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Kate Osamor MP: Starmer is failing Black and ethnic minority Labour members

The Labour leader must take responsibility for the racism identified in the Forde Report and take action to end it

Kate Osamor
28 July 2022, 4.08pm

Kate Osamor and Keir Starmer


openDemocracy via Matt Crossick/EMPICS Entertainment and PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

As a Black Labour MP, I feel let down by Keir Starmer’s dismissal of findings of racism in the party. We must do better.

The Forde Report, published last week, found concerns from members that a hierarchy of racism exists within the Labour Party. But the leadership’s response to the report by Martin Forde QC has made clear that these concerns have not been taken seriously.

Rather than acknowledging the findings, issuing an apology to those affected, sanctioning the individuals involved and publishing a plan to rid the party of racism, Starmer took to the radio to disregard the report altogether.

The Labour leader said he “didn’t need the report to tell me we needed to take action”. Starmer also claimed the report, which he commissioned and which collected evidence from the party while he was leader, was merely a historical document that reflected the party under its previous stewardship.

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He claimed, without offering evidence or proof, that much had already been done to resolve the issues raised in the report.

All these claims were repeated in the party’s official written response to the report.

That isn’t good enough. The mainstream media may be content to pay relatively little attention to the issue of systemic racism raised in this report, but the leadership shouldn’t use that as an opportunity to do the same.

I feel degraded, overlooked and insulted... I am a prime example of why so many say Labour has a problem with race

One submission to the Forde Report

It’s worth remembering what it is that the leadership is dismissing. Forde found problems of discrimination in the party. In particular, he cited concerns by party members over a perceived “hierarchy of racism” leading to “many other forms of racism and discrimination” being overlooked due to a focus on allegations of antisemitism.

Forde also stated that the discrimination faced by Black and ethnic minority members of our party was wide-ranging and systemic: from “acts of aggression and microaggression” to individuals, to “seeing colleagues passed over for promotion” and the disgusting racist abuse aimed by senior staff members towards Black MPs.

Forde received such a large response from individuals wanting to share their experiences of racism in the party that he felt he had to create an annex to give a representative example of those contributions. For anybody who cares to read them, those examples provide a troubling account of the party as it is today.

One contribution reads: “The way career progression is handled in the party places further barriers for Black staff. In my experience, it’s been a lot harder to progress compared to my White colleagues.”

Another states: “I write this submission to you feeling degraded, overlooked and insulted on so many levels. I am a prime example of why so many say the party has a problem with race. It is why you can count on one hand the number of senior Black women in the party, and on multiple hands the number of Black people that have left.”

These contributions are typical of the experiences that are being ignored by the Labour leadership.

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The report is also explicitly critical of the way Starmer’s leadership handled attempts to gather views from staff on the issue of racism. A survey sent out to employees was, Forde writes, “unhelpfully framed”, with a question on ethnicity in which it “appears that (for example) ‘British’ has been used as a synonym for ‘white British’”. This led Forde to conclude: “The party still has some work to do in how it approaches these issues.”

If the leadership of our party took a moment and listened to the experiences of Black and ethnic minority members, they would recognise very quickly that the Forde Report is not a historical artefact. It is an account of problems that persist and to suggest otherwise is factually incorrect and deeply insulting to the members who gave evidence about the discrimination and racism they continue to face.

The party has to do better than this. We deserve better than a response that scapegoats the previous leadership and fails to address the significant issues raised by this report.

We need a full and unreserved apology to all of those who have been impacted by the racism and abuse cited in the report. We need acknowledgment by the leadership that these problems exist, and a clear plan for tackling them.

Unless the leader of the Labour Party takes responsibility and stops ignoring the findings of this report, he risks creating a hostile environment for Black and ethnic minority people in this party.

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