Not for the first time, the Labour party finds itself in the middle of a row over antisemitism.
This week’s controversy comes after comments allegedly made by Israeli author, Miko Peled, at a fringe event on free speech and Israel held in Brighton outside the main party conference.
Mr Peled is reported to have said: “This is about free speech, the freedom to criticise and to discuss every issue, whether it’s the Holocaust: yes or no, Palestine, the liberation, the whole spectrum. There should be no limits on the discussion.”
Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, condemned the remarks, saying: “[the event] is nothing to do with the official Labour party conference. And if there was Holocaust denial there, these people have no right to be in the Labour party, and if they are they should be expelled”.
Labour delegates agreed a change to the party’s rules yesterday that would explicitly outlaw antisemitism among party members.
FactCheck looks at what this means.
What has Labour already done to try to tackle anti-semitism?
In April 2016, the Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah, was suspended over comments she made about Israel on Facebook. Ms Shah apologised to the House of Commons, saying she understood that “the words I used caused upset and hurt to the Jewish community and I deeply regret that”.
The Labour former mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, also drew criticism over his comments about the Naz Shah incident and his claim that Hitler supported Zionism. Mr Livingstone was suspended from the party in April 2016.
Days after Ms Shah’s suspension and Mr Livingstone’s comments, Jeremy Corbyn commissioned an investigation into alleged antisemitism and other forms of racism in the Labour party.
The inquiry, led by Shami Chakrabarti, concluded that the party “is not overrun by antisemitism, Islamophobia or other forms of racism”. Although the report did concede that the party experienced “an occasionally toxic atmosphere”.
The report received a mixed response. Indeed, at the public launch of the report, Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth left the room in tears after a man reportedly accused her of “colluding” with the right-wing media. The man, Marc Wadsworth, told the Independent that he didn’t know Ms Smeeth was Jewish.
Criticism was exacerbated in August 2016, when Jeremy Corbyn nominated Ms Chakrabarti for a peerage. The Chief Rabbi said that the credibility of her report “lay in tatters” as a result. Ms Chakrabarti, now Baroness Chakrabarti, told the Home Affairs select committee that she came under “no pressure or undue influence” while chairing the inquiry.
The select committee, which conducted its own report into antisemitism in October 2016, said that “The failure of the Labour Party to deal consistently and effectively with antisemitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally antisemitic”.
What do the existing rules on discrimination say?
As it stands, chapter 2, clause 1, section 8 of the Labour rulebook forbids party members from engaging in “conduct which in the opinion of the NEC [the party’s ruling body, the National Executive Committee] is prejudicial, or in any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the Party.”
It goes on to say that it “shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs and opinions”.
What will the rule change mean?
Yesterday, the NEC – with the backing of the Jewish Labour Movement – put forward a new version of section 8 to be ratified at the party’s conference. The revised version makes two significant changes.
Firstly, it is much more explicit about which groups are protected under Labour rules, name-checking antisemitism and Islamophobia for the first time. (The list of protected groups also includes age, gender, sexual orientation, race and other categories).
As well as this, the new rule expands the type of behaviour that might be considered discriminatory, to “ include but not be limited to incidents involving […] language, sentiments, stereotypes or actions, sexual harrassment, bullying or any form of intimidation towards another person”.
Ultimately, what constitutes a breach of the rules will be up to the NEC.
How do Labour’s anti-discrimination rules compare to other parties’?
In September 2016, Jeremy Corbyn said it was “really sad” that Labour was “the only political party that’s ever had a statement of general anti-racism”.
It’s true that the Conservative and SNP constitutions make no mention of racism or other forms of discrimination.
But Ukip’s rules state that “all party members shall refrain from any posting expressing racist, homophobic, xenophobic or otherwise discriminatory views [online]”.
And while the Lib Dems’ membership code doesn’t explicitly mention race, antisemitism or Islamophobia, it does encourage members to consider a “checklist of questions you should ask yourself as you act internally or externally”. The list includes considering whether what a member plans to “say or write (in any format)” could be taken as “intimidation, harassment or bullying”.