It has been a very wearing experience being a woman doing battle for the Corbyn movement in Labour, and then a woman doing battle with the remainder of the left in Labour after Corbyn.
(Yes I had to stop and read that sentence back, too.)
This is an article about solidarity
In the Corbyn years I was a CLP officer, a trade union officer and, for a year or so, a member of the LRC National Committee. I stopped being a CLP officer once I was well known as a part of the women’s campaign because dealing with slanders and sabotages from two directions at once whilst doing almost full-time political work whilst also trying to earn a living is a bit muddy blotch.
In both the Corbyn campaign and the women’s sex-based rights campaign, we had to deal with a lot of very, very angry people who had allowed the media to convince them we were the spawn of the devil. A lot of the bile was inspired by the Guardian team of writers, often based on ramped up claims of bad behaviour, entryism or anti-Semitism which we now know were largely generated by the current leader’s half of the Labour Party.
In the Women’s Campaign, the bile was generated by those who’ve been busy seeding slanders against women who think their legal, sex-based rights matter, or that their children are being led by the nose into gender-ideology. The narrative is that those women are old, old-fashioned, benighted, section-28 supporting bigots, or even Nazis, and definitely transphobes.
I could tell you which groups in Labour, or which MPs, were most devious and damaging at using those lies, but I won’t. I’ll just give you this quote from Suzanne Moore, formerly a writer for the Guardian (she was hounded out of that work by an open letter full of nonsense, which gathered the signatures of a lot of people who knew nothing about either her situation or the accusations). She said:
“This undiluted misogyny in the name of trans rights is mostly not perpetrated by trans people at all but by their so-called allies, often very alienated men.”
It’s true, that. The quote is from her write-up of a slap-up lunch enjoyed by the apparently more glamorous and better-known members of the women’s campaign.
It was splashed over a newspaper we on the left are (to put it mildly) not keen on, and the left won’t believe her, because of all the slanders we had from the Guardian team, back then. I sigh, and carry on. It is not only the right-wing papers that give space to the women, it is just that the right-wing papers get *so* much more attention. Evidence?
Here are two articles I wrote for the Morning Star about our campaign. If you’re a real lefty, or if you’ve been on the women’s campaign for more than a year or so, you’ll have seen them before. If not, you probably haven’t…
And here’s one by the Morning Star, at that notorious (for the disgusting behaviour of a bunch of supposedly-socialists outside) meeting I spoke at in Brighton…
“Even for the women you don’t like”
The women’s campaign is more than cross party. It is vibrant with all sorts of women – but different sorts of women get different sorts of (and amounts of) attention. And I just bet by now, some readers of this text will be thinking I’m working up to a jealous whine. Not so. I love those women, every single one of them in that currently famous lunch-party photo – and I have met every single one of them in the course of the last few years (Suzanne doesn’t know I met her because I was too scared to say I was me).
It has been a joy and a wonder to find myself working with such a variety of women, from those like Julie Bindel who has a life-long awareness of the work women need to do together, to those like me who only discovered feminism, and all the things it teaches, *after* falling headfirst into this campaign. Thing is, sex matters. Anyone who’s female is liable to tumble into the campaign, and whoever they are, they will be able to see the vast amount of life experiences we have in common, because we are female, and because we are female in a sexist society. We are bonded – despite the difficulties and the occasional spats – bonded above all by the common experience of the shock and grief of suddenly being treated like pariahs — or at best, like unexploded bombs — by colleagues, comrades and in some cases, even friends and family.
Sometimes, the differences make life *really* difficult. Here’s another quote from that Suzanne Moore piece:
“I got so much grief over this – especially because I did not support Corbyn.”
It reminded me of others outside politics who I’ve encountered from time to time, who shrug their shoulders and say ‘yeah, but I didn’t like Corbyn.’ They have *no idea* what a deeply painful mis-hit that is, for those of us who threw our lives aside for those precious years when we thought we might actually succeed in getting an anti-war, anti-corruption Labour leader, one who’d nailed his colours to the mast, and was not going to forget about the climate crisis or the horrendous injustices of poverty and racism the minute he got elected. They rarely see that liking Corbyn or not was not the point, but that he *was* gathering the people, that he *did* have vast amounts of support from people who actually knew we need a better government. That rare solidarity was the precious thing we were fighting for, not Mr Corbyn.
…but I have come to know those women and I understand why they felt the way they did. That’s all it takes.
The grief of that is not about not *agreeing* – disagreeing is not a barrier to solidarity. That is one of the most valuable things this women’s campaign has taught us. The grief is in the fact that the likes of Suzanne Moore and Rosie Duffield don’t seem to get that they didn’t just not support the Corbyn campaign. By being who they were, and where they were, and letting the lies and slander pass in silence, they were a part of what destroyed it. The parallels are … ironic
They have no idea what we went through in the run up to the 2017 election, as we worked and sweated for that victory, even as we found out, hour by hour, the depth of the treachery going on in the party, and knew that sooner or later, we’d have to tell the membership, and the rest of the world, what they did, and what we had lost as a result.
And for their part, those women from other political sections who are on the campaign, I’m sure there are painful things I have no idea of. But we swallow them, and carry on. That is solidarity. People do it, when they understand the need.
I successfully ran a workshop for women in politics at a feminist conference that had women from five different parties in it. We all got along because we were talking about women’s issues.
Another time, I heard this conversation, when the subject matter slipped from women’s issues:
A very well known and much respected woman of the left: “I would not trust (centrist Labour MP) as far as I could throw her.”
A very well-known and much respected academic woman: “You CAN’T talk like that about a woman who’s been so horrendously abused!”
It went from bad to worse, because the latter women was vibrating with indignation.
But they recovered. The meeting went on, and went back to women’s issues, and we all got along.
I remember feeling a bit courageous when I went to a Woman’s Place meeting with my ‘I’m voting Labour again soon’ badge on, had absolutely no adverse reaction from the women, then got barked at by some bloke outside a pub on the way home for ‘supporting anti-Semites’. It’s scary, being a woman out late at night, heading for the train station and getting barked at by some angry, drunk bloke.
The wimms understand that, whatever their political stripe.
Strangers and enemies merely make it scary. It’s colleagues who can’t or won’t see who make it painful. I remember sitting in a meeting of the LRC, quietly grieving, and thinking I can’t hold this together much longer, when they were all talking so well, planning so effectively, to go and tackle terrible problems of sex, race and class… whilst working against women who knew that women – especially black women, especially working class women – were going to be in a worse hell yet if the left got their way with ‘self-ID’ and ‘gender identity’.
It’s going to be painful again very soon, when the May elections come round and I have to decide whether to vote for the one who’ll help to keep the slender leftish Labour majority on the council or the one who’s been courageously telling everyone what a woman is for several years now.
If Corbyn had won
Yes, we’d have a government of beardy blokes who are pretty daft about women – but they would not have been corrupt, racist, and oblivious to the climate crisis. Yes, we’d still need to do the whole feminist movement thing to get them to see what women need, and what women can offer, given the chance but oh, it would have been so much better if we weren’t trying to do it under this slimy, slippery, corrupt, shameless government that neither knows nor cares what a woman is and, like the current Labour leadership (I can guarantee you this) cares far, far more about money than it does about either women or trans people.
There’s none so blind…
I wait, hopefully, for the world to realise that very, very few socialists are anti-Semitic, they just don’t like what’s happening to Palestinians, and sometimes get angry about it; and very, very few feminists are transphobic, they just don’t like what’s happening to women and girls, and sometimes get angry about it. I wish and hope and pray endlessly that more people would realise just how deadly those two divisive ideas have been, and how deeply, daily, painful they are for those who stand accused.
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