – organisations.

But it would also constitute a likely breach of current data protection regulations – and even more so of the even stricter ‘GDPR’ (General Data Protection Regulations) laws coming into force next month, as it would involve giving private information to third parties when members have not given explicit permission:

Transparent oversight of the disciplinary process

There are currently 90 outstanding cases of complaints of antisemitism. So far, 18 of these have been referred to the National Constitutional Committee, the body that has the power to expel members.

The General Counsel that will shortly be appointed would have responsibility for ensuring that all cases of complaints of antisemitism will be dealt with swiftly, fairly and transparently. The suggestion of an Ombudsman, independent of the Party, raised issues around data protection and confidentiality under the new regulations.

Due process must be allowed to be followed without prejudice regarding all complaints.

The last line is a statement of intent that will be welcome to members concerned about what some perceive as attempts to ‘railroad’ accused members out of the party and the tendency of some in, or appearing in, the media to treat accusations as proof of guilt.

The fact that only ninety cases are pending in a party of well over half a million members is needed context for the attempts to portray a ‘Labour antisemitism problem’. Labour is the anti-racist party and a single case of antisemitism is a problem – but ninety as yet unproven accusations represents a minute fraction of the party’s huge membership and it would do the media credit to represent the scale of the problem more objectively.

Leadership

One demand has been that Corbyn must ‘show leadership’ – although it must be said that what exactly that entails that he is not already doing is usually unspecified. The briefing includes the demand and provides a response:

Jeremy Corbyn should lead on the issue and speak out against those that express allegations of antisemitism as smears the leadership.

Jeremy Corbyn was clear in the meeting that antisemitism will not be tolerated in the Labour Party, and that he does not support the view that allegations of antisemitism are smears against the leadership. People who hold anti-Semitic views have no place in the Labour Party. He made it very clear that attacks on MPs are unacceptable and not done in his name.

Those demanding more than this need to be specific about what they expect – and prepared to face questions if what they want turns out to be some form of ‘summary justice’, which would not be justice at all.

The party has rules in place to provide due process and legal outcomes. While these were, according to the complaints of members, often abused in the previous bureaucracy – and indeed the failure to follow them led to some of the delays about which Jewish groups have complained – there can be no compromise whatever on the need to deal with accusations properly and fairly to the accused as well as the accuser.

Follow-ups

The following steps were agreed:

For the same meeting to reconvene following the July NEC.

That the Board of Deputies, JLC and CST would be engaged with by the Labour Party and their views sought on the education materials we will be producing for the membership.

That there would be regular dialogue between the Party, through the General Secretary, Leader’s Office and Andrew Gwynne and the Board of Deputies, JLC and CST, on any issues that may come up between meetings.

We recognise that the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council are the main bodies of Jewish representation, which is why we organised this meeting as a priority, and will continue to meet with them.

This seems a balanced way to move things forward. The BoD/JLC receive the recognition they want as ‘main’ bodies of Jewish representation – but there is no concession on the part of the leadership not to include Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL), the left-leaning group that the ‘main’ organisations wanted to bar from discussions.

Neither is there a demand on the ‘main’ groups to participate in the wider ’round table’ discussions with JVL and other groups, from which the BoD/JLC pulled out at the eleventh hour.

There is also no agreement to allow BoD/JLC – or the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM), as has previously been mooted – to provide training or education to members. However, the seeking of their views recognises their legitimate interest in and concerns about the content of such training, without handing undue control of party programmes to groups that may not be politically aligned with Labour’s aims and membership.

The full briefing, redacted only of staff names and contact information, can be downloaded here.

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