by Ian Stewart
Over the past two years or so a succession of awful scandals have come to light regarding sex and politics. Julian Assange and the defence of him by George Galloway have hit Respect hard. Then the truly horrific parody of “justice” SWP style as regards the “Comrade X” affair, along with other long standing members, including possibly a late leading member, and the scandal in its German affiliate party.
Then the Liberal Democrats. First the list of allegations of abuse by the late Cyril Smith, going back decades finally saw the light of day – remember that only Private Eye had kept up any pressure to have these looked into in the national media – after all Sir Cyril was a national treasure. Now Lord Rennard faces allegations of inappropriate behaviour within party HQ.
There is a temptation within politics to use any and every bit of bad news to give our opponents a knock. Those of us who remember John Major and “Back to Basics” also remember various cabinet ministers subsequently being caught having affairs – much hilarity ensued as hypocrites were caught out. True enough, some lives and families were ruined, but they were Tory lives, so who cares eh? Lets face it, those scandals of the eighties and nineties seemed to fit the Profumo template that seemingly has no end – Tory bigwig playing away whilst promoting family values. A bit of slap and tickle for the tabloids. Of course as in so many things, New Labour triangulated itself into the mix after 1997.
The recent allegations levelled at Liberals and leftists are far more serious. We are talking about the abuse of power by older men perpetrated on younger women and in some cases boys. We are talking about the use of idealism and loyalty to a cause or a party to shut the victims up. In some cases, we are talking about bullying and rape. This should never in any way be used to make political capital.
When Julian Assange fled from allegations of rape in Sweden, too few on the left made the point that the real victims were probably the two women who went to the police. After Galloway made his infamous comments, this number grew, Salma Yaqoob and others left Galloway in disgust. Recently, other high-profile supporters of saint Julian have distanced themselves from him, although some, like Jemima Khan still seem ready to defend him in extremis.
Then there is the train wreck of the SWP. From various posts on leftwing blogs, it is clear that the cases of Comrade X and Comrade W are the tip of the iceberg. Former long standing members have posted details of alleged misconduct by the now dead editor of Socialist Worker, the kangaroo court proceedings of the current cases, and a complete disregard for “bourgeois” legality.
The disgusting attempts by the leadership of these trots to protect the accused from justice, and to bully young women is beneath contempt. Surely we, in a much more open party, with a commitment to women’s rights have no such skeletons in our cupboard?
The only reasoned answer is that we just do not know. The Lib Dems are also a fairly open and democratic party, yet the late Cyril Smith could carry on as he liked, seemingly unchallenged, perhaps with the wilful ignorance of officials and politicians of all parties in Rochdale. Lord Rennard was at least challenged, but if he did do what he was accused of, then he paid a very small price for it.
The truth is that in modern society, all organisations can develop a culture of loyalty that lets men get away with the hideous practices that we have been witnessing. To be sure, a small organisation that follows a near-cultish devotion to its ideology and its leadership can make things far, far worse, but this is not the case in the Lib Dems, a party that prides itself on its individualism. At a party over the weekend, several Labour women made the point that the behaviour of SWP leadership can in part be seen in many if not most large organisations.
The truth is that we as Labour members, as democratic socialists must be always on the side of the victims in these cases, and must remember that a cheap political point will not help anyone recover from the trauma and devastation of abuse, bullying and rape. Most cases of rape and sexual abuse still go unreported, of those that do many do not necessarily lead to conviction of the guilty or even come to court.
We need to be helping to create a culture of openness, a culture where women feel safe in standing up to men and feel that they will get not only a fair hearing, but also that the system will support them. Some of this may require new laws or more spending, but equally this means that men also have to stand up and grow up. We have to say that this behaviour is unacceptable in any situation. We need to break he culture of male silence that sweeps this criminality under the carpet. This means all of us, regardless of party loyalty. This is an issue that is far too important to be left to political partisanship.
Ian Stewart is a Labour party member and blogs at http://clemthegem.wordpress.com/