We should not allow the attempt to turn concerns about sexism and racism into a weapon for the right to beat the left, writes Lindsey German
As the two 'unity candidates' against Corbyn battle it out in increasingly vacuous media interviews, the cacophony about bullying, violence and intimidation continues. Pretty much everything is lumped into this: sexist, racist or homophobic remarks on Twitter, bricks through windows, demonstrations, swearing, jokes, placards, threats of physical violence, death and rape threats.
The list itself illustrates the problem here: they range from threats to commit some of the most serious crimes, threats which can be carried out as we saw with the murder of Jo Cox and other attempted killings in recent years, through to abuse which should not be tolerated in any civilised society, through to acts of intimidation, through to ....satire and humour.
In other words when does political comment or parody, even if unwelcome to the recipient, become threatening or abusive? Even more importantly, when does a legitimate protest become something which cannot be tolerated because it might be intimidating?
We know the answer from the Labour apparatus which has incredibly closed down Labour Party meetings until after the leadership campaign in order to prevent violence and intimidation! In addition a pledge of good behaviour on the part of MPs contains a clause which would ban all protests or demonstrations outside MPs' homes, offices and any meetings.
It seems to me that to effectively ban any protest aimed at MPs (we can argue about where the most appropriate place to protest might be) is a form of censorship which if upheld could lead to dangerous consequences. Should the protests on Trident, like the onetomorrow outside Parliament as MPs vote on the issue, be seen as intimidating and bullying? Was it wrong for demonstrators to shout 'Theresa May has got to go' on the demo yesterday?
To even ask the question shows how absurd it is. MPs go into politics voluntarily and must expect robust criticism and debate. That does not mean abuse, especially some of the vile abuse on social media. But some of them can also dish this out as when Jess Philips MP said that she would stab Corbyn in the front in a media interview.
In addition, MPs are not the main recipients of abuse which affects most people in politics or public life. Everyone in this position will know how pernicious some of this stuff can be, especially aimed at those who are not white men.
My solution on a personal level is to block or unfriend such people, and I would recommend anyone else to do the same rather than engage with bigots.
But we should not allow this abuse to be confused with political criticism which should be conducted in a civilised way but should be conducted. When MPs vote for war and austerity they should understand that this is very unpopular and that they will and should be criticised. It seems too many see their position as a career move not as genuinely representing their constituents' views. Politics should not be a seamless move from Oxbridge to Spad to MP in safe seat, without expecting the real world to intrude.
It is this which puts so many of them at odds with Corbyn, and why he has the support that he has. It is also why they are using this issue to try to blame any violence on his supporters, with it seems to me no evidence whatever.
On the other hand, there is a fair bit of evidence of bullying from the media and PLP of Corbyn himself and of his supporters, and a fair bit of abuse.
So let's fight this leadership election politically. But let's not allow this attempt to turn genuine concerns about sexism or racism, or political process, into a weapon for the right to beat the left. It's the left who has the record of fighting over these issues, not right wing Labour.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Tory sleaze only the tip of the iceberg in broken Britain – weekly briefing
- Sherwood: for once BBC hits the bullseye
- Nato Summit: peace is not the priority
- Starmer and Lammy know which side they are on – so should we - weekly briefing
- Ten points on the rail strike
- A chance to derail the Tories – weekly briefing
- Paul Mason: blinded by the right - weekly briefing