Stephen Daisley

Anas Sarwar and the case that shames Labour

Anas Sarwar and the case that shames Labour
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Jews are familiar with the malice, prejudice and stupidity that governs the Labour Party’s complaints process when it comes to anti-Semitism. They will find no comfort in the news that other allegations of racism get short shrift too, even when the complainant is a prominent Labour politician.

The party has said there is no case to answer against a councillor accused of telling Labour MSP Anas Sarwar that Scotland wasn’t ready to vote for a ‘Paki’. The incident is alleged to have occurred in 2017, when Sarwar contested the Scottish leadership against left-wing union fixer (and eventual victor) Richard Leonard.

Sarwar went public with his claim and Davie McLachlan, then Labour leader on South Lanarkshire Council, was suspended. But in an omen of what was to come, McLachlan was subsequently invited as a guest of the party at a charity Burns Night do. 

McLachlan said yesterday that he had been ‘badly maligned’ by ‘false accusations’; Sarwar said he was ‘disappointed with the process and outcome’.

It was a case of he said/ he said, and impossible to know with certainty where the truth lay. The 2017 leadership campaign was rancorous. I wrote on Coffee House at the time that I detected ‘a whiff of a whiff’ in the fixation on the Sarwar family’s cash-and-carry business and its employment practices.

When the New Statesman put my observation to Sarwar, he said social media had been ugly ‘but in terms of the actual contest itself, my ethnicity, the colour of my skin and my religion hasn’t been a feature of this campaign’. I wasn’t sure what to make of his denial — complaining about racism among your electorate isn’t a big vote-winner — and I figured that unintended peeps of prejudice are still heard as dog-whistles by the right people.

Now Sarwar has released a scathing statement about his treatment that suggests an arbitrary process utterly uninterested in what he had to say and happy to rule against him without hearing his evidence. Sarwar says his complaint took 15 months to resolve, during which time there was ‘little or no communication or updates’; and he claims he was given only one-and-a-half working days’ notice of a National Constitutional Committee (NCC) hearing in Glasgow. He was expected to appear as a witness. Sarwar objected to the short notice but only received a reply at 8.30am on Monday, for a hearing that began at 11am. He was supplied all the relevant paperwork two hours before he was due to give evidence. 

This is what Sarwar says happened next:

‘When I arrived at the hearing I was informed by an NCC representative that I could not give evidence as I had not given the committee two weeks’ notice of my intention to appear as a witness. I was asked to leave and was unable to provide any evidence. The UK Labour NCC panel subsequently ruled that there was no case to answer without any verbal evidence being taken.’

Expecting a complainant to give two weeks’ notice in the space of two days isn’t just a retread of Kafka, it’s a rewrite of the laws of physics. Sarwar says in his statement:

‘I am left with the sad impression that Islamophobia is one of the last acceptable forms of prejudice.’

He also wants ‘a full explanation’ of how the case was handled and an end to the practice of disciplinary complaints raised in Scotland being decided by a body based in London. Sarwar’s stark take on his experience is utterly damning:

‘If even I, as a former deputy leader, interim leader, leadership candidate and shadow cabinet member, don’t believe I can get a fair hearing or adequate support from an institution like the Labour Party, then I am left wondering what chance those experiencing discrimination in other walks of life have.’

For his part, Richard Leonard says Sarwar’s complaints about the process ‘deserve to be taken seriously’ and that he ‘is entitled to a full explanation’. Such cases, Leonard argues, must be ‘dealt with more efficiently and more quickly’.

Fine words but Leonard is a party man and in the Scottish Labour Party it’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell who call the shots. If they back an overhaul of processes in response to Sarwar’s case, it’ll happen, but it’s the only way it’ll happen. Labour MPs and MSPs have allowed a culture of tolerance for anti-Semitism to become embedded in the party, so it’s unsurprising to see other complaints of prejudice mishandled and complainants mistreated. Labour has become a swamp and those who remain are drowning in it.