When Britain’s Equality and Human Rights Commission announced it was investigating Labour’s treatment of its Jewish members, many of Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents claimed this as proof of his supposed antisemitism. But the inquiry is itself a political weapon — and as the Commission publishes its much-hyped, long-delayed report today, the attacks against the Left are only intensifying.
by Daniel Finn
Part 3 - The Path of Least Resistance
The picture that emerges — of a body kept on a tight leash by the British government, with the threat of further cuts to its budget if it crosses the line — is fully consistent with the EHRC’s public track record of following the path of least resistance. In May 2019, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) asked the EHRC to “investigate whether the Conservative Party has breached its obligations under the Equality Act,” by creating a hostile, discriminatory environment for Muslims as members or potential members of the party.
The MCB submitted a lengthy dossier in support of its complaint, showing that the Conservatives had targeted Muslims in their election campaigns and allowed senior figures in their party — including its leader, Boris Johnson — to make bigoted, anti-Muslim remarks with complete impunity. It went on to list dozens of abusive comments by Conservative councillors, election candidates, and other public representatives.
Having received no response from the EHRC, the MCB repeated its call for an inquiry in November 2019, in the midst of a general election campaign. The EHRC would only say that it was mulling over the complaints it had received “to determine whether any action is needed.” In March 2020, the MCB submitted a fresh dossier with more than three hundred allegations of Islamophobia. The EHRC told journalists that it was still “actively considering what, if any, action” it might take.
Finally, in May 2020, the Commission issued a statement formally declining the MCB’s request, which “would not be proportionate” since the Conservatives had promised to set up their own inquiry. The MCB dismissed that inquiry as “a facade to hide the hundreds of incidences of Islamophobic bigotry we have identified” in the ranks of the Tory Party. Shortly after this announcement, Newsweek’s Basit Mahmood discovered that one EHRC commissioner, Pavita Cooper, had not declared her activity as a donor and fundraiser for the Conservative Party when she joined the Commission.
Be that as it may, we need not posit active support for the Tories as a motivation for the EHRC’s decision to let them off the hook. The Conservative Party will be in power until the next general election at least, and quite possibly well beyond that. It has the unstinting support of a ferociously partisan newspaper industry, whose leading titles would be sure to denounce any official body causing trouble for the government (and rake through the bins of its commissioners, both literally and metaphorically).
The desire for a quiet life on the part of the EHRC’s top brass would furnish a perfectly adequate explanation for their reluctance to take on a Tory Party evidently saturated with racism from top to bottom.