The nasty party displays its true colours as it flounders towards a new stewardship, observes Lindsey German
Socialists as far back as Charles Fourier and Karl Marx have argued that you can judge the level of a society by the way it treats women. If the ruling Tory Party and the next prospective prime minister are anything to go by, things aren’t looking good.
In recent days we have seen a Tory MP and minister, Mark Field, slam a female protester against a pillar and frogmarch her by the neck out of the Lord Mayor’s banquet. Then we had the domestic between Boris Johnson and his partner, Carrie Symonds, which involved shouts of ‘get off me’ and ‘get out of my flat’ and was so loud all the neighbours in their block could hear it and one could record it on their phone..
Perhaps even more egregious than either of the two incidents is the defence of the protagonists in both cases. These range from the Tory MP Col Bob Stewart who argued that these days it is difficult to know where you can touch a woman, so by the neck is obviously safer than other areas (the answer Col Bob is nowhere unless you’re in a consenting relationship or giving medical treatment), to those who argued this was reasonable behaviour given that the woman in question might have been armed (not many places to conceal guns or bombs in a women’s evening dress).
In the Johnson case, he has refused to comment on it and the press has turned on the neighbours who recorded the episode. Other MPs argue this was a private dispute but clearly no dispute is private when it can be heard by neighbours or other members of the public and when what is being heard includes noises of breakage and raised voices. The fact that the neighbours voted remain and work in the theatre seems to be enough for some of the right-wing papers to damn them as malicious, but if I or anyone I knew were involved in such a dispute I would rather the police were called than face the risk or serious violence.
It tells us something about our society that the police initially denied that they had been called to the incident or that they knew of it, and that some Tory MPs have regarded this as just a normal ‘tiff’ between a couple. Mark Field has now been suspended by the Tories, but is still being defended by some of his colleagues. The right-wing journalist Iain Dale was jeered by the Tory audience in Birmingham when he pressed Johnson on the major domestic in which he had been involved.
It all reflects horribly on the Tory Party, which is quick to proclaim its commitment to equality but where its deeds – and its endorsement of the deeds of others – are very different from the words.
Too many accidents waiting to happen
Last week Donald Trump ordered missile attacks on Iran then pulled back after the planes were in the air. The US government has however launched cyber-attacks on Iran following the shooting down of an unmanned drone over the Strait of Hormuz. The drone was with a US spy plane with 35 people aboard which Iran pointedly said it did not shoot down. These are serious escalations of conflict and it may get much worse. Fox News is egging on the president to launch a military attack, as is his adviser John Bolton.
The background to all this is the escalation of conflict by Trump, not Iran. He scrapped the 2015 nuclear deal and has increased sanctions to try to destroy the Iranian oil industry and wider economy. The situation is so serious that even the cravenly pro-US British government has sent a minister to Tehran to ask Iran to de-escalate. This is a demand that should be addressed to Trump, Pompeo and Bolton.
Bolton is in Israel – along with Saudi Arabia, the main advocate in the Middle east of war with Iran. With Trump sending extra troops, the sky darkening with drone, spy planes and fighter jets, and the Gulf full of warships, what could possibly go wrong?
A general election will sink the Tories, while a referendum will bale them out
There is no doubt that the Johnson scandal has rocked the political establishment. While there was talk of a virtual coronation of him as leader a couple of weeks ago, now it is clear that the contest will be harder for him as Jeremy Hunt tries to capitalise on his dull persona as the safe alternative to Johnson. It’s likely there will be more scandals, partly because no one really trusts Johnson to open his mouth.
The Tory party leadership contest has been a sorry affair. By the way, the ‘hustings’ now going on between the two candidates are nothing of the sort. Hustings are meant to be where different candidates put their pitch and if necessary debate. Here, the two don’t even sit in the same room, so frightened are they of debate.
It was obvious from the two debates between the wider field that there is little to choose between these extremely rich, privileged, mostly public school and Oxford candidates. It’s hard to see what the election will resolve. Neither candidate gives a damn about ending austerity, improving the lives of working people, or doing anything except continuing their minority rule until the last possible moment.
How should we respond to all this? Firstly by arguing that this is a question of democracy and that a government in a hung parliament has no right to change its leader without going for a general election. Even the media are now considering that if he becomes leader Johnson may not be capable of commanding a Commons majority. Labour has said it will table a no confidence motion immediately which it may win and that will set in train a general election.
Secondly, we have to organise from now against the new leader – still most likely Johnson. Every single campaign has to gear up to opposing the tax cuts for the rich, austerity, war mongering, sexism and racism which are part of Johnson’s DNA. We have to make it impossible for them to govern, since they have no mandate to do so. The whole effort of the wider labour movement should be turned towards this agitation and towards the demand for a general election.
Unfortunately Labour’s right has no intention of following either of these paths. Instead Tom Watson is relentlessly attacking the leadership and increasing his campaign for a second referendum. This is – let’s be clear – an alternative to a general election, because the last thing Watson wants is a Corbyn led government. The demand for a second referendum is growing among the shadow cabinet, with John McDonnell retreating towards one in recent days.
This would, I think, be disastrous for Labour and would cost it many seats and almost certainly a parliamentary majority. It would almost certainly have longer term effects on labour’s electoral support. And it would be a betrayal of a democratic result which will not be forgiven by many voters.
The left should not be fooled by this, whatever their views. A second referendum will play into the hands of Labour’s right, will strengthen Farage and his like, and will weaken Corbyn. Our high ground lies not in the often false Brexit divide but in campaigning over the kind of class politics which can win people to a left perspective.
Race, class, sex and American justice
I would urge everyone to catch up on the Netflix series When They See Us, the story of five black and Hispanic teenagers who were charged with the brutal rape of a lone jogger in Central Park, New York, back in the 1980s. These were kids against whom there was no evidence, apart from mutually contradictory statements extracted after hours of hunger and distress. Forensic evidence pointed to one attacker, whose DNA was different from all of the five, and police and prosecutors were aware of the weakness of the case before it even came to court.
A case that should have been thrown out instead ended in conviction, as it became politicised on racial lines – not least by the younger incarnation of Donald J Trump, who called for the death penalty. The accused were portrayed as a feral pack, the woman was a wealthy white. Despite protests at the time, they all spent years in jail, and the last ones were only freed when the real rapist confessed.
It reminded me of the Scottsboro Boys case from the 1930s Deep South where young blacks were again unjustly accused of raping white women. The racialised and sexualised nature of US justice hasn’t changed, and this is a powerful expose of how it operates.
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
- The trouble with terrorism – weekly briefing
- No Platform: Free speech for all?
- Now it’s neither heat nor eat – weekly briefing
- Sexual violence, economic violence: why women still need our rights – weekly briefing
- Discontents for all seasons – weekly briefing
- The Pandora’s Box of 9/11 – weekly briefing
- Did the crime of 9/11 justify 20 years of the War on Terror? - video