Why hasn’t Labour had a female leader?

As of yesterday, it is certain that, for the second time in history, the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will be a woman. What’s more, it is certain that, for the second time in history, the woman in question will be a Conservative. It is true that having a female Prime Minister is not in and of itself beneficial to women: Andrea Leadsom wants to scrap maternity pay for employees of the smallest businesses and Theresa May has been criticised for ‘allowing state-sanctioned abuse of women‘ at a detention centre. However, those of us on the left must ask why the Labour Party has been unable to elect a female leader in over 100 years of its history.

The most obvious reason for this is in the origins of the party. Labour grew out of industrial trade unionism and remained largely wedded to this until the 1980s. Granted, the party’s leaders were rarely drawn from this stock, but it cannot be denied that working-class industrial communities made up the primary constituency of the party during this period, and this was reflected in the policy priorities and internal demographics of the Labour Party. Startlingly, it was not until 1987 that Labour managed to elect over 20 female MPs – up from a low of 10 in 1983. It is undeniable that the culture of industrial trade unionism was inherently patriarchal and conservative in its nature, as was the makeup of many of the communities represented by this movement.

This is not to say that everyone who was part of the labour movement before the 90s was some kind of sexist brute, or that Labour didn’t achieve some great things for women – such as the Equal Pay Act. However, it is true that this masculine atmosphere both deterred and impeded women in seeking to rise up higher in the party. It is one of the most established social facts that people are more likely to choose someone who is similar to them when hiring or picking successors, so it is no surprise that male-dominated CLPs returned a male-dominated selection of MPs, who in turn choose a male-dominated top team.

However, there is a second, more subtle reason for Labour’s historical inability to elect a female leader. We are collectivists and idealists, whereas the Tories are individualists and pragmatists. In themselves, there is nothing wrong with collectivism or idealism, but they have the downside of creating a cultish tribalism. Desires for innovation and concerns about how the party operates are often brushed aside with calls for ‘solidarity’ and ‘unity’. This has become very apparent in recent weeks with the so-called ‘Labour Coup’, but any feminist. LGBT or race activist on the left will be able to recount how they have been told how their concerns are secondary to ‘the struggle’ and raising them is at best divisive and at worst subversive. This is the stifling conservatism that so often comes out of collectivism.

The reason this makes it even harder for a woman to be elected leader of Labour is that collective movements always need a strong central figure to unify around. You don’t need me to tell you that the attributes people desire in a strong leader – determined, authoritative, rational – are seen as masculine whereas ‘weak’ traits are seen as feminine. Because of these deeply ingrained attitudes, men have a huge headstart when it comes to being elected to represent the aims of a collective, and then the tribal mindset makes it even more difficult for a woman to challenge them – as we have seen with the torrents of violent and misogynistic verbal abuse directed at female MPs.

In contrast, the Tories worship the individual, and therefore when someone appears who has the ruthlessness and will to force their ideas through, they get to the top. There’s no question that misogynistic attitudes are more prevalent on the right than the left, but when a Thatcher or a May comes along, the Tories know who’s going to best prosecute their interests.

There will always be excuses for why Labour has not elected a woman, but excuses is all they are. You cannot seriously look at our most recent three leaders and conclude that they were all ‘the best person for the job’ at the time. Likewise, you cannot pretend that someone with the moral and intellectual weight of Yvette Cooper was a weaker candidate than Andy Burnham and deserved to come third. The fact is Labour is built on a masculine culture, and our collectivist methods in pursuing dogmatic idealism lend themselves to a tribal politics where who can shout the loudest and impose themselves upon others wins.

This is not to say that the Labour Party has not achieved excellent things for men and women, nor that its roots somehow invalidate them. Likewise, it is not saying that we are the only political party with a ‘woman problem’. What it is saying, though, is that it’s time we recognise the obstacles that hold us back from being a party where women have as good a shot as reaching the time as men. I’m damned if I know quite how we do this, but I do know that, out of the 5 people who I think could lead us to victory at the next election, 3 of them are women, and we have a better array of female talent on our benches than ever before. Electing a female leader won’t end our problems, but it would give the signal to our members that it is possible, and that there is another way of doing politics. It’s high time we did so.

 

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Should Labour MPs unite around Corbyn?

If you’re as much of a sadomasochist as me and spend a good deal of your time watching the demise of the Labour Party British politics team on Twitter, you will have noticed this invariable refrain from the defenders of the Corbyn ‘project’: ‘It’s time to unite around Jeremy’. According to them, all our fears of unelectability and decades in the electoral wasteland are unfounded. All we need to do is ‘get behind the leader’ and ‘oppose the Tories’ and all will be well. The exact terms of what it means to ‘unite and take on the Tories’ is never precisely specified, but given the usual context these words are uttered in, it basically means ‘Shut up and agree with whatever Corbyn says and shout it as loud as you can’. I must confess I have no love whatsoever for Corbyn or his ‘project’, but it seems obvious to me that, even from an objective point of view, this position is bankrupt.

To start with, many of Labour’s MPs were elected in the 97-10 period while running on a New Labour platform. Deny it all you will, but the fact is a good deal of these MPs were elected *because* of this platform, not in spite of it. For them to turn around now and renounce all they had stood for in the past would not only be dishonest to those who elected them, it would be electoral suicide. Not only would they lose their seats at the next election, but the Tories would forever have the attack line that, no matter what Labour MPs say, no matter how much you think you can trust them with economic or national security, they are only waiting for the right leader to come along to show their true colours. With a large portion of the Corbyn-supporting membership already regarded by most as thuggish anti-Semites, MPs bending to their will would finish us for good.

Secondly, I must ask the question: unite behind what? The thing that has disappointed me almost more than anything else about Corbyn’s premiership is I’ve barely seen a single policy come out of it. While I in no way wanted Corbyn to be elected, the old Tony Benn loving Marxist in me was at least hoping for a bit of full-throated, left-wing opposition to ease our collapse into irrelevance. I envisaged we’d get a passionate defence of welfare spending, a mixed economy, social housing, progressive taxation etc. Did we get that? Did we bollocks. We got a man who refused to capitalise on Iain Duncan Smith’s departure, hasn’t advanced any alternative vision for government and when Welsh steel was collapsing decided to start *another* debate about Trident. To be frank, all ‘unity’ would seem to amount to is agreeing to scrap Trident and then every week getting together for a Freudian celebration of Corbyn’s huge ‘mandate’.

But there is something more maddening about these constant calls for unity; namely, it exposes an inherent flaw in Corbynista logic. Every time you try and engage with a Corbyn supporter you will be told incessantly how the public are sick of ‘careerist politicians’ and ‘Blairites’ (read: anyone but Corbyn and McDonnell), and are crying out for a ‘left-wing alternative’. Let’s imagine there isn’t mountains of evidence to the contrary, and take them at their word. If the public are indeed sick of these ‘establishment politicians’ in the PLP, then why on earth would Corbyn be helped by them uniting behind him? Surely such endorsements could only show him to be as much a corrupt establishment figure as all the rest? Quite the opposite of wanting unity, he should want his colleagues to hate him, as it would show him to be the genuine alternative that everyone is crying out for.

Or of course, we are left with the other alternative (read: reality). The public aren’t sick of ‘establishment careerists’ and they aren’t demanding a ‘left-wing alternative’. The reason they don’t like Corbyn is because they don’t like him, and would much rather listen to someone like Chuka Umunna or Stella Creasy. It is this reality that shows the bankruptcy of the Corbynites’ position. They know full-well the public do not desire the ‘new politics’ Corbyn is proposing, and they know full-well that even if they did, Corbyn is not an inspiring enough character to deliver it.

It is for this reason that so many of Corbyn’s acolytes are driven to acts of online violence, intimidation and conspiracy. It is a truism that insecurity in one’s beliefs leads to people lashing out at the world rather than confronting their fears. Going out, knocking on doors and meeting people who disagree with you is all too much work when you could just go to a rally with people who share your beliefs or call everyone who disagrees with you a traitor. Why bother constructing a platform that appeals to the wider public and takes into account the nuances of globalisation and moral grey areas when you can just declare everyone who doesn’t realise the truth you’re speaking to be part of some vast conspiracy?

It is this deep-rooted insecurity that fuels the movement around Corbyn, and the bitter irony is this is why they want to capture the Labour Party. They know that the only hope of having anyone but themselves pay any attention whatsoever to their views is by taking control of a pre-existing ‘establishment’ party, and having got halfway there, they will fight tooth-and-nail to seize it for good. For the good of our party, our country, and our politics at large, we must do everything we can to stop them.

On Brocialism

One of the most unsightly sights on Twitter is also one of the most frequent. What I speak of, of course, is mobs of keyboard warriors descending on individuals for committing some imagined transgression. Whether it be Cybernats attacking ‘traitorous unionists’, UKIP voters abusing ‘liebour pedos’ or Corbynistas berating ‘neoliberal, blairite warmongers blood on your hands!’, the Twitter keyboard warrior rarely fails to conform to a very specific set of characteristics. Namely, adopting a pseudonym, not having their face in their profile picture and overuse of the crying laughing face emoji. They will also either have dreadful spelling and grammar or use lots of complex lexis – which would make them appear intelligent if it weren’t so apparent that they had no idea of its meaning. However, recently it has become more and more apparent that there is another key characteristic of such people.

When I first saw the term ‘brocialism’ about two years ago, I was skeptical. Plenty of buzzwords get bandied around on Twitter, and as a general rule you should ignore 80% of them. Similarly, I am always wary of any catch-all generalisations, due to their tendency to homogenize people and obscure nuance. However, when you look at where the abuse on Twitter comes from and the way in which it manifests, it is quite obvious that there is a pattern. Almost without fail, the abuse comes from men who then retweet any responses they get to call down ‘the boys’ to attack the offender. Furthermore, this abuse is disproportionately directed at women – especially young women. Finally, the dynamic between these ‘brocialists’ is resplendent with the awkward, feverish homoeroticism that is always present in groups of straight men who are insecure in their masculinity.

The reality of this is self-evident, but why should this pattern manifest? In my view, it is mostly down to two factors: a) the cultish mentality of these groups and b) the ultimate weakness of their positions. Earlier, I mentioned Cybernats  and Corbynistas. They are both cultists. They have a fanatical devotion to an abstract concept – nationalism or ‘real’ socialism – and their dear leaders. They are also on the fringes of political thought, and as such any perceived slight towards them is magnified a thousand fold. It is in this tribalism that we find the reason for the makeup of these Twitter abusers being largely male. They view their spokespersons as something of ‘pack leaders’, and as such rally to defend them whenever they are threatened. These leaders tend to be male, such is the makeup of our society, and even when they are not – in the case of Nicola Sturgeon – the most vocal supporters online – such as WingsOverScotland – always are.

Tribalism isn’t only observed in men by any means, but it does manifest in a specific way with males. One only has to observe football fans to see how quickly affronts to the chosen tribe of men can incite violence. On the internet, as there are no bottles or traffic cones to be thrown, this takes the form of abuse. The reason this abuse is disproportionately directed towards young women is that these men want to prove their worth to their fellow ‘soldiers’ by winning battles, and sexist assumptions tell them that young women are stupid, out-of-their depth and weak, therefore making them easy scalps. If you want evidence of this, just observe how quickly brocialists resort to using patronising terms like ‘love’ and ‘dear’. I guarantee you it will be within 8 tweets.

As I mentioned, the other reason for this abuse is the inherent weakness of the above parties’ positions. It is a truism that when people realise their argument is bankrupt, they resort to violence. The fascists knew their ideas of racial purity had no basis in science, the Church knew they had no answer to the first rationalists, so rather than argue with their opponents, they killed them. In the modern world, when you have no faith in your argument, you no-platform your opponent, deselect them, or abuse them online. The arguments of the SNP are based on a nationalistic pipe dream, and the idea that Corbyn would ever get elected or has any semblance of a coherent policy platform which would benefit the nation is so laughable I won’t even address it. But the faithful also know this, and rather than face the horrible knowledge that they are wrong, they group together, howl, beat their chests and throw excrement. This is the face of modern brocialism, and Christ, is it ugly to behold.

The Left is deluded: it is not a majority

If your life has reached the same low point as mine – which it must have if you’re reading this – you will no doubt have heard about the protests outside the Conservative Party Conference. You will have seen plenty of disgust at protesters spitting on journalists, shouting threats and abuse at, well, anyone, and egging Tory delegates. Needless to say, this disgust is justified, but what is more interesting is the mentality behind so much of the protests and the wider left in general. This being that they genuinely seem to believe that the country is brimming full of left-wingers, who are only being kept out of power by a conspiracy of the media, the electoral system or Labour ‘not being left wing enough’.

The evidence for this mentality existing is everywhere. You can see it in the ‘We are the 76%’ Twibbons in Twitter profiles, in the Socialist Worker’s ‘Defy Tory Rule’ banners and Natalie Bennett stating ‘We are the many, they are the few’. The cognitive dissonance exhibited by the above is quite startling. The incredibly tiresome ‘76%’ meme not only ignores that votes not cast do not count towards the overall result (who’d have thought?) but also that if 76% didn’t vote for the Tories, 82% didn’t vote for Labour and 96% didn’t vote for the Greens. Natalie Bennett’s laughable intervention also handily ignores the fact that the Green vote would not have been enough to even win back a deposit deposit if the nationwide share had been replicated in a single seat.

It is this bizarre sense of entitlement that hamstrings the left. Its acolytes feel they have the right to call those who oppose them scum and talk about their moral degeneracy as if centre-right views were only held by a small and contemptible number of the electorate. Nothing is more emblematic of this disease than the 99% vs the 1% narrative. It would seem many genuinely believe that the only people who actually can hold right-wing views are members of this elite, and anyone not inside it must have been conned by media narratives etc.

Essentially, the biggest problem with this view is that it imagines people view themselves as either the ruling class or those pitted against them; they don’t. To put it bluntly, the vast majority of people do not think in terms of class anymore, and certainly not in the traditional Marxian sense. Even most of the left no longer care care about it, hence its increasing emphasis on race, sexuality and gender as being the main areas of inequality. An owner of small business taking in £25K a year is far more likely to believe themselves a struggling entrepreneur who deserves to be rewarded more than ‘lazy public sector workers’ than they are to identify as a member of a lower-income bracket being oppressed by wealthy corporate managers. Likewise, the majority of hatred towards immigrants I have witnessed has come from working class people, although they almost always are in the same income band. On the other end of the scale, we are all familiar with the much-maligned stereotype of well-off bien pensants who subsist on vegetarian diets, shop locally and vote left. Class is simply not an adequate predictor of voting patterns or self-identification.

The left has to face facts. Right-wing parties received over 50% of the national vote in 2015. In contrast, parties that were identifiably ‘left-wing’ received just about 40%. TUC research shows us that fears that Labour will tax too much, spend too much and be too generous with welfare are still some of the main reasons people give for not voting for us. The British public do not much like redistribution, they really don’t like immigration and EU laws and they hate anything that sounds ‘PC’. Far from acknowledging this, the left has retreated into a wholesale ‘no-cuts’ narrative, professing unconditional support for Europe, dismissing immigration as a non-issue that only bothers racists and condemning people for ever-more esoteric breaches of speech codes. We then cheer as Jeremy Corbyn fills another echo-chamber with acolytes and we declare the government are scared. They’re not.

The Tories perfectly understand the fragility of politics, and as such are pitching to the centre-ground, putting on a humble face and trying to cement themselves as the natural party of government. George Osborne even conceded that the party hasn’t done enough to win over Labour voters, and has to listen to them. Can you imagine the left saying the same of Tory voters? We are in more danger than ever of becoming a movement convinced of our own superiority and purity, but with no regard for the electorate and the facts of democracy. If we do not change, our future will be full of sound and fury, but one which will signify nothing but defeat.

Labour’s relationship with Blair is toxic, irrational and incomprehensible. Please, move on.

Last night, no less than the third article penned by Blair regarding Corbyn’s ascendance appeared in the Observer. It is now possible to predict the events which follow such a Blair intervention to a higher degree of accuracy than whether the next Dapper Laughs Vine will be misogynistic. Labour’s hard right mount a defence of their hero so slavish it would be outlawed in the Old Testament as idol worship. They reject any criticism of Blair’s policies or personality outright, and assert that nothing short of a full-blooded return to Blairism can save the Labour Party. Meanwhile, the left trot out the tired clichés of ‘war criminal’, ‘neo-liberal’, ‘lost Labour more votes than anyone else’ etc. It should be obvious to anyone that both positions are overreactions, so why is it that the party is so hopelessly divided over their most electorally successful leader?

I confess when I joined Labour at 20 years old I was very critical of Blair. One of my earliest political memories was the Iraq War, which happened when I was 10. Throughout my childhood and teen years, New Labour was the party of war, spin, cosying up to Bush, authoritarianism etc. I was too young to remember a Conservative government, and indeed most of New Labour’s greatest achievements. Therefore, my image of Blair was the relentlessly parodied, unpopular and mistrusted PM which he became at the end of his tenure. However, since joining the party, and since the election in particular, I’ve begun to see his premiership in a fairer light.

There are indeed things about Blair’s time as PM that should be criticised. PFIs have largely proved inefficient, high-cost ways of spending taxpayer’s money, Iraq was a poorly calculated and executed war which has in no small part allowed the most brutal cult since World War II to flourish. Increases in surveillance and police powers went too far and the failure to regulate the banking sector had catastrophic consequences which we are all familiar with. New Labour was by no means perfect, and could have done more with the mandate it won in 1997 and 2001.

However, recognising that does now mean we need to ignore its achievements. I do not just mean the obvious ones like the introduction of the National Minimum Wage and Sure Start, but also introducing Civil Partnerships, equalising the age of consent and repealing Section 28. Securing free admission to museums and galleries, tripling Britain’s international aid budget, banning fox hunting and, far too-oft forgotten, the Northern Ireland peace process.

The fact that the above list does not include renationalisation, higher top rates of tax and constitutional reform does not mean it’s not one that left-wingers shouldn’t be proud of. New Labour genuinely did do good things for Britain, and it is a gross betrayal of the disadvantaged to paint it as being the ‘same as the Tories’. I honestly find it inestimably confusing and frustrating that purists on the left cannot see past their dogma to recognise that New Labour did help the people they supposedly care about so much.

This is why the current mania surrounding Jeremy Corbyn is so absurd. There is quite simply no. way. at. all. that he will be elected as PM. Even if the British public wanted a ‘true’ left-wing government (they don’t) they will simply not vote for a man who has been sympathetic to practically every enemy Britain has, associates with dodgy anti-semites and worse, wants closer ties with Russia, gives a minutes silence for IRA fighters etc etc. These aren’t smears – I actually quite like Corbyn and agree with much of his politics. However, I am not going to pretend for a second that he is electable. What is infuriating, however, is that so many of his supporters are basing their backing him on completely irrational and simply downright wrong assertions about New Labour. Read tweets from many Corbynites, and you would be forgiven for thinking that Blair was far worse than Major and even Thatcher for disadvantaged Britons.

Blair’s acolytes also need to reassess their stance. Failings of New Labour have to be recognised as well as its achievements, and a man too close to the Murdoch empire, with morally reprehensible profitable associations with tyrants and absurd rates for charity conferences cannot be relentlessly defended. I do not have to pretend to admire the man to do the same of his achievements. It is true that Labour only wins in the centre ground, but this has shifted significantly since 1997. To allow Labour and the left to seize both it and power back, Labour’s left and right have to let Blair go, and actually start thinking.

The Lib Dems need Labour’s right to win – here’s why:

With reports of Jeremy Corbyn’s runaway success – don’t buy them – in the Labour leadership referendum, some have begun to speculate that the victory of the ‘veteran left-winger’ would be the best outcome for the Liberal Democrats. They argue that his election would place Labour in the unelectable wilderness of the hard left and the Lib Dems would fill the centre-left void as a reasonable, more palatable alternative – well, if Farron can stop implying homosexuals are sinners anyway.

Now, this resurgence could be a real possibility if Labour’s right decided to go all retro and break away and merge with the Liberals again, but my instinct is they wouldn’t. They would instead wait for Corbyn to tank in the polls – which he would – and then mount a coup, which should be fairly easy and bloodless seeing as Jeremy doesn’t want the job anyway. But all this is irrelevant seeing as Corbyn won’t win. The charge I want to deal with, however, is that a left-wing Labour party provides the best electoral opening for the Lib Dems. It does not.

While it may sound rational that if there is a wide divide between the two main parties, a largely centrist public will vote for the party that has the best of both without the unpalatable extremes, First Past the Post actually means the Lib Dems get squeezed sharply in such a scenario. Their decision in the 2015 to go with the ‘split-the-difference‘ approach was catastrophic. All it actually did was reinforce in voters’ minds the image that Labour really were spendthrift, socialist maniacs while the Tories were sadistic elitists who revelled in hurting the poor. This meant that anyone who leant left or right were terrified of the opposite party getting into power on such an extreme agenda and as such voted for the major party closest to their views. This was made even worse by the spectre of the SNP dragging Labour leftwards. People were too afraid to risk ‘wasting their vote’ on the Lib Dems when so much was at stake.

No, the ideal electoral space for the party is when Labour and the Tories converge on many issues. Don’t believe me? From 1983-1997 the SDP-Liberal Alliance lost 8.3% of the public vote. From 1997-2010 they gained 6.2%. The 1983 election itself was of course the exception, but this was an exceptional circumstance where Labour and Tory MPs and large numbers of councillors and members had defected to the SDP, already giving them a base, credibility and momentum. Throughout the Blair years, centrist voters were less worried about extremes getting in, and those who weren’t centrists saw the Lib Dems as the ideal protest vote, particularly after the Iraq war.

This is why the Lib Dems need either Liz Kendall to win, or Yvette Cooper to head right when elected. A Corbyn victory would throw the political scene into turmoil, and we cannot be sure what would come out of it, but be assured that the biggest threat to the party is Andy Burnham triumphing. The prospect of a Labour leader who speaks roughly the same language as Ed Miliband but with more populist rhetoric and in a northern accent would be anathema to the centre/liberal centre-right voters the Lib Dems need to pick up in the south and London, and we should expect their fortunes to fall even further in favour of the Conservatives.

What do the names of the Labour leadership hopefuls mean?

All my posts recently have been pretty serious, so allow me to present you with some pure trivia: the etymology behind the surnames of the Labour leadership candidates.

First up:

Cooper:

Cooper is a very common surname in the UK, and ultimately has its roots in Anglo-Saxon. It derives from kuper, a word meaning a craftsperson who makes containers. Simply put, ‘Cooper’ means ‘barrel-maker’.

Moving on:

Burnham:

A difficult name to pin down as it could have multiple meanings. Ultimately, it is a locational surname, meaning a person adopted it when they left their town of origin to seek work further afield – ‘I’m Andy, from Burnham’. The problem is that there are many different towns called Burnham in the UK, from Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset to Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex. In most instances, the word comes from a compounding of burna (stream) and ham (homestead). However, regional variations mean the etymology varies – the ‘Burnham’ in Burnham-on-Sea derives from burnahamm which means ‘stream by the water meadow’. Therefore, all we can be sure about our Andy is that at some point one of his ancestors left one of the UK’s multiple Burnhams to seek greener pastures.

Next up:

Kendall:

There are two interpretations of this name’s origin, and it is likely that both of the derivatives have amalgamated into this surname and its multiple variations (Kendel, Kindel, Kendoll) today. The first interpretation is quite simply that it comes from the name of Cumbria’s county town, Kendal, which itself means ‘Valley of the Kent River’. The other, more interesting interpretation is that it comes from an Anglicised version of the old Welsh surname Kyndelw – modern Cynddelw – which means ‘exalted image’.

Last but not least:

Corbyn:

Arguably the most obscure name in the leadership election and the hardest to pin down, not least because it’s traditionally spelt ‘Corbin’. Linguists are divided, some say it is locational and stems from towns in France called Corbon, but I don’t buy this. More likely is that it derives from the Old French for crow Corbin, and was used in reference to people with strikingly black hair or a raucous voice. Given Jeremy’s penchant for causing controversy and stirring the masses, I feel the latter definition is particularly fitting.

So there you have it, if you are still somehow undecided who to vote for after a month and a half of platitudes and evasive answers I hope this comprehensive document has allowed you to finally make up your mind.