Labour councillors, MPs and members will gather to protest tomorrow against racism in the party, following the findings of the Forde inquiry report. The Campaign Against Afriphobia, a group of Labour members, penned an open letter calling on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to acknowledge anti-Black racism in the party and apologise on its behalf.
The letter, co-authored by MP Diane Abbott, has been signed by more than 250 members. It follows the finding that a “racist, sexist and otherwise discriminatory culture exists in party workplaces”, including among senior staff, in Martin Forde QC’s report. The report was published in July 2022 as part of an inquiry into an internal report on Labour’s handling of anti-Semitism complaints between 2014 and 2019.
It describes WhatsApp messages sent by senior staff about Abbott as “expressions of visceral disgust, drawing (consciously or otherwise) on racist tropes”, but noted that the majority of messages about Abbott were an “acceptable expression of the authors’ opinion”.
Respondents to the inquiry highlighted their own examples of structural racism in the party, such as allegations that colleagues from ethnic minority backgrounds were passed over for promotion, and of all-white management teams.
The Forde Report highlights .@uklabour neglect of African/African-Caribbean members issues, which is highlighted in allegation 6 of the report.
— Campaign Against Afriphobia (@afriphobia) August 15, 2022
Black members say they have been ignored
Councillor Valerie Bossman-Quarshie said that she was pleased to see the party tackle allegations of anti-Semitism but felt “disheartened” by the “sheer silence” from the party in response to findings of anti-Black racism in the report.
Bossman-Quarshie stated: “We need our party to understand what we’re going through. We walk in the room and we feel alienated or feel like you’re the only one at the table,” she said, adding that hearing members speak about their experiences of racism was “painful” and “really sad”.
She said that addressing racism was not a factional issue for her, adding, “I’m just Valerie, an ordinary member that has recently been elected to the council.” Bossman-Quarshie highlighted a need for training and resources to tackle all forms of racism.
“When I stood on the platform last year in the height of the pandemic and spoke about Black Lives Matter, I really meant it because it was the first time I could stand on stage and be proud to be Black and be proud to be a Labour activist,” she said. “I try to make the place a better space for all of us. But not if I’m going to be marginalised. Not if my voice isn’t going to matter. Not if I’m going to be made invisible.”
MP Kate Osamor said there was a “deafening silence” from the Labour party in response to the findings of the report. She said she signed the open letter because she wants the party to change – something she believes cannot happen until Starmer “acknowledges the findings of the report”.
“Martin Forde QC received an avalanche of testimony from Black members who painfully recounted the racism and discrimination they continue to experience in the party. So far, their testimony has been ignored by the Labour leadership,” she said.
She added: “When the Forde report was commissioned, it was clear that some hoped it would be a damning indictment of the previous leadership. But what we got was a forensic account of current systemic issues of racism that exist within the party. Those conclusions cannot be ignored just because they are politically inconvenient for some. As the public face of the party, Sir Keir has a responsibility to respond now and lay out a way forward.”
The protest will take place in Parliament Square tomorrow at 5pm.
A Labour party spokesperson said: “We’re proud of the changes that have been made under Keir Starmer and David Evans’ 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.”