Sunday, 31 January 2016

Sometimes it's Hard to be a Woman...

Well, it is in the Labour Party, at any rate.

I warn you not to be vocal

I warn you not to be working class

I warn you not to rock the boat

I'm beginning to think the Labour Party (and wider movement) really isn't a good place for women. For all its window dressing about equality, it's sadly lacking in a lot of respects. From the low-grade stuff (referring to two middle-aged women Vice Chairs of a branch as "the Vice Girls"; the routine lack of eye contact and engagement from some groups) to outright rudeness and intimidation. And then there's the tolerance of sexual impropriety (see previous blog) which, in the light of serious CSE cases, is very worrying indeed. 

From the young turks who think they know it all to the "creepy*" older hands, there's always an opportunity to be looked down on, marginalised and (in extreme cases) smeared. Challenge this, though, and you are labelled a troublemaker.

Of course, there are the proper channels to go through if you are in dispute. You can put in a formal complaint. You can wait a year and have no response. Your enquiries can go unanswered. Democracy in (in)Action.

And then there's the Women's Groups. Eternal forums for discussion but essentially just divisive and separatist.

Loyalty, it seems, is only a one way street, with members (especially women members) expected to shut up and do as they're told. 

It seems to me that "inclusion" in the Labour Party is about as meaningless as it is in education - in reality, it is integration - you do it our way or not at all - rather than true inclusion.

The fact that your least worst option in British politics is this sorry state of affairs is profoundly depressing.

*not my description, but it says a lot about perceptions of new members

Thursday, 21 January 2016

A Menopausal Malcontent Sounds Off.

This may turn out to be several posts in one. I think I've just had enough.

For the Good of the Party 

All those years the Left kept quiet in the name of party unity. How rash of us to believe that the same would apply now that the Right (sorry, "Moderate") wing of the party is no longer in the ascendant. 

It was fine during the leadership campaign - voice whatever opinion you like in support of your candidate (up to and including "That Corbyn bloke will be a disaster" and so on) but we have a result now - a decisive one, with the biggest democratic mandate in the history of the party - and the fact that you don't like the result does not give you the right to spout off about the leader and brand those of us who supported/voted for him as "a rabble", Trots, and a whole lot worse. 

And yet we have MPs and front benchers who spend their days slagging off the leadership, and are then astonished to get the sack. Rentaquote "feisty" types who "won't shut up" or others who whinge incessantly and then flounce out of the party. Yesterday's men (the same ones who drove so many from the party over the last 25 years) pontificating ad nauseam in the press to any journalist who'll listen (and that's most of them - easier than seeking out alternative narratives beyond London and the South East).

And then there are local councillors who see their assured future careers as MPs (via the Progress finishing school) suddenly receding into the distance, and have spent the last few months snarking about the leadership like the group of self-declared "cool kids" in the playground, and who then suddenly turn up with their own pressure group, Open Labour, which arrived in a blaze of glory a few weeks ago and then....... 

As social media groups like 50+Corbyn Supporters show, "Corbynistas" aren't all young, naive or SWP entryists; they are ordinary folk who are old enough to remember what life was like in the 80s/90s under the last lot of Tories and, more importantly, what life was like before that - when we had the Britain of Compassion and Public Ownership. You remember? The one where we weren't "intensely relaxed" about inequality, and where we didn't believe that outsourcing public services to large private BPO companies was the answer to everything. These are the people who are flocking back to Labour, along with the young who have never had the fortune to experience life without triangulating consensus of Thatcherism and New Labour.

And yet some of the PLP and some councillors, far from being chastened by the rejection of their uniformly lacklustre leadership candidates, have seen fit to try and trash both the leader and the 59.5% of party members who voted for him. Not for them acceptance of a democratic mandate. Not for them keeping their opinions to themselves for the good of the party.No. They are Important People and their opinions MUST BE HEARD. In public. All the time.

For years it was those of us on the Left who were urged to keep our misgivings to ourselves, to "not wash our dirty linen in public", etc, etc. We did. And do you know what? It allowed all kinds of unacceptable behaviour to continue which should have been challenged openly. 

The manipulation of candidate selection to ensure preferred candidates were selected over the wishes of local members, branches and CLPs, resulting in candidates being foisted on members and activists, and whispering campaigns to undermine those who had the temerity to object. The disdain with which the party hierarchy treats its members is quite staggering in some places. 

The reluctance to challenge wrongdoing for fear of causing cultural offence has led to powerful blocs within the Labour Party whose values run counter to those the majority of members hold.

Silencing voice of the membership within the party in the name of electability (which continued long after that electability faded) resulted in focus-group/ opinion poll/core vote strategies which took no notice of what was happening in real life (and which activists could have told them if they'd bothered to ask). For a Democratic Socialist party, we became pretty undemocratic and not the least bit socialist, defending policies of which we should have been ashamed.

My Enemy's Enemy (isn't Necessarily my Friend)

Sadly, bad behaviour is endemic. It's not just the so-called Moderates, either, although their sense of entitlement is almost as breathtaking as the Tories. To be honest, though, elements of the Left are just as bad. The upsurge of support, activism and enthusiasm which made Corbyn's election campaign so exciting has rapidly descended into nasty little power games. Just as much of the PLP sees members and activists as unimportant foot soldiers, so a few self-appointed "leaders" of Corbyn-supporting groups are busy carving out niches for themselves, ignoring the voices of the thousands who signed up in the summer. And the dirty tricks have started; goading (I won't call it bullying - yet), undermining other groups, tampering with social media accounts. More like the SWP than the Labour Party. Some of the comrades are being decidedly un-comradely at the moment.

Which brings me on to....

Rum, Misogyny and the Lash

Labour has a woman problem. Not just whether or not they hold the highest "offices of state" or whether they make up 50% of the shadow cabinet (which they now do), but the way in which the party treats women. Yes, we have All-Women Shortlists, but these can also be used to manipulate candidate selection to exclude good local male candidates when it suits. Low level misogyny is never very far from the surface, and attitudes among some male members of the party are pretty neanderthal. When a number of women members go through the correct procedure (independently) to complain about the same party official, their case drags on for over a year and their polite enquiries as to progress are not even acknowledged. Similarly, there were a distressing number of male party members who were unconcerned about Simon Danczuk's actions simply because the girl concerned was over the age of consent. Again, more like the SWP than the Labour Party.

This is not to say that all the men in the Labour Party behave poorly; there are some fine, honourable comrades with whom I'm proud to be associated. There are also, however, a sizeable number who appear to think that women's voices don't count for much ("who are these people?") and they certainly don't like women who stand up to them! I thought we'd moved on from Stokely Carmichael's view about the place of women in political movements, but there you go. 

I've stayed very quiet about a number of things which make me unhappy about the Labour Party at the moment. Yes, the right of the party and their reluctance to accept that life and the British people have moved on from the heady days of New Labour is infuriating, but I had so much hope that things would be different under Corbyn. He still has the right message, but he needs to stop listening to the siren call of those who see his leadership as their shortcut to greatness. As with Ed, when Corbyn is being his own man he is engaging, intelligent and with all the right messages. He just has to put the party in order. Sadly, though, there is a group of men/boys lurking in the shadows of the broad church, playing silly games while Britons suffer.