For over a decade, Labour Women’s Network has highlighted failings in how women are treated within the Labour movement, and in how complaints about their treatment are handled. For almost a decade, we have called for an independent process for sexual harassment complaints.
Problems with current process include interminable delays, media leaks, politicisation, political interference, poor outcomes (suspensions are rare and expulsions for sexual harassment almost unprecedented), poor internal training and poor communications. As a result many complainants are being badly advised, poorly communicated with and effectively unsupported. Efforts to change Party culture and reduce incidences have been grossly inadequate. Many women are therefore deterred from coming forward, while many offenders are free to continue to perpetrate harassment, often being reselected and elected as councillors and MPs, allowed to continue operating under the Labour whip, or promoted within staff ranks. As a result many women believe that sexual harassment has essentially been decriminalised in the Labour Party.
In response to the MeToo movement, and the ground breaking LabourToo report detailing 43 case studies from all corners and levels of the Labour Party, LWN held a series of events across the country, attended by almost a thousand Labour women, and their message was clear: only a wholly independent process from first contact to final outcome will gain their confidence.
To push towards this, LWN has:
- Met with every single consecutive General Secretary, Leader and National Executive Committee to make the case;
- Written repeatedly to relevant officers outlining our concerns;
- Asked every Leadership, Deputy Leadership and NEC candidate since 2015 to support an independent process. Many of them have committed to it. None of them have delivered it;
- Worked collaboratively with LabourToo, Fabian Women’s Network and the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party to keep up pressure for change;
- Given evidence on behalf of our members to the Karen Monaghan QC report which the party has subsequently failed to publish;
- Repeatedly used our voice at the NEC Equalities Committee to ask for updates and raise concerns;
- Worked closely with Labour’s legal and safeguarding teams to improve the current policy and support, but continued to be appalled by failings such as media reports detailing untrained political appointees being found in charge of the “first contact” phoneline we secured;
- Secured the support of a high number of CLPs for a 2018 motion calling for an independent complaints process;
- Secured a commitment from Keir Starmer for an independent complaints process in March 2020;
- Met with David Evans, Angela Rayner, the Leader's Office office and Labour’s legal staff in July 2020, repeating our calls and asking for urgent action;
- Met with Jane Ramsey, brought in by Labour to implement the EHRC recommendations on antisemitism, including regarding the complaints process, and the Leader's Office in December 2020, and been promised a seat on a working group on the sexual harassment process with a view to working towards an independent system;
- Met with Jane Ramsey, the Leader's Office and legal staff in April 2021 to discover no such working group had been established, and no plans for a wholly independent system are in place;
- Fed back to the Leader's Office on “a year of Keir” in relation women’s representation, power and agency in the party, giving them a red light for progress on sexual harassment complaints
In March 2020, during the latest Labour Leadership contest, LWN published this response from eventual winner Keir Starmer to our members:
Will you commit to an independent complaints process for all sexual harassment complaints relating to Labour Party members, from first contact to final outcome?
“Yes. As part of my proposals to reform the party, I would scrap the NCC and create an independent body to deal with complaints. When complaints are made, all involved including the complainant must have complete confidence in the system. Our current system does not work and it should be replaced by an independent panel with experts on racism, sexual harassment and poor personal conduct cases. No-one should be able to walk away from proper investigation or scrutiny.
During my time as Director of Public Prosecutions, I rewrote the guidelines on the treatment of sexual abuse cases to try and tackle damaging and dangerous myths. Allegations of harassment must be treated credibly and seriously if we are to stamp it out within the Labour movement.”
A year later, no changes have been made or proposed to the process. In January 2021, former MP Kelvin Hopkins left party membership at the eleventh hour after his complaints of harassment against two women, for which LWN understands there was extensive written evidence, took over three years to process, at significant impact to the complainants. In April 2021, former MP Mike Hill stood down from Parliament to face a sexual harassment tribunal, having been allowed to stay on Labour benches despite a concurrent complaint to the Labour Party. His complainant’s lawyer detailed how Labour had failed to support or communicate with her for 19 months. These high profile cases are just the tip of the iceberg that we are aware of. The problem, as it is in so many cultures, is endemic within the Labour Party from members and activists up.
Enough is enough. No Leader, General Secretary or NEC has done enough to keep women safe. The Labour press office have referred to “zero tolerance on sexual harassment” and it is time for this to be more than just rhetoric.
Labour Women’s Network is calling on Constituency Labour Parties and members to join us in supporting our call via our petition (the petition text was also submitted as a motion to Women’s Conference 2021 but was ruled out of order as they did not permit procedural discussions.
We need a time limited and independent sexual harassment complaints process and we need it now.