‘Kick in the teeth’: Black Labour MPs condemn party’s response to report uncovering ‘racism’

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Black Labour MPs have attacked their party’s response to a damning report finding “overt and underlying racism” in its ranks, one calling it “a kick in the teeth”.

Sir Keir Starmer is accused of claiming the problems had been overcome with the departure of Jeremy Corbyn and the “unacceptable culture” the former party leader fostered.

In fact, the Forde report found that factional infighting predated Mr Corbyn’s election in 2015 – and pointed to “continuing concerns” about Labour processes, Dawn Butler argued.

The former shadow minister condemned the “triumphalist ‘it was all the last lot’” stance, saying: “Racism isn’t ended by a change of leader, and neither is factionalism.

“It requires hard, pain-staking cultural challenge – an acknowledgement of the problem and an open mind committed to real and lasting cultural change.”

Kate Osamor, a former shadow cabinet member, echoed the criticism, saying: “As a Black Labour MP, the response from this party’s leadership to the Forde report feels like a kick in the teeth.

“The report concluded that the party has failed to tackle anti-Black racism and Islamophobia. The leadership of this party needs to respond to that now.”

The long-awaited 138-page report finally released last week, painted a devastating picture of a bitter party power struggle between two rival camps, one in Mr Corbyn’s office and the other at Labour headquarters.

Both sides were found to have used antisemitism as a weapon, with some denying its existence while others used it primarily as a means to attack the then-leader.

Martin Forde, a QC, found “undoubted overt and underlying racism” in WhatsApp messages exchanged and that “less progress” had been made than in tackling sexism.

His report concluded: “Racism in the party is not experienced by individuals solely through acts of aggression or microaggression towards them personally.

“It is experienced through seeing colleagues being passed over for promotion; being the only person from an ethnic minority background around a meeting table; being managed by a near-exclusively white senior team; and hearing the particular disdain reserved for [eg] ethnic minority MPs, councillors and CLP [constituency Labour party] members.”

In an article for The Voice magazine, Ms Butler added that she was “disgusted” by a quote attributed to a Labour party spokesperson, in response to the report.

It stated: “The Forde report details a party that was out of control. Keir Starmer is now in control and has made real progress in ridding the party of the destructive factionalism and unacceptable culture that did so much damage.”

Ms Butler wrote: “This is a completely nose-blind statement and it is disappointing to all of us who want to make the party a safe space for all.”

She added: “In true Labour party fashion, the leadership has made it a factional issue and sidelined the racism in all levels of the party structure that the report uncovered. It is just not good enough.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We’re proud of the changes that have been made under Keir Starmer and David Evans’s leadership but there is no room for complacency so we will always look at ways to improve our culture and practice to support all protected characteristics.

“In April 2022, we launched our new independent complaints process which will ensure that complaints involving all protected characteristics will be decided impartially, fairly and rationally. This is a critical step on the Labour Party’s journey to build confidence in our commitment to tackle all forms of discrimination, as well as to tackle sexual harassment.”

They added: “This sits alongside other work within the party to tackle discrimination and improve our culture and practice, including the implementation of a new code of conduct on Islamophobia in July 2021 and a new code of conduct on Afrophobia and Anti-Black Racism in November 2021.

“The party has also established a diversity and inclusive board with its union and staff networks, chaired by the general secretary, which has a work plan in place and appointed an external expert to support the board.”