Posts Tagged ‘sexism’

Emily Thornberry’s gaffe-laden Sky interview was down to incompetence, not sexism

11/09/2016, 05:56:47 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s not particularly hard, being Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Clearly you don’t actually run anything and all you have to do is echo what the government of the day is saying in relation to international events, affecting a suitably grave intonation.

Perhaps you urge a bit of restraint here, a bit more dialogue there, but, in the main, you take a bi-partisan approach.

When he was the Lib Dems’ foreign affairs spokesman, Menzies Campbell turned this into an art form, quoting back to broadcasters the received opinions he has read in broadsheet newspapers’ editorials that morning.

And that’s a big part of the job; skimming through the foreign pages, keeping tabs on the Foreign Office’s website and, if you’re really diligent, reading the Economist and Foreign Affairs.

By osmosis, you will pick up who’s who and what’s what.

Judging by her horrendous, comet-ploughing-into-Planet-Earth interview with Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News yesterday, Emily Thornberry certainly doesn’t know her ‘who’s who’.

When asked the name of the French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, Ms Thornberry went off, in the vernacular, “on one”.

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Cameron’s reshuffle reshapes the battlefield to exploit Labour weaknesses

16/07/2014, 01:18:15 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Forget the breathless minutiae of who’s up and who’s down or biographies of the newly promoted, most analyses of the Tory reshuffle have missed the most important point: this was a reshuffle defined by Labour. Labour’s lines of attack and Labour’s vulnerabilities.

Ed Miliband was the silent witness, standing in the corner, at the back of David Cameron’s mind as the prime minister worked out his new ministerial jigsaw.

In each of the three major changes David Cameron announced – the promotion of women, the demotion of Gove and the installation of Phillip Hammond at FCO –  the same motivation is evident:  to reshape the battlefield with Labour. To make the Tories a smaller target, minimise the potential for distracting internal conflict and focus the national debate on the two areas where David Cameron is confident he has the beating of Ed Miliband: leadership and the economy.

It is debateable whether Labour’s repeated attacks on Cameron for sexism have won over many wavering voters, but they certainly had media resonance and diverted the political conversation away from the Conservatives preferred topics.

Ta Dah! David Cameron now has a defensible position on women’s representation. Labour will continue with its attacks, as was evident at PMQs today, but the traction is gone. Broadcast journalists are notably less opinionated than their newspaper comrades, but these tweets by ITV’s Chris Ship are indicative of the mood among the lobby.


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Sorry Harriet, you weren’t entitled to become Deputy PM

09/07/2014, 07:05:44 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Was Gordon Brown a sexist for not making Harriet Harman deputy prime minister? Harriet seems to think so.  Last night, in a well-trailed speech about sexism in Westminster,she said:

“The truth is that even getting to the top of the political structures is no guarantee of equality. Imagine my surprise when having won a hard-fought election to succeed John Prescott as deputy leader of the Labour party, I discovered that I was not to succeed him as deputy prime minister.

“If one of the men had won the deputy leadership would that have happened? Would they have put up with it?”

It’s hard for this line of argument not to sound self-serving – and indeed it is. However way you stack it up, this is a case of special pleading.

There is no constitutional convention or Labour party rule that means the deputy leader of the party should automatically become deputy prime minister. Indeed, Harriet Harman was not even serving as a cabinet minister before she became deputy leader.

Would it not have been wiser, therefore, for her to have focused her speech on the lack of working-class and ethnic minority women among Labour’s ranks and offer some practical remedy? There was precious little of that in the sections of her speech she leaked to the press yesterday.

Jon Cruddas, the first round ballot winner in the 2007 deputy leadership contest (and who, under first past the post, would currently serve as deputy leader, not Harman) actually stood on a platform of rejecting a cabinet seat so he could instead devote his time to party development.

Of Labour’s sixteen deputy leaders since the role was created in 1922, only two, Herbert Morrison and John Prescott, have actually become deputy prime minister. Prescott is instructive because he is the precedent that Harman cites.

But the comparison is unwarranted.

Prescott had a Unique Selling Point, bringing balance to Labour’s top team as a working-class Northener to Tony Blair’s middle-class Southener. Between them, they provided, respectively, an offer to Labour’s heartland voters and the Middle England ‘enemy territory’ the party needed to occupy in order to win.

It is less clear who Harman represents. Clearly her gender adds some balance to the higher echelons of politics which are still male-dominated. But as the privately-educated daughter of a Harley Street consultant and niece of a hereditary peer, she hardly came up the hard way.

So it wasn’t sexism. The reason Harriet wasn’t made deputy PM is that, unlike Prescott, she simply didn’t serve a useful enough purpose.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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No one should be making political capital out of what’s happening to the Lib Dems

26/02/2013, 09:34:58 AM

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.

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Changing the law is only the start in tackling discrimination

06/12/2012, 07:00:07 AM

by Peter Watt

Attacking discrimination in all of its forms has been something that unites many from across the political spectrum.  Many political battles fought over the years to pass legislation that seeks to end discrimination.  In fact Wikipedia has a very helpful list of all of the UK Acts passed over the years, and it is quite a list:

  • Equality Act 2010
  • Equality Act 2006
  • Disability Discrimination Act 2005
  • Race Relations Amendment Act 2000
  • Disability Discrimination Act 1995
  • Race Relations Act 1976
  • Sex Discrimination Act 1975,
  • Equal Pay Act 1970
  • Race Relations Act 1968
  • Race Relations Act 1965
  • Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act 1928
  • Representation of the People Act 1918

Every one of these will have been hard fought and will often have been resisted.  Each was dramatic in its impact and generally led rather than followed public opinion in the area of life that it sought to influence. And the social change that can be charted in this list is worth reflecting on.

It starts with extending the franchise to all men and then all women and ends with an Act that brings together the series of laws passed outlawing discrimination on the basis of race, disability, religion or belief, gender, age and sexuality.  And let’s not forget that there have also been other battles fought along the way that have slowly made life fairer.  For instance, one of the proudest moments for many of us of the last Labour government was the passing of the civil partnership act (2004).

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All who oppose quotas are not knuckle-scrapers

26/07/2011, 12:00:29 PM

by Rob Marchant

Sexism is alive and well in modern Britain. Wherever it is to be found, it is a blight on our society; it lowers people’s horizons and expectations. An indisputable social evil. Obviously not like it was a hundred, or even twenty, years ago: but there.

Arguably, its most persistent manifestation is in the workplace: like the difficulty of women returning to work after children, pay inequality and prospects of reaching top management. The last Labour government helped somewhat in these areas by, for example, improving access to childcare and consolidating equality legislation. And perhaps it could, and should, have done more. Inequalities persist which, being about opportunity and not outcome, rightly concern all of us on the left.

But agreeing on the problem is not the same as agreeing on the solution. And we don’t to need enter into the complex debate over the many methods of combating sexism, in order to evaluate a specific one: quotas. Aiming for gender equality and aiming for numerical gender balance, to state the obvious, are not the same thing.

Is it not telling that, in all the years of putting in place legislation to fight sexism, the western world has seldom got to the stage of implementing gender quotas for jobs? Could it be because (a) they’re often pretty unworkable in practice (just think for a second about how you’d ensure gender balance across all comparable roles and departments in an organisation, and you’ll start to see the logistical nightmare)? And (b) a lot of women, as well as men, don’t like the idea?

However, for some reason, in the Labour party, we have long ago come to a majority view that quotas are not only desirable, but unquestionable. It’s as if we, with our more developed moral compass, provide a beacon of best practice which all other right-thinking organisations should follow. They’re a bit behind us, that’s all: given time, everyone will come round to adopting our advanced ways.

Well, some news: the British public doesn’t agree. The rest of the country looks at these practices – introduced into the party, for the record, by a tiny knot of politicians and NEC members – and think us odd, not advanced. Look, here comes the Labour party. With its strange gender-target obsession.

Naturally, that group includes a vast number of proud, upstanding women and men who are not content to leave sexism unchallenged in the pub or the workplace. Yes, there are people without a sexist bone in their bodies, who just don’t think much of quotas. A lot will want to see more women in positions of power, but don’t see this as the right way. Many of them may not be against affirmative action per se: the debate is more nuanced than that. Many may not even be entirely against quotas, in extremis: but they aren’t for them in general.

And then there is our unhelpful habit of choking off debate on the matter. How? By viewing any questioning of this logic through the following prism: that a challenge can only come from a well-meaning but misguided woman; or a reactionary, Neanderthal man. And, for the record, neither does the debate-stifling trick necessarily follow gender lines: it is often as likely to come from men as women.

But is it not understandable that some of those many party members who are not sexist, and have spent their lives fighting sexism in all its forms, might at some point get frustrated at having the sins of the few visited upon them? Because there is a respectable, differing point of view which deserves at least a hearing, rather than a moral judgement.

It is this: that the numbers game has become an end in itself rather than a means to an end. And it is the cumulative effect of this thinking which, bit by bit, avoiding sensible debate and taking quotas as a universal good, ends with what Neil Kinnock might term the “grotesque spectacle” of the summary Refounding Labour strategy document suggesting, with a straight face, that we might have not just a cabinet chosen by quota, but a leader and deputy leader chosen by quota. Well, no.

That’s right: you vote for two people, but if the leader turns out not to be a woman, all male candidates for deputy leader will have to withdraw. Or two separate, hugely expensive, all-member ballots. Or some similarly unworkable scheme. And, by the way, insisting on a 50-50 cabinet, if Labour were in government, would be an extraordinarily unhelpful constraint on a prime minister to get the cabinet which best fitted skills to positions (not to mention quite possibly illegal).

Finally, we patronise decent male politicians by assuming that, should they find themselves in a majority in a non-quota system, as a group they cannot be trusted not to make sexist decisions or policy unless we remove some of their number and replacing them with women, to “even things up”. It doesn’t make sense, unless you believe that there are seriously sexist men at the top of the party. Who are these cavemen? We should name names.

Yet one of the great attributes of the twenty first century Labour party is that, itself, it is already way ahead of the curve. Yes, you can be sure to find the odd situation when you’ll find some old feller with a dodgy opinion, and you can also be sure he’ll be roundly condemned for it. On average, you’d be hard-pressed to find a group of people less likely to be sexist than at a local Labour party meeting. We mostly fall over ourselves to get this right and we should be proud of that. But if we spent as much time and energy fighting sexism in the workplace as we do on tinkering with our internal processes to mixed results, you can’t help thinking that we might be helping the cause a lot more.

As a grown-up political party of 110 years standing, we’re surely self-confident enough to have an open debate about this. No name-calling, no ad-hominem judgement of the person voicing the opinion, or their sex. Just a simple, clear-headed analysis of where positive action is appropriate, and where it is not.

Peter Hain, who is in charge of Refounding Labour, in 2006 apologised for the fiasco in Blaenau Gwent, where an imposed quota led directly to the loss of a seat. A recognition that quotas are not a universal good. Surely he, of all people, should encourage this debate?

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left.

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