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Labour accused of still not engaging with ‘hierarchy of racism’ claims

Labour has been accused of still not fully engaging with claims that anti-black racism and Islamophobia were not taken as seriously as antisemitism by the senior lawyer who carried out a report into the party’s culture.

Martin Forde KC, who was commissioned by Keir Starmer to investigate allegations of bullying, racism and sexism, expressed concern about the party enabling a “hierarchy” of racism.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, the senior lawyer said the party under its current leadership had still not fully engaged with claims that anti-black racism was not taken as seriously as antisemitism.

Last summer Forde published his 860-page report that accused Labour of “in effect operating a hierarchy of racism or of discrimination”. Responding to the inquiry at the time, a Labour party spokesperson said the report detailed “a party that was out of control”.

Forde had urged the party to implement 165 recommendations, many of which the party says it has put in place. But Forde claims Labour’s lack of debate and engagement over his findings indicates wider issues.

Forde told Al Jazeera: “Anti-black racism and Islamophobia is not taken as seriously as antisemitism within the Labour party, that’s the perception that has come through.” He added: “My slight anxiety is that in terms of hierarchy, and genuine underlying concerns about wider racial issues, it’s not in my view a sufficient response to say that was then, this is now.”

Forde expressed shock that no one from Labour had engaged with him after he published the report to discuss his recommendations further. “I had limited communications with David Evans [the party’s] general secretary but that was about general housekeeping. I have spoken to a caucus of black Labour MPs in the Commons,” he said, but otherwise claimed he had not spoken to any party officials. “These are serious debates that need to be had in a respectful context and I just feel there’s work to be done.”

The former shadow chancellor John McDonnell said the “vast majority” of Labour members would find Forde’s accusations “deeply worrying and will want a serious response from all those holding leading positions in the party”.

Kate Osamor, a former shadow minister, added: “The Forde report was a call to action. It must not be ignored. Unless something changes, the party risks becoming a hostile environment for black and ethnic minority members.”

Responding to Forde’s latest comments, a Labour spokesperson said: “We are grateful to Mr Forde for his work producing the report. Many of the recommendations contained in the report have already been implemented and our work continues.

“With Keir Starmer’s leadership, Labour has changed and real progress has been achieved in ridding the party of the destructive factionalism and unacceptable culture that did so much damage previously.”

A number of Labour MPs have voiced concern over the party’s engagement with the Forde report.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the MP for Streatham in south London, said: “It’s concerning to hear Martin Forde say that the Labour party has failed to engage with his report. If all forms of racism are to be taken seriously in our party, his report’s recommendations must be implemented in full.”

Describing Labour’s response to the report as “stonewalling”, Apsana Begum, the MP for Poplar and Limehouse in east London, said: “The stonewalling and ignoring [of the report] is all too familiar for me. But the report was about more than any one person. It was about all of us in the Labour party. So many members campaigned, sacrificed and served our party in the last two general elections and beyond.”

Forde’s report also found that some of the attitudes expressed towards Diane Abbott and other black, Asian and minority ethnic MPs in private WhatsApp messages among staffers hostile to Jeremy Corbyn represented “overt and underlying racism and sexism”.

Abbott has said she received no apology for the comments, which Forde said used “expressions of visceral disgust, drawing (consciously or otherwise) on racist tropes, and they bear little resemblance to the criticisms of white male MPs elsewhere in the messages”.

Starmer said last month Labour would “never again be brought to its knees by racism or bigotry” after the Equality and Human Rights Commission said it was no longer monitoring Labour over antisemitism.

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