Jeremy Corbyn and the Bonfire of the Cynics

While chaos unfolds in Westminster, on social media there has been merry carnival of mea culping, told-you-soing and book-eating in the wake of the sensational general election result last week. No, Labour did not win a majority or become largest party, but they did effectively bring down a government, leave an apparently unassailable Prime Minister utterly toothless and quite possibly revolutionised British politics for a generation to come.

Central to this there has been a lot of talk about who has been proven right or wrong. Someone kindly intervened in one of my own mini Twitter spats to describe me as “someone who was right all along.”

It’s never my style to wave away a compliment, so I let it ride, but it didn’t feel true. I’m not someone who was right all along, at least not in the most basic sense. Over recent months there were literally a few handfuls of furiously loyal Corbyn supporters who insisted that the polls were wrong, that Corbyn would storm an election campaign, and if the Tories called an election they would get stuffed. Those people were very few in number and I was not among them. Most of Corbyn’s people were not among them, truth be told. If I’m honest, when the election was called my best guess was that Labour would get trounced and the best foreseeable outcome would be if Jeremy Corbyn put up a good enough showing to survive and fight another day. So simply on cold hard numbers psephology, I was just as wrong as the most ardent Corbyn critic.

However, there is another reading of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ on which I am proud to have landed jammy-side up, while Corbyn’s critics have faceplanted into the proverbial from a grand height. It is about the very rules of the game that I’m describing – the psephology, the electoral calculation, the punditry, the prediction, the polls-chasing.

Here is a grand truth which lies at the heart of Corbyn’s success, which the mainstream political media class entirely failed to understand and – based on the comment pieces and social media mutterings of the weekend – still entirely fails to understand.  It comes down to a dictum which in my view could reasonably be called the central premise of Corbynism:

We do not say what we say because it plays well in the polls and we do not cynically advocate policies for electoral advantage. We do what do because we believe it is the right thing to do.

[Read more…]

From the Home Office to the Independent: crying out for gender-inclusive policy

This week has offered us a couple of vivid illustrations of why gender-inclusive policies are so desperately and urgently needed across the political and media strata.

Just to put what follows in context, please consider the story that has dominated headline news for the past four weeks. At the latest count, police are investigating allegations of child sexual abuse by 83 suspects with involvement in 98 football clubs, on the basis of reports made by (or about) more than 350 men.  One might think this alone would be enough to remind officials and commentators that boys and men are far from immune to crimes of intimate violence. On top of the raw numbers, evidence is mounting that the sport as a whole was steeped in a culture of (at best) systematic indifference to the welfare and human dignity of boys and young men in their charge. [Read more…]

Introducing the Men and Boys Coalition: How the British men’s sector has come of age

Four years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a piece in the Guardian asking whether International Men’s Day could become the seeds of a new kind of movement for male gender politics. I described attending the National Conference on Men and Boys, where I found a diverse range of organisations and individuals with different specialities and interests but all committed to developing constructive and progressive solutions to problems affecting boys and men.

It seems like it has been a long, long four years, but I am proud and delighted to tell you that today the rarefied halls of the Houses of Parliament will be the venue for the launch of a brand new Men and Boys’ Coalition, representing over 50 of the UK’s leading charities, academics and campaigners in the field of men and boys’ welfare. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that this is the day when a new kind of men’s movement comes of age. [Read more…]

A Safer World For Everybody: Discussing International Men’s Day in the House of Commons

Three weeks ahead of International Men’s Day, this morning the House of Commons hosted a brief yet highly significant discussion. Philip Davies (yes, him again, I know) placed a question to the Women and Equalities ministerial team, asking how the government planned to mark International Men’s Day this year.

In response, the minister began her remarks with the most predictable, tedious, hackneyed and ignorant quip imaginable. Yes, you’ve guessed it:

“I think women could be forgiven for thinking every day is International Men’s Day.”

Ah hurr hurr hurr stitch my bloody sides, no one has ever said that before. Yawn.

But hold on. After that, something interesting happened. Lots of interesting things happened. I considered how to write about the ten minutes or so that followed, but I think the best approach might be to type up the most interesting transcripts and add a few words of commentary as we go along, a sort of nearly-live-blog. The brief exchanges brought up a whole raft of what might be called the FAQs of IMD and crystallised where the debate has got to in 2016, for both good and ill.

Davies got things going by quoting the Prime Minister Theresa May:

‘I recognise the important issues that this event seeks to highlight, including men’s health, male suicide rates and the underperformance of boys in schools, these are serious issues that must be addressed in a considered way.’

This is, to my knowledge, the first time a British PM has acknowledged the purpose of and need for IMD and so is, in itself, significant. Caroline Dinenage (education minister) took up the question from there.

“The role of the government’s equalities office is to tackle inequality wherever we find it, and as parents of sons up and down the country we will all be conscious about the issues he has mentioned and the Prime Minister has mentioned. However, I am also aware that there are parts of the world where girls are routinely subjected to genital mutilation, forced marriage and sexual violence and for me, Mr Speaker, equality is not a zero sum game.”

The ‘However’ there is significant. The only way it can make sense is if, contrary to her protests, she actually does believe that equality is a zero sum game. Why else are we talking – almost immediately – about women and girls in response to a question about IMD? In fact the two sentences above are a total non-sequitur. If she doesn’t believe that talking about issues faced by men and boys somehow detracts from or otherwise impacts upon issues facing women and girls, why is it even there? More significantly, the minister might need to learn that there are also many parts of the world where boys are routinely subjected to genital mutilation, forced marriage and sexual violence and the fact that this apparently has not occurred to her is the best argument imaginable as to why we need IMD.

Next up, Labour MP Chris Matheson:

Would the minister agree with me that International Men’s Day would give an opportunity for men who are fathers of daughters to express concerns such as why those daughters might have to wait another 30 years for equal pay or to give men the platform to express concerns as to why there continues to be a problem in this country and abroad of violence against women and girls?

 

CD: He is absolutely right that International Men’s Day in the UK does take a very gender-inclusive approach and therefore believes that issues affecting women and girls are also resolved… He is absolutely right to say that while focusing on the very important issues that International Men’s Day raises, we must never forget all the women around the world who are suffering every single day.

It’s a minor and very personal point, but allow me a quick moment of self-congratulation that the phrase ‘gender-inclusive’ has made its way into Hansard for the first time.

A little later there was a similar exchange involving another Labour MP, Liz McInness

LM: “International Men’s Day aims to promote gender equality and highlight male role models, and yet in the UK two women a week are killed by a partner or an ex-partner and we clearly need urgent action to tackle deeply ingrained and damaging inequality. Does the minister agree with me that we need to support campaigns to tackle misogyny and sexist attitudes and that men have a crucial role to play in this?”

CD: “Mr Speaker I couldn’t have put it better myself. She is absolutely right to point out that last year 81 women were killed by violent partners or ex-partners and in fact 19 men were killed by violent partners or ex-partners as well. That is why this government is absolutely committed to tackling violence against women and girls and it is of utmost importance we put more money into this than ever before and we will not rest until this happens.

In these two exchanges, I think we see the most common prevailing attitude on the left towards International Men’s Day. In essence it says “Yes yes, we understand that boys and men have problems but they’re not as important as the problems faced by women and girls so we shouldn’t be talking about that, we should be talking about this instead.”

The hivemind of the Internet, many years ago, came up with a name for this. It’s called ‘whataboutery.’ It is a rhetorical technique that seeks to derail and close down a debate which someone does not want to happen and turn it into the discussion they do want to be having. It is probably true to say that whataboutery of this nature is most commonly used (at least online) by antifeminists attempting to derail and close down discussions of women’s oppression and make it all about men, so it is rather ironic to see it flipped in an attempt to block any consideration of male-specific issues.

But you know what? I am more than happy to take up the challenge from the likes of Matheson and McInness. Can we use International Men’s Day to talk about male violence and the damage men cause? Hell, yes. Let’s talk about how we brutalise boys and young men into cultures of violence, let’s talk about how we define masculinity in terms of our capacity to inflict and tolerate beatings, not just against women but primarily against other men and boys. To Mr Matheson and Ms McInness I say this, if your most pressing concern for men these days is men’s own violent behaviour then please do, use the occasion to host a debate, write an article, run a stall, whatever you like. IMD is for you as much as it is for me. As it happens there are many pro-feminist groups such as White Ribbon campaigns which do indeed use IMD for just this type of event. Seek them out, support them. IMD is for everyone.

Likewise if your concerns around gender equality are around the gender pay gap or workplace rights, feel free to host discussions about workplace cultures, about long-hours, the protector-provider constructs of masculinity, the problems men have accessing equal parental leave etc etc, all of which directly account for much of the gender pay gap. IMD is for everyone. Knock yourself out.

On top of that, (unlike the minister perhaps) I genuinely DON’T believe equality is a zero sum game. On the contrary, the lives, happiness and wellbeing of men and women are interconnected, intertwined and interdependent. I believe men gain in all sorts of ways when women are liberated from the constraints of gender inequality and oppression. At the same time when we begin to liberate men from their disproportionately unaddressed mental health problems and social isolation, their dependence upon drinking & drugs, their poisonous workaholism, their educational and economic underperformance, their violent cultures of masculinity etc etc etc, then the winners are not just those men, but the women and girls with whom they share a life, a family, a neighbourhood, a society. I say it again, International Men’s Day is for everyone and has the potential to benefit everyone.

So, personally I am more than happy for people of all political perspectives and persuasions to mark IMD how they want to, or to ignore it if they prefer. What I cannot willingly accept is a disingenuous ploy to close down any discussion of men’s issues under a thin disguise of concern for women.

Though it grieves me somewhat to have to lower myself to this level, I feel this is the point to actively address the pitifully ignorant and offensive ‘joke’ with which the Minister began this discussion. “I thought every day was International Men’s Day?”

Here’s the thing about men. As a gender (relatively speaking and globally) we have a lot of power. We have a lot of platforms. We often have loud voices. But as every mental health professional will tell you, as every doctor will tell you, as more than a few wives and girlfriends will tell you, one thing men tend to be absolutely terrible at is speaking about our own problems, admitting to our own vulnerabilities, confessing our own weaknesses. This is true of men as individuals and it is equally true of men as a gender.

The truth is that International Men’s Day really is just one day of the year. It is just one day when we actively encourage men, women and institutions to think, speak and act about male-specific issues. And as someone very firmly on the left, it genuinely pains me that so many of those with whom I would like to stand, shoulder-to-shoulder seem determined to actively prevent us having that conversation.

But let me end on a very positive note.

There was one other question raised by an MP today.  Philip Hollobone MP asked a slightly odd question, but it garnered the most heartwarming response we could have hoped for.

PH: “In seeking ways to celebrate International Women’s Day, no doubt the minister has looked around the world to see which countries do this best. Which countries around the world celebrate International Men’s Day the best and will she take note from their example?”

CD: “I am aware that there are 60 countries around the world that celebrate International Men’s Day and there are various different ways that they do that, focusing on men’s heath and wellbeing, highlighting discrimination against men and any inequalities they face, improving gender relations and gender equality. This creates a safer world for everybody, Mr Speaker, and is always to be commended.”

Creating a safer world for everybody. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

How the Labour party just kicked domestic violence survivors in the teeth

Only two people know what happened on the night Sarah Champion and her then-husband Graham Hoyland were arrested and cautioned for domestic violence. It is likely that even those two people have very different memories and perceptions of events, and of the eight-year marriage which preceded them.

In the absence of hard facts, this weekend the shadow minister for preventing abuse and domestic violence and her ex-husband used rival tabloids to present their versions of historic events, and to deny the claims of the other. In the Mirror, Champion described the arrest as occurring in the midst of a bitter, acrimonious marriage breakdown, when she ‘felt very vulnerable’ after ‘months of tension spilled over.” [Read more…]

In defence of angry people

British political culture is caught in a whirlwind; a tornado that has sucked up all our assumptions, all our conventions, everything we thought we knew about how politics works. They’re currently being spun around and thrown down and it is going to be quite some time before we see where and how everything has landed.

One of the many swirling gusts in the twister is a sprawling discourse around civility and hostility within political debate. This has been gathering steam for many years of course, most notably in the realms of gender politics; it was a prominent subtext to the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, but it really hit the foreground over the past six weeks or so with the Brexit referendum, the ructions within the Labour party and, most significantly, the horrifying murder of Jo Cox MP.

The Guardian’s ‘long read’ today allows Archie Bland to detail at length the supposed coarsening of political language while anchoring his points, both causally and consequentially, to the death of Jo Cox.

I have a couple of profound objections to Bland’s piece. The first is a crucial political point. From everything we know thus far about Cox’s death and her (alleged) killer, the murder appears to have had little to do with Twitter spats or malicious Facebook exchanges, and everything to do with a well-trodden path of Fascist extremism, with links to some of the planet’s nastiest white supremacists going back decades. Of course it is by no means unlikely that the febrile tone of the Brexit debate and the heightened levels of xenophobia and racism it fostered contributed to his decision to launch a murderous attack that particular day, but to conflate his bluntly overt and ideologically specific motivations with the general hubbub and crudity of everyone from Momentum activists to trashy tabloid headlines merely dissipates responsibility and lets Fascist ideology off the hook.

My other objection to Bland’s piece is more nuanced and difficult to express, but bear with me. At no point in his article does the author acknowledge that people have a right to be angry. In fact, I would go further – people have a duty to be angry.

At this point you can take as read a litany of the human costs of austerity, the misery heaped upon the poorest, the most disadvantaged, the disabled, the marginalised by Tory and coalition governments; the unfathomable scale of slaughter unleashed by decades of aggressive foreign policies, if you know my beliefs and know my politics then you know the script.

But left/right politics aside, I have always been deeply distrustful of people who can do politics without anger. There has always been a strain of the British establishment that has insisted that politics be played according to the rules of the Oxford Union or Eton College debating society with all the right honourable whatnots and jolly old chums at the member’s bar after the division bell. It is a tradition that has been passed down from the patrician Tories and Whigs of yore and has somehow survived the intrusion of universal suffrage and democracy. It strikes me as a badge of extreme luxury and privilege to be able to afford to call for mannered etiquette when arguing about issues that are, quite literally, life and death for many.

Anyone long enough in the tooth to recall politics in the 1980s or earlier will have smiled bitterly at the quote in Bland’s article from Labour advisor Ayesha Hazarika that “I’ve never known it as brutal as it is now.” We could tell you some stories, believe me. Even the Guardian itself sells [until this morning The Guardian sold] a T-shirt carrying Nye Bevan’s quote from 1948 that Tories are “lower than vermin.” Less well known is the speech from which it is drawn, delivered in Belle Vue, Manchester, the night before the official launch of the National Health Service. In his address, Bevan relayed tales of his early life of unemployment, how he had been told he would have to emigrate if he wanted to work, how his father had died in his arms from pneumoconiosis like so many other miners of his era. When criticised by the press for calling his opponents rude names, he retorted that “men of Celtic fire” were necessary to drive great reforms like the NHS. The anger which had driven his choice of words was the exact same anger which had driven his political career and it was that precise same anger which had inspired the creation of the NHS.

Another great hero of mine, Kurt Vonnegut, once wrote a brilliant essay about the nature of obscenity. In it, he mused on Queen Victoria’s infamous distaste for anything earthy or scatological.

“What would Queen Victoria really feel in the presence of what she had declared to be obscenities? That her power to intimidate was being attacked ever so slightly, far, far from its centre, was being attacked where it could not matter much as yet- was being attacked way out on the edge. She created arbitrary rules for that outermost edge to warn her of the approach of anyone so crude, so rash as to bring to her attention the suffering of the Irish or the cruelties of the factory system, or the privileges of the nobility, or the approach of a world war, and on and on? If she would not even acknowledge that human beings sometimes farted, how could she be expected to hear without swooning of these other things?”

I cannot help but suspect that something similar is going on here. If people are now longer allowed to use angry language, are they allowed to express their anger? If they are not allowed to express their anger, are they even allowed to be angry?

As I have written many a time before, I have zero sympathy or common cause with those who would abuse their presumed free speech to bully, harass, dogpile, intimidate and threaten others off shared platforms on the internet or anywhere else, typically using misogyny, racism, homophobia or whatever other weapons they can drag out of their arse(nal). I cannot stress enough that this is NOT what I am talking about or defending here. At the same time, I am not prepared to throw out the vituperative baby of justified anger with the filthiest bathwater of the internet.

The truth is that the internet has not created armies of angry people yelling insults, obscenities and abuse, but what it has done is make those outbursts audible to their targets (and others.) People used to hear politicians or pundits say things on the news and shout “SHUT UP YOU USELESS FUCKING CUNT, WHY DON’T YOU JUST DROP DEAD!” at the TV set. Now they shout the same thing on Twitter to rather different effect.  I see why this is a problem. I don’t see anyone offering a workable solution.

What we surely cannot allow is for the understandable urge to temper these consequences to become a broader call to excise anger from politics, which quickly transmutes into a call to excise angry people from politics. Again, this is not a left/right point, there is an evident disdain from the political establishment towards both UKIP-leaning right wingers and Momentum-leaning left wingers. Both are apparently considered beyond the pale, simply not how we do things in this country, old chap.

We have had 25 years or so in which mainstream political parties gravitated to a shiny-suited, indistinct, focus-group-approved consensus. It became a cliché that one could turn on BBC Question Time and it would be impossible to tell which interchangeable platitudinous suit nominally represented which party. The ultimate consequences of that have been Brexit, the Scottish Labour wipeout and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. [see HetPat passim]

We still don’t know how the 2016 whirlwind will deposit what is left of British political culture, but it seems likely that when it does, righteous anger will once again be part of the mix. I am by no means sure this is a bad thing.

Notes from the deathbed of British democracy

The past two years have seen not one, not two, but three seismic upheavals in British politics. They are separate and distinct, but have a powerful common feature.

The first earthquake was the near-total annihilation of the Labour party in Scotland. The Scottish people might have rejected independence in 2014, but they simultaneously rejected Westminster and the political traditions to which they had offered decades of devotion.

The second earthquake was the election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Labour leadership. Hundreds of thousands of members and affiliates sent a clear message to the party: sacrificing principles to attain electability is precisely what has made you unelectable, and the time has come for a profound change of direction. It’s easy to forget just how overwhelmingly strong that message was. Corbyn didn’t just win, he destroyed his opponents. He won 50% more votes than the other four candidates put together, and won clear majorities among all sections of the party electorate, old members, new members, affiliates, unions and of course the ‘three quidders’ who signed up to vote for him in their droves.

Finally, the third and most devastating earthquake has of course been the EU referendum result which has plunged Britain into an unfathomable clusterfuck, a monstrous medusa of crises.

The common factor shared by all three of these political convulsions is the disintegration of the relationship between the political establishment and large swathes of the population. Everything necessary to keep such a relationship intact– faith, trust, confidence, respect – is degraded or destroyed. The story of contemporary British politics is that when the people are given a choice between the Westminster parties, they will reluctantly choose one of them. But when given the choice of the Westminster parties or something else – anything else – they will choose something else. Anything else.

All of the above has been spectacular, profound, unsettling for the established order. What we are seeing this week is absolutely terrifying. With scarcely a blink, the political establishment is preparing to abandon any pretence of respecting the will of the people.

The chaos in the Labour party is bad. Very bad. As I write it seems inevitable that there will be a vote of no confidence from the PLP, triggering a leadership election. Corbyn will certainly feel mandated, almost certainly obliged to stand again and represent the wishes of those who chose him less than a year ago. It is highly likely he will win again. The only possible scenario after that would be that virtually the entire parliamentary Labour party resigns the party whip, presumably forming a new independent party. We will then have a parliamentary party with no support base or funding (excepting the generosity of a few billionaires who might fancy buying themselves a new political party) and a grassroots Labour party with numbers, anger, energy, union affiliations, but hardly any MPs at least this side of an election. All this will make the political catastrophe of the SDP’s Gang of Four look like an OAPs sewing circle.

The travails of Labour and the left, however are rendered near irrelevant by what is happening to the referendum result. Almost as soon as the results were announced we began to see petitions calling for a second referendum, and blogs by constitutional or legal experts explaining that the result might not be binding, it was only ‘advisory’ we are told. Four days later, we are being told that there might not be a single elected politician, even within the Tory party, willing to sign Article 50 and take Britain out of the EU. We hear there might have to be a devil’s compromise which involves Britain formally leaving the EU’s democratic structures while retaining the EU’s free trade agreement and accompanying free movement of people. Both Labour and Conservative voices are saying that a general election could now be fought and won on a campaign to disregard the referendum result and stay in the EU.

The vote to leave the EU was a calamitous mistake by the British people which is likely to cause economic havoc and disasters for social policy and quality of life in this country. However, the decision has been made. If the Westminster parliament fails to properly implement its outcome then it will be (rightly) seen as the most almighty Fuck You from the political establishment to the electorate ever seen, certainly in this country and quite possibly anywhere in the nominally democratic world. It would be the kind of thing that we expect to see in Pinochet’s Chile or Zimbabwe under Mugabe.  It would be a betrayal of a democratic process exactly akin to a government losing an election but refusing to leave office.

For a few weeks now I have been muttering to friends that Britain stands closer to a collapse into neo-fascism than we have at any time since Mosley marched in the 1930s. Today I think it is worse than that, these are quite treacherously dangerous times. For many years, Labour apparatchiks told themselves they could comfortably ignore the needs and wishes of their traditional working class base because their votes were secure and those people had nowhere else to go. The past couple of years have confirmed how spectacularly wrong they were.

Now the Tory party threatens to make the precise same mistake. Nearly 70 percent of Tory voters ignored the wishes of their leadership and voted to leave the EU. Where do we think they will go next? Sure, a few million of them might have sober regrets and be happy to relent on the EU but many millions more will feel entirely disenfranchised, utterly betrayed and livid with fury. Honestly, where does anyone think they will turn?

All of these current woes are a direct or indirect consequence of the alienation of people from politicians. Much of that can be blamed upon New Labour and the Mandelsonian triangulation that left so many working class people behind, but in truth it goes deeper, to the cultural impacts of neoliberalism and globalised corporate power (there are undoubtedly similar processes happening with the US primaries and the rise of the new left and the old right in Europe). This, however, is on a different order of magnitude altogether. The political establishment is like a cirrhotic alcoholic dying in the gutter while insisting that just one more bottle of whisky and everything will be OK again.

Perhaps the worst bit of all this is that I, as one unaligned British citizen, simply do not know what to do about it but sit and gawp at the sudden fatal car crash of British democracy. There will of course be better days, brighter prospects for our children but for now it feels as if all we can do is watch as our parliamentarians sow, water and harvest the seeds of fascism.

This Boy Can’t – Need, fairness and the funding of education

Cast your minds back a moment, to the ancient days of 2014 and 2015. If you’re living in England you will probably remember the TV adverts, the billboards, the posters on the sides of bus shelters, boldly proclaiming that THIS GIRL CAN.

The campaign was the work of Sport England, a quango funded through the Department of Culture Media and Sport with money from the treasury and the National Lottery. It didn’t come cheap, at £10 million or thereabouts, but by all accounts it was highly successful.

This Girl Can had its critics, of course. Some commentators argued that using the word ‘girl’ was demeaning and suggested that the campaign was overly sexualised and objectified its participants. The complaints, however, were about the delivery, not the intent. The statistics are clear and concerning – far too few women are engaged in sport and fitness activities and everyone agrees that something should be done.

Compare this campaign to the one which ran around the same time, imploring us to READ LIKE A MAN. This campaign, targeted at teenage boys and young adult men, was motivated by concerns about the plummeting literacy attainment among our boys. The campaign championed the benefits of reading for pleasure, showing boys being taken off on wild adventures beyond the stars, discovering new wonders of the world and losing themselves in diverse fiction and non-fiction more vibrant than any videogame. [Read more…]

Why I stand with Bahar Mustafa, with Julie Bindel, with Jane Fae, with Maryam Namazie and even with bloody Milo

Bahar Mustafa, responsible for developing and enforcing safe spaces to avert harassment and discrimination at Goldsmith University, is arrested under a law designed to prevent harassment and discrimination. for comments made during an argument about her advocacy of safe spaces to protect people from harassment and discrimination. This woman of colour had commited the (seemingly) criminal offence of tweeting the phrase #killallwhitemen.

Meanwhile another feminist woman of colour, my FTB colleague Maryam Namazie is invited then banned then unbanned then reinvited to speak at Warwick students union, the fiasco created by disagreement as to whether her feminist, socialist, secular, anti-fundamentalist views might incite religious hatred or Islamophobia and create an unsafe space for Muslim students. [Read more…]