DEATH OF A LABOUR VOTER

I have voted for Labour all my life. (Loyalty)

In 2015 when I was canvassed I surprised myself , and the poor labour foot soldier, by the vehemence of my proclamation that this was the last time they could take my vote for granted. I was tired of voting with a peg on my nose.  I rattled off a litany of complaints about the lacklustre, timid, campaigns of recent times.  We were living under the most toxic government of my lifetime but seemed cognitively captured by the language of “austerity” and “difficult choices”.  Rather than leading and shaping opinion we were assuming we had to constantly echo the language of the Tories by constantly referencing “hard working” . To me this carries with it the implication that we were overrun with lazy and feckless scroungers as so many natural Labour voters are villifed  by the Tory party.  Workers versus shirkers had entered the lexicon of the party of the working class! We had accepted the marketisation of education and the NHS, extended PFI, and been relaxed about growing inequality. Where was Labour?

I was not surprised when we lost. If I was struggling how many more voters were we alienating?

So  I decided I could not vote Labour again. 

I was out. I had bought into the myth that we had to appeal to Tory voters, in the south of England, to get power, one too many times.  It had not worked. Now I was faced with a party I no longer recognised. It looked as though Labour had finally left me,  and I no longer had a political home.  Then, by chance, I found out about a rally in Bradford with a little known MP who had been allowed onto the ballot for the Labour Leadership. I was running late so needed a taxi. There was a massive queue so I was sure I would not make it. This was a queue with a difference though. All were there for the same reason so I shared a taxi with a father and his 18 year old daughter. I was late but that was ok because the turnout was so huge that the venue had to be moved outside, to accommodate the numbers. I  listened to the speeches and, for the first time in years, I  could see the point of voting Labour, not just to stop the Tories, but as a positive choice. This was not just about Corbyn but the other speakers and the energy and reaction from the crowd. Not one man. A collective roar from the disenfranchised.

Three days later.  Dead people can’t vote. 

On the Monday I was diagnosed with three brain tumours.  (Now Jeremy gets blamed for a lot of things but, trust me, that is not where I am going😆😉).  My sister got the same diagnosis in October 2013. They were secondary brain metastasis. She died on Boxing Day 2014. I fully expected this would be my path.  So I had to get down to business. My sons needed a better future. It takes a village to raise a child, they say, it also takes a decent politics. This was my aim. To leave my boys in a better world.

I spent a summer of tests in our wonderful NHS. I took the book NHS for sale (Davis, Wrigley et al) with me to all my appointments and had some fantastic conversations with the NHS staff who were the embodiment of all that I hold dear about the NHS. My passion and commitment to these Labour values carried me through. I expected my time to be limited so no way was I having the ignominy and shame of dying with only 4 Twitter followers😉. As I was on steroids and hardly sleeping (every cloud) I followed the defeat of Stephen Harper in the Canadian elections and reawakened my dormant activist. I tweeted obsessively.

I attended rallies in Manchester , got involved in political Facebook groups. Talked politics during my lumbar puncture and marched for junior doctors.  On the morning of the Labour leadership election I was too tense so went to a Refugees welcome march in Leeds. Jeremy Corbyn won.  We won. A week later I got the news that I did not have brain tumours or cancer.  Tumours now lesions. I was out of the darkest of woods.

So what does an entryist look like?

I joined labour. I got active and pounded the streets leafleting and campaigning. I met many good people thirsty for change. Also those that had been the bedrock of the local party and ,though kind and welcoming, inevitably they had some residual concern about who we were. Just for the record I am not a rabid, foaming at the mouth extremist. I am not secretly channelling Derek Hatton and the only thing I know about Trotsky is a line in a Stranglers song.  I would also add that it is a perfectly valid lament ,from longstanding members, that if we had turned up earlier we may have made a difference. I for one accept the validity of that criticism.

So here we are again

Best to gloss over the last year? I joined labour. Attended branch and constituency meetings. Met some great people. I am in it for the long haul. I feel full of energy and hope. There are massive challenges that face us and they are not the battles of the 1980’s.  The world is not as it was in 1997. PLP need to really see who we are and accept some humility for two lost elections. We re/joiners also need to accept some responsibility and work with, and for, people that loyally stayed.

So tell you what. You show me your loyalty and I will show you mine! 😉😉 Deal?

 

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FEMINISM & RACISM

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I am seeing a lot of anxiety provoking posts about European ( subtext white) women being vulnerable to rapes perpetrated by “refugees”,  or other perceived attacks on women’s rights from migrant , refugee or simply Muslim communities. Sweden is a particular focus and it seems to be driven by a (wilful?) misinterpretation of how Sweden collates its data. Don’t take my word for it. Here is some detailed research not something you will read in the Daily Mail.        Is Sweden really the rape capital of the world?

Often this is followed by  a seemingly innocuous plea that immigrants usually as “they” must abide by the laws and values of the “host” country. So what does that mean?  It does warrant some unpacking when the expression of concern, about the treatment of women, is contextualised to the refugee crisis or conceived of as solely a Muslim/ Islamic or Asian problem.

As a feminist who went to school in Dewsbury ,with its large Muslim population, I am familiar with the deployment of feminism as a cloak ,conscious or otherwise, for racism. I have never met so many men who discover they are a feminist at the point they “identify” Muslim oppression of women.  The same commentators do not usually have a history of concern about the violation of women’s rights.

So let us just look at the history of some of “our” laws and culture.

Whilst France is banning the Burkini you don’t hear much about a law on its statute books banning Parisian women from wearing trousers. This passed during the French Revolution..(that “fraternity” really meant to exclude “sisterhood”)  200 years later it was still on the statute books.

Research on the criminal status of rape within marriage in western/ European countries is quite illuminating :

History (and present) of Marital Rape

It was still not a criminal offence,in some European countries, in this century.  Conviction rates suggest we are still not clear about a woman’s right to her own body within marriage.  Latest Archers storyline is interesting on this: the internalised notion that women are property within marriage makes the crime hard to see, even by the victim.

Reclaim the night walks emerged, in Leeds, in response to police advice that women should live under self-imposed curfew during the murderous rampage of Peter Sutcliffe. His victims were divided into the “innocent” and “prostitutes” thus erasing the latter category’s humanity and implicating them as “guilty” in their own deaths.

Slut Walks emerged, in Canada, as female students were told they needed to police their dress and drinking to avoid being sexually assaulted. This during an epidemic of campus rapes.  Again this feeds into the “asking for it” narrative. Another reason for the woeful statistics on both rape convictions and sentencing

The “page three” phenomenon put women’s breasts on display as “sexual sweetmeats” in “family” newspapers. Yet, it seems, rarely a day goes by without a woman who is breastfeeding being asked to cover up. We are both enjoined to display but also punished for not covering up.

You may be aware of the “Free the Nipple ” campaign. It seeks to remove the “stigma” associated with its exposure and attack dress codes that demand we cover up. This requirement to cover the nipple  is cultural since there are communities that do not require it and bare breasted women are the  norm. Now imagine for one moment that the movement was successful and it became accepted practice in the  UK?  Perhaps  we legislate for it to prevent some women being  forced to cover up. I would not judge any woman for embracing this new “freedom” but I , personally, would not be able to transcend the values inculcated in me. I could not do it.

So let us go back to the issue of the woman in the Burkini who was asked to remove it, on a beach, by the police. Picture me being asked to remove my bikini top because I am not in compliance with the new “free the nipple”  edict. Does not look very liberating seen from that perspective does it?  It really begins to look as if it is beyond our wit to have a debate about the policing of women’s bodies that does not end with yet more policing.

So it seems to me that a movement to rebel against the wearing of the veil, hijab etc must be allowed to emerge from within the community. Imposition from “outside” looks imperialist, racist and it backfires. The spectacle of the likes of Kelvin McKenzie denying a journalists right to report on a seeming jihadi inspired attack , because she was  wearing a hijab ,was unedifying

This post is not about accepting cultural practices which oppress women. It is not intended to accept everything that is justified by, often,  spurious religious claims. It is just to ask for a bit of reflection when you see a claim that links only ONE religious, or ethnic group, to the repression of women’s rights. Any religious or cultural practice which has a negative impact on women should be challenged. So too should those using feminism as a means to stoke racial tensions.

For some reading on this I highly recommend Edwy Plenel: For the Muslims. Islamophobia in France. It reprises Emile Zola’s brave intervention in the Dreyfus affair in the 19th century  (For the Jews). Seems we have to be ever vigilant.