Exclusive: Labour Is Losing Black Members Over Allegations Of Anti-Black Racism

Nadine White

As UK authorities battle to contain the Covid-19 outbreak, Labour Party voters are still reeling from the aftermath of a leaked Labour report that has fuelled allegations of anti-Black racism at the heart of the party – and many have told HuffPost UK that they now feel “politically homeless”.

The 860-page report was drafted in March and leaked in April, while Jeremy Corbyn was leader of the Labour Party, and was to be part of the party’s submission to an ongoing investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into anti-Semitism.

The document, which contained private WhatsApp conversations, includes claims of a “litany of mistakes, deficiencies, and missed opportunities” to adequately address anti-Semitism within the party.

However, it also did something else that was not on the tin: raised grave concerns of anti-Black racism, otherwise referred to as Afriphobia, which campaigners argue have not been adequately addressed by the party’s leadership. 

Labour officials used a string of insults in private WhatsApp groups to describe senior Black MPs and officials including Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler and Clive Lewis, the lengthy document revealed.

Abbott is referred to as “repulsive”, with another official saying she “literally makes me sick”. 

Black Labour Cancellations (Photo: Supplied)

The Hackney MP, who was found by a study to be subject to nearly half the abusive tweets sent to female MPs, was also described as an “angry woman” – a racist trope – by a Labour colleague.

Clive Lewis is referred to in one message by a member of Labour staff as “the biggest cunt out of the lot” during a discussion about the Progressive Alliance campaign – a cross-party alliance that supported tactical voting, which Lewis had publicly backed.

On May 1, it emerged that Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC) had appointed a four-person panel to investigate the leaked report.

This will be headed up by leading Black barrister Martin Forde QC and three Labour peer panellists: Debbie Wilcox, a former leader of Newport City Council; Larry Whitty, a former Labour Party general secretary; and Ruth Lister, an emeritus professor of social policy at Loughborough University.

Legal claims against the Labour Party covering the Data Protection Act, invasion of privacy, and libel are all being considered by individuals and entities named in the file.

(Photo: Peter Macdiarmid via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the leaked report saw swift condemnation from critics of the party on social media. But not only did it “break the internet” – for a number of Black voters it meant it was time to part ways with the party.

For many, this scandal is the latest let-down in a long list of concerns around Blackness and the Labour Party such as lack of representation.

Though the party has long been the one of choice for many Black people from working class backgrounds, could there now be an exodus?

“The leaked Labour report has made me incredibly sad,” Naz Hamdi, 18, told HuffPost UK.

“The Black vote isn’t a lot in this country anyway – but in metropolitan cities like London is it incredibly important. For a party that boasts of progressive politics and has been pretty successful in backing up those claims, to regress has left a lot of Black people like myself politically homeless.”

Naz had tried to join the Labour Party before the leadership contest through a desire to vote for Rebecca Long-Bailey – though a technical issue meant she wasn’t able to.

But now the student, who lives in Brighton, said she “feels no desire” to participate in another election. This is owing, in part, to what she describes as poor treatment of Diane Abbott, a politician she admires and who represents constituents in the area she’s originally from.

“I think Diane has been treated appallingly during her time as MP and the most shocking part is her peers in the Labour Party being so involved in tarnishing her [from information published in the leaked report].

“She has inspired many Black women in the country; she’s a trailblazer and the first Black female MP, which a huge achievement in itself. 

“It is has been constant character assassination, from her colleagues tipping off journalists about her crying in the toilet after being on the receiving end of abuse – to [MPs] such as Jess Phillips and Wes Streeting treating her so badly in plain sight. Her colleagues should’ve done a better job in safeguarding her, but instead they were doing everything they could to undermine her.”

Naz Hamdi (Photo: Supplied)

The report contained WhatsApp conversations that fuelled concerns around treatment of senior Black, female politicians.

HuffPost UK put these to Labour, and the party pointed to the internal review it is carrying out in the wake of the leak. It said it was “committed to challenging and campaigning against racism, within the party and the country”.

When Abbott was found crying in the toilets in the wake of racial abuse in 2017, two staff members claimed in a private discussion to have told a journalist of her whereabouts – one with a “wink” emoji.

Further down in the document, two female staff members made disparaging remarks about Dawn Butler’s promotion to shadow women and equalities secretary in a WhatsApp conversation, apparently suggesting that her accusations of racism within the Labour Party were untrue. 

“Did she not accuse the LP and it’s [sic] staff of being racist this week? Nice,” read one.

Following the leaking of the report, a handful of Labour staffers tried to stop the party’s Unite branch from sending letters of solidarity to the Black MPs who were subjected to alleged racist treatment, ITV News revealed last month.

Naz added: “A party that has officials in the party who purposely target Black women, peddle misogynoir and anti-Black sentiment has betrayed the trust of many people. What made it worse was the late response of Keir Starmer and fellow Labour MPs choosing not to comment on the whole report.”

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(Photo: stocknshares via Getty Images)

In a joint statement published on April 13, Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner, leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party, acknowledged the leaked document raised “serious concerns”, outlined intentions to order an inquiry into it, and urged readers not to draw “conclusions” before it was complete.

“We have seen a copy of an apparently internal report about the work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism. The content and the release of the report into the public domain raise a number of matters of serious concern,” the statement read.

I feel like I will always be politically homeless. [...] The UK has always been – and will continue to be – a peddler for anti-Blackness across every institution. Ché

“We will therefore commission an urgent independent investigation into this matter. This investigation will be instructed to look at three areas. First, the background and circumstances in which the report was commissioned and the process involved. Second, 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.

“In the meantime, we ask everyone concerned to refrain from drawing conclusions before the investigation is complete and we will be asking the General Secretary to put measures in place to protect the welfare of party members and party staff who are concerned or affected by this report.”

Community worker Lucy Martindale joined Labour in 2019, but had supported the party for three years prior.

“Loads of people I know have left Labour recently – particularly people of colour,” Lucy, 38, told HuffPost UK.

“I had pinned my hope on Jeremy Corbyn winning for a better society for my children and all working class people – and those who are suffering as a result of the past 10 years living in austerity.

“A few years ago, I didn’t even know what politics really meant, if I’m honest. I kept hearing about Corbyn and that’s when I took a big interest and started learning more about it.

“I even considered last year running as a local councillor for Wandsworth, I became really inspired at the possibility of a Labour government in the lead-up to the general election. Now, I’m angry we have the Tories in power, ruining many more lives and there’s nothing we can do about it.” 

Lucy Martindale (Photo: Supplied)

As the election neared in December, figures revealed that Black and ethnic minority voters were backing Corbyn in far higher numbers than the overall electorate.

At the time, more than half (52%) said they could imagine the former Labour leader in Downing Street, according to data by Opinium. 

Following Corbyn’s defeat, Lucy decided to stay on to “see what the year will bring along with the new leader” – but cancelled her membership in March 2020 after reading the leaked report.

“I was disgusted but not shocked,” she said. “I’m very aware of the racism that goes on in politics and this country,” she said.

“It made me feel like I no longer want to support a party that has so much ignorant and prejudiced people sitting at the top. It made me angry and disappointed.

“Then to have Keir Starmer not stand up and call out these people was another huge blow. I believe he was more embarrassed at the report being leaked than the actual report.”

She added: “Labour have let down millions of people. I come from a council estate, grew up poor and I’m not educated. So Labour really was my hope of bettering myself but not any more.

“I’m politically homeless but still on the left. I am not sure where to turn next, so in the meantime I will continue to do my bit to support those vulnerable in my community.”

Ché, 23, told HuffPost UK: “The final straw for me was seeing Dawn Butler get a disgusting lack of votes in the deputy leadership election.

“I never thought she would win seeing how popular Rayner was at the time but, being the most qualified and experienced out of all of the choices, I was horrified.

“I think I definitely saw a party where, like all over the country, Black people, especially Black women are consistently overlooked, and it made me think of my mother and the stories she would say about where she had worked.”

Dawn Butler pictured earlier this year (Photo: Christopher Furlong via Getty Images)

Ché, who asked us to withhold his surname, lives just outside Birmingham city centre and regularly went out canvassing for Labour in the lead up to the general election.

The public transport worker found it disheartening that the concerns of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people did not seem to matter to those whose homes he entered. It then began to occur to him how much of an uphill battle politics can be for people of colour.

“I came to realise the extent of what rural middle England was actually like during that time,” he said. “I never received direct racial aggression as I went door knocking. However, many [found it] easy to deny, shrug off, or accept the racist aspects of the current government.

“The concerns of Black and brown people didn’t matter at all. I had then felt that it wasn’t and shouldn’t be my job to go through the mental and emotional labour of telling white people not to vote for a racist and explaining my humanity.”

There isn’t any focus on anti-Black racism in the party. It suggests to me that there is no real commitment to dealing with these issues. Yvonne Witter

Ché joined the party in May 2019 in anticipation of a general election. Though he never fully saw Labour as an anti-racist party and believed it “still had many flaws”, his aim was to help get Jeremy elected because he’d been inspired by his history and policies.

Like others, he left the party after the report was leaked.

“My reaction to the report was one of initial shock. Then, soon after, I was laughing at all the leaks pouring out about the immense amount of self-sabotaging and back-stabbing going on, and it was all just a joke ting,” he said.

“When I then found out about what Dawn and Diane had been through it made me so angry and upset but at the same time it didn’t surprise me.”

He added: “I am glad I left when I did as I cannot donate money to party that claims to be on our side but completely takes Black people for granted. It is no different to anything I or my family, particularly my mother, has experienced.

“I feel like I will always be politically homeless as I’m further to the left socially and economically on every issue than every party currently operating in this country.

“I feel the UK has always been – and will continue to be – a peddler for anti-Blackness across every institution.” 

Mahmoud (Photo: Supplied)

“Do you remember how leadership was, rightfully, united to protect pregnant Luciana Berger against abuse? Who is doing the same for Abbott or Butler?”

Londoner Mahmoud Junju is telling HuffPost UK why he cancelled his Labour membership last month after almost a decade.

Though he wasn’t surprised about the contents of the leaked report, Mahmoud described it as “damning” and finds the silence of the upper echelons of the party worrying.  

“The findings exposed anti-Blackness in the party – especially towards Black Labour MPs like Auntie Abbott. She’s one MP who has faced the most abuse in recent British history and we can’t ignore the fact that it’s mainly because she’s a Black woman,” he said.

In recent months, MPs including Florence Eshalomi, Dawn Butler, Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy and Marsha de Cordova have been misidentified by prominent media outlets – the frequency of which lends itself to the racist view that all Black people look the same.

Labour has not openly addressed this or shown solidarity to these politicians.

Instead, these politicians have had to defend themselves and highlight for themselves why these frequent occurrences are problematic through various statements, social media posts and written columns published by the mainstream media.

Marsha de Cordova was mistaken for Dawn Butler (Photo: Screenshot)

By contrast, the party launched an investigation in February 2019 over allegations that Luciana Berger was being subjected to antisemitic bullying. Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, also defended Berger in the Commons.

While a number of Black voters, including Junjo, feel it is is right that this support was shown to Berger, some have expressed concerns that Afriphobia within the party is not taken as seriously and have drawn comparisons between the two scenarios.

“Almost all corners of British societies have hurled abuse towards Abbott and you’d think the Labour Party and its leadership would protect her at all cost but, nah, they joined in,” Mahmoud continued.

“The anti-Blackness still prevailed in the way the leaked report was suppressed and dismissed by the current leadership. They even went as far as order local party branches not to share it. The people who piled on Butler still have their jobs in Unison; why hasn’t Starmer come out and pressed pressure for them to be fired or at least suspended?

“I am just glad that an inquiry has been commissioned to put our concerns on record.” 

HuffPost UK raised these concerns with party and it explained that its internal review is still being conducted.

The terms of reference for the inquiry specified that the inquiry will investigate the extent of racist, sexist and other discriminatory culture within Labour Party workplaces.

Almost all corners of British societies have hurled abuse towards Diane Abbott and you’d think the Labour Party and its leadership would protect her at all costs but, nah, they joined in. Mahmoud Junju

Like Ché, Mahmoud was out canvassing for Labour every evening after work and found Black people who he joined him were disillusioned with the party.

“Many Black people that I used to canvass with have similar concerns – they feel like the Labour Party does not represent them any more. It used to be the go-to party for ethnic minorities.”

All allegations of anti-Black racism were put to Labour. 

A party spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “The content and the release of the report into the public domain raise a number of matters of serious concern. That is why Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner swiftly launched an urgent independent investigation into this matter.

“The National Executive Committee agreed the terms of reference for the independent investigation into the contents, circumstances and release of this internal report, and appointed Martin Forde QC to lead the investigation. It would not be appropriate to comment further until the independent investigation has concluded.”

The spokesperson added: “The leadership also instructed the then general secretary to put measures in place to protect the welfare of party members and party staff who are concerned or affected by the report.

“In addition, both Angela and Keir have met with the BAME staff network and have committed to improving representation, progression and culture in the workplace.”

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.