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 2 - “He Who Pays the Piper Calls the Tune”
Of course, this assumption must stand or fall on the credibility of the EHRC itself. The Commission was established in 2007 during the final years of the Blair–Brown Labour administration, bringing together the responsibilities of three previous bodies for enforcing anti-discrimination laws. Although it is formally independent of the British government, it is a public body and receives its funding from the state.
The EHRC has faced drastic cuts to its budget since David Cameron took power in 2010: from £63 million that year to £17.4 million today. This may well have discouraged the EHRC from pressing too hard against Cameron or his successors. In July 2020, two former EHRC commissioners — Simon Woolley, previously the only black person on the Commission, and Meral Hussein-Ece, the only Muslim — told Newsweek that they had not been reappointed to their posts in 2012 because they were “too loud and vocal” on questions of racism.
The lawyer Geoffrey Bindman — former legal adviser to the Commission for Racial Equality, whose functions the EHRC took over when it was formed — has stated that the EHRC “wasn’t given adequate resources and it has tended to pick and choose issues to tackle which are not necessarily the most important ones.” When the EHRC published a report on racism in British universities in October 2019, it faced strong criticism for including supposed incidents of bigotry against white people — and against English people at Scottish and Welsh institutions — under its ambit.
In 2016, the Labour politician Harriet Harman, chair of the joint committee on human rights at Westminster, criticized the appointment of David Isaac as the new EHRC chair. As Harman noted, Isaac’s legal firm Pinsent Masons did “significant work” for the British government: “The lion’s share of his income will be coming from an organization that has a vested interest. As they say, ‘he who pays the piper calls the tune.’”
In November 2019, BBC’s Newsnight reported the contents of a leaked letter from the EHRC’s chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath, in which she accused Isaac of being too close to the Conservative government: Isaac, Hilsenrath wrote, “regularly declines to take public positions” on issues that might prove troublesome for the ruling party.