The mess over Clive Lewis is how we know you see misogyny as a game

If you were a Tory and you wanted to give the impression that you, and your political colleagues, take misogyny very seriously, you might think that taking a stand over an MP’s supposedly misogynistic comments in a public setting is a no-brainer. It will show that you care about misogyny. It will show that the Labour party doesn’t care about it. It will show that left-wing people can be misogynists too, and that misogyny isn’t the sole preserve of the political right. Right? 

Well, I promise you that every single woman who is on the left and cares about misogyny already knows, probably better than you do, that misogyny is rampant among left-wingers as well as Tories. I promise you that nobody believes having a socialist perspective on economics means you can’t be sexist. After all, why would it?

Why bother to have this fight and have it now? It’s an embarrassing time to be a Tory. You can’t smugly go on about the merits of economic soundness because whatever you feel about Brexit, there’s no sensible way to argue that it isn’t an enormous economic gamble – even if you believe it’s a gamble that will pay off. You can’t enjoy your chuckles anymore at the Labour leader’s inexperience or his weak party support, can you? That’s turned a little sour, hasn’t it? And you can’t exactly talk about the last Labour government leaving a mess, since your party has now been in power for about 7 years.

So what can you do? What better way to try and divide people than use what you guys call ‘identity politics’? It’s a classic Tory move, it’s tried and tested, and as long as you’re fairly removed from the reality of what people actually care about and why we care about it, you may feel like it kind of works. You may distract people from your own party’s mess but if you take a step back you’ll see it’s not a good look for you, either. There’s a glaringly obvious glass houses thing going on here; Boris Johnson is your foreign secretary, Philip Davies MP who is essentially an elected representative for the so-called men’s rights movement, sits on the parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee, your Brexit Secretary David Davis reportedly grabbed Diane Abbott, kissed her without her consent, and then laughed it off in texts declaring that he did not kiss her because he is “not blind.” Jacob Rees-Mogg was touted as the party favourite for leader all summer, and your prime minister herself, when Home Secretary, presided over, knowingly or otherwise, some very brutal treatment of women held in detention centres at Yarl’s Wood, including women who were profoundly traumatised. Your prime minister also chose to make headlines for herself by denouncing ‘safe spaces’ that are free from, among other objectionable things, misogynistic jokes. Your Minister of State for Universities Jo Johnson has only this week made headlines for himself by defending “free speech” with the threat of fines or suspensions for universities that allow safe spaces. Presumably Johnson will find this dangerous, censorious (that’s the kind of melodramatic language we use to defend dodgy comments, right? Shall I throw in “Orwellian” for good measure, too?) attack on Clive Lewis’s “free speech” to be equally objectionable. Although who knows, because it was admittedly a rather confused defence of free speech by Johnson; it somehow ended by expressing strong opposition to the public protest campaign #RhodesMustFall. This protest apparently doesn’t count as free speech for some curious reason.

By the way, it’s not only Tory politicians who are showing their hypocritical arses by condemning Clive Lewis. Jess Phillips, best known for being cheered on by journalists when she told Britain’s first black female MP Diane Abbott to “fuck off”, for replacing Britain’s third black female MP Dawn Butler as Chair of the Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party, and for hanging out socially with Jacob Rees-Mogg who she describes as “a real gent,” has joined in with the condemnation of Clive Lewis. At least the Tory MPs are probably aware that they’re being massive hypocrites and using misogyny as a stick to beat the left with for their own personal gain; people like Jess Phillips seem to really believe that they’re on the side of the angels. 

The reason I’m not falling over myself in a fit about Clive Lewis’s choice of words isn’t because he’s closer to my political perspective than, say David Davis or Boris Johnson. It’s because I actually take the impact of misogyny seriously. It’s not a cosmetic game or a way of deflecting from serious things. Serious things like the universal credit rollout leaving people without food for weeks, for example, or the pathetic spectacle of our prime minister begging EU negotiators to take pity on her and help keep her in power because her own choice of foreign secretary is so appallingly incompetent, dishonest and yet popular with her party membership that, despite everything, she argues, the EU leaders ought to work with her to prevent him nicking her job. (I don’t usually think of Theresa May as a wildly original thinker but I have to admit that emphasising your weakness and desperation as a leader is an extremely novel negotiating tactic.)

Clive Lewis’s joke may have made some women uncomfortable, and if they want to say so, then of course that’s fair enough; they absolutely should be able to speak up about it and we should absolutely listen. Lewis himself has already apologised for what he said; nobody is making out that it warrants no comment or discussion. But if you’re nowhere to be seen until it’s politically expedient to call someone sexist, if you’re using misogyny as a way to distract public attention away from very real policy choices your party has made – choices that actually do have a meaningful impact on women around the country – then you should know that jumping up and down on Clive Lewis’s head does not make you look as if you care about women at all. In fact, it does the opposite. It shows up crystal clear for us all to see that far from giving careful consideration to the impact of your actions or words on women, you see misogyny as a minor, incidental thing; a tool for you to play with whenever it works to your own benefit to do so. And I don’t know, but maybe in the long-term, the perception that you’re disingenuous, opportunistic, shallow hypocrites may actually prove more damaging to your public image than a consistent, professional silence, in this instance, might have been.  

Advertisements

EU referendum: Beyond liberal economics

The official campaigns from both sides of the EU referendum debate are both so exasperating I frequently find myself wishing I could vote against both of them.

Neither campaign deserves my vote, and yet, it is an historic question, which is bigger than both official campaigns. It is bigger than David Cameron or Jeremy Corbyn; certainly bigger than Nigel Farage or George Galloway.

While the official campaign representatives haggle over how best to reduce immigration and cut benefits, the rest of the serious, complex issues that are affected by EU membership never seem to get a look in. It isn’t surprising; this EU referendum debate, and the reason we are having it in the first place, is all down to the fight in the UK between different types of conservative; between economic liberals and social conservatives. No wonder the spectrum of debate is narrow. 

Take Lord Stuart Rose’s comments to the parliamentary select committee last week. Lord Rose asserted that Brexit (specifically, an end to the ‘free movement of people’ between EU member states) would lead to fewer people on the Labour market, and, consequentially, higher wages. Will Straw, the Labour Executive Director of Britain Stronger In Europe campaign, was asked about this on the Daily Politics and replied that the evidence shows free movement of people is ‘good for the economy overall,’ while Conservative Danny Finkelstein said that higher wages aren’t always a good thing as they could increase unemployment. It’s not just the In campaign. Look at the way Boris Johnson, on the Andrew Marr Show, dismissed concerns about job losses as a result of Brexit, by saying that leaving will be good for the economy overall.

What if you simply want to know more about the impact of staying or leaving on your wages or on your job? You’d be forgiven for getting the distinct impression that this debate isn’t about you; that both sides consider you to be at best an annoying irrelevance.

These things are gold dust for the likes of Ukip, a party which loves to play the ‘anti-establishment’ card whenever it can. Without so much as having to lift a finger over workers rights or wages, Suzanne Evans, Louise Bours and Douglas Carswell get opportunity after opportunity to frame themselves as the only people in the room with any concern for low waged workers. (Or, I should say, for some low waged workers. They do not even pretend to care about all workers.)

With the arguments we keep hearing both for and against EU membership so rooted in classical liberal economics, it is unsurprising to see that Jeremy Corbyn flat out refuses to say he is “on the same side” of the debate as David Cameron. He is right, of course. He is on neither side in the fight between the two kinds of Tory. He is neither a classical liberal conservative nor a social conservative. His cautious, carefully-weighed answer to the question of which ‘side he is on’ may be intellectually honest, and to many it will be admirable, but unfortunately it leaves a gaping hole in the referendum debate which Alan Johnson cannot fill by himself. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party needs to be asking – and, ideally, answering – the question: what are the modern left-wing arguments for and against the EU project, and how do we weigh them up? 

The Labour party should not be scared of debating this openly. No-one can accuse them of ‘splits’ or ‘division’ when the Tories are practically plotting a leadership coup over the issue. And it’s not like the Labour party is taking the opportunity to criticise the Tories for being divided on Europe – they’ve had a bat and ball handed to them and they’re choosing not to even attempt to swing a hit; the least they could do is take the opportunity to work up a modern, social democratic vision of the EU while the government is busy fighting among themselves.

Besides, for all the critical talk of ‘splits’ in the Tory party over Europe, I find it rather refreshing to see politicians drop the ridiculous pretence for once that everyone in one party agrees on every single thing all the time; that they must all stick to the lines they are given, even if it doesn’t fly, even if it makes no earthly sense, even if everyone in the room knows full well that they do not believe it because they have said so in the past, on camera. 

And here lies one of the big risks for the In campaign: that the freedom to speak authentically puts the Brexit campaign at an advantage. Brexit is mostly made up of people who have spent years, decades, perhaps their whole political lives pondering the issue of the EU. While sometimes coming off as slightly weird and monomaniacal, it is evident from listening to these people that they care deeply about the subject, and know the arguments inside out. Michael Gove, Owen Patterson, Douglas Carswell, David Davis, John Redwood (although not, quite noticeably, Boris Johnson): these men give the distinct impression that there are very, very few questions about the EU that a journalist could throw at them which they haven’t spent hours considering for many hours over the course of their lives, while boiling an egg, waiting for petrol, sitting on the toilet, and basically any time their minds wander.

In contrast, many of those who are part of the In campaign are striving to stay on message, and repeat the approved lines. Many of them – not all, but many – appear as if they have not given the subject much profound or careful thought at all; in some cases because they never imagined Brexit to be on the cards in any serious way, and in some cases because they simply don’t see it as that important.

While sticking to a clear, agreed message might give the In campaign a more professional image, especially to the usual analysts, who tend to work in communications, media, or both, and therefore view everything through the lens of whether it looks like ‘good communications’ or not, we only have to look to the successes of people like Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump to see that this isn’t always a winning strategy these days. To many undecided voters, David Cameron and his colleagues risk sounding stilted, unenthused, arrogant, and – perhaps the biggest risk to the In campaign – elitist. The narrative that the ‘establishment’ wants us to stay in the EU and ‘the ordinary people’ want us to leave is helped further by stories about vital documents being withheld from pro-Brexit ministers or John Longworth being suspended from the British Chamber of Commerce over pro-Brexit comments. (Both these things may of course be entirely reasonable, but they feed into a perception about the fairness of the debate.)

And this is where Jeremy Corbyn’s voice is so sorely missed for many in the EU referendum debate – and where it is conspicuous by its absence. His ‘USP’ as we all know is his authenticity and his tendency to formulate policy positions on the basis of evidence, and by listening to the people affected, rather than choosing them as part of a communications strategy or ideological narrative. It is a strength, but it is also a great challenge to pursue intellectual honesty – and not just in politics. When you follow evidence and logic on complex issues you often end up with a conclusion that displeases those with much more power than yourself, or, a conclusion that does not fit under any labels, and it is therefore not saleable.

This is the problem with the EU debate. The right-wing case for the EU (that it facilitates globalisation in the modern world and is good for business in general) is saleable. The right-wing case against the EU (that it brings red tape and regulation, and allows too much immigration or the ‘wrong sort’ of immigration) is saleable. The left-wing case for leaving (that it is a “capitalist club,” which dilutes and overrides parliamentary sovereignty) is saleable. And yet, even though the EU is a social democratic project in so many ways – indeed, this is why so many right-wingers want out – it seems to be beyond the wit of the Labour party to articulate a saleable, authentic, progressive case for staying in the EU. Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leader, with a large mandate, a philosophical thinker with an authentic voice who has credibility among left-wingers, seems the ideal person for the task. We may ask ourselves why he seems so cautious about stepping up to it? 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: