This article is not about your comfort. This article will not make an attempt to make anybody feel good. This article is about how serious social issues have become weaponised by certain Labour MPs. This article will contain my opinion on how events unfolded, which you are not obliged to agree with. This article will however also have another analysis. This article will demonstrate why regardless of whether the claims made are true, they hurt the issues they pertain to.
If at this stage you are uneasy I would remind you that I am a Labour Party member, just like you. I have thoughts and feelings that become intertwined with politics, but on 21 August a line was crossed. I ask you as a fellow party member to listen to my account, consider it – and then reconsider it. You may completely disagree with the media narrative I propose, but the impact they have is irrefutable.
All of these issues are genuine problems for the affected groups. Whether you are Jeremy Corbyn or Owen Smith supporters – in this there should be solidarity.
First they came for the Jews…
The first barrage arrived in the form of anti-Semitism. The party had already been forced to deal with accusations against the leadership. So Shami Chakrabarti produced a report on Racism and Anti-Semitism in the party. The report was not appreciated by all, but it was not a white wash. I have written about this before, but the report is not vindication for anyone.
The fact that so many behavioural guidelines were issued should indicate that there are problems in the party. The report rather says that it is not “overrun” by these issues, but it is not vindication. Any original calls of a whitewash were actually cries that it did not turn into a witch hunt. Nevertheless, Ken Livingstone left the party. The purge apparently did not go far enough.
The next phase in this cynical PR war was to question the integrity of the report. In my last piece I alluded to the attacks of Wes Streeting and John Mann. These are the sort of attack I refer to. These accusations were made in light of Chakrabarti’s peerage, they unduly smear the party and her work. It is not lost on me she is a woman of colour.
They undermine what was a lengthy investigation and report, but the impact is stranger yet. The report was not harsh, but it had explicit behavioural codes. One included not using Nazi or holocaust analogies. It is then strange for Michael Foster to use such specific terms to attack Corbyn and his supporters. Despite the report being a whitewash, people find themselves unable to follow the recommendations made.
I have had subsequent conversations with members of very different political leanings. Progress members to be precise, and they have told me there are real issues.
I do not want people of Jewish descent to feel we won’t hear their concerns. I do not want us to let down our Jewish comrades, I want to show them solidarity.
The Second Front: Sexism
This would not be the only minority issue that would be weaponised by Corbyn’s detractors. Jess Phillips, along with other MPs, decided to raise the issue of sexism. I like to consider myself a feminist, and so I personally reached out to Phillips to discuss her concerns.
The result was an article in which I highlighted the need for solidarity. But after spending the morning writing it, I read her comments in The Guardian. Far from what she had told me, that sexism existed everywhere and Corbyn was not committed to fighting it; she stated the opposite. After having agreed with me that Smith was not the solution to these problems, she had gone and told the mainstream media that Corbyn was responsible.
In response I wrote another article. It detailed my exchange with Phillips, the valid points she had made, but also explained why she could not champion this cause. I had reached across the chasm that divides us to show solidarity.
I do not want an issue that exists to be overlooked because of the leadership race. I do not want Corbyn supporters to become arrogant as to their duties to minorities. I do not want women to feel that Corbyn supporters are not their allies.
I hope you understand by this stage that I have always attempted to speak out against this. I have not spoken out against MPs, but their behaviour. I have not spoken out on issues that affect me personally, but I know the impact of their presentation on the cause.
I have done my best to show solidarity with any person in Labour, to listen to claims of discrimination and highlight them. To make sure that amid a frenzy of denials, Corbyn supporters do not find themselves guilty. Guilty of ignoring their comrades when they genuinely need help.
Owen’s Weak Spot
Now for my cynicism to be justified, there must be some point to all of this. While the attack on Chakrabarti was of a different nature, Smith has two big weak spots. The first is gender issues. He has made insulting comments to Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru, as well as the infamous “threat” to Theresa May. Whilst neither are damning, they do not demonstrate the attitude required to fix the discrimination and threats female Labour members face.
I attended Corbyn’s BAME rally in London. It was not his most attended event, but it was inspirational. I heard people tell their stories, and they weren’t stories about Corbyn. They were the stories of individuals and groups that he had helped. They were not told through the lens of Corbyn being their saviour, they were told as the experiences that are still all too common for BAME individuals in Britain. They then explained how Corbyn had helped them and their communities.
Upon returning home I was inspired. My favourite speaker of the evening was not even Corbyn, it was Claudia Webbe. If there is anybody who hasn’t heard her speak I highly encourage it, she is exactly the sort of person the Labour party need. She is articulate, intelligent and knows the issues she is talking about.
I then realised that it was unfair of me not to give Smith a chance. Any of my Twitter followers will know that I went on a campaign to try and get some comment from his camp. I asked if he was having a BAME event, I asked for a comment on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) UK movement, but I received no answer.
It is also worth noting that Smith supports Prevent, a regressive policy that has the opposite effect than intended. He also wants to sit down and negotiate with Daesh. You will have to forgive the cynic in me for viewing this as a PR move. If you disagree I’d ask you for two things. Name three individuals from Daesh that would need to be at the table, and then tell me what you expect the rough terms of your deal to be?
London’s “Muslim” Mayor?
When Sadiq Khan came out in favour of Smith I commented to a friend that it was a cheap trick, specifically a play for the BAME vote. It seemed weak, so I dismissed it. I waited for the emerging narrative and it did not take long for me to feel vindicated. Vindicated, but saddened.
Please do not be under the illusion I am claiming Khan is not a Muslim. As far as I am aware that is how he identifies, so he is a Muslim. He is not however a Muslim mayor. He is the Mayor of London. When Khan was booed at Corbyn’s rally, the white liberal media were aghast. Both Owen Jones and George Eaton were shocked that the “Muslim” Mayor of London was receiving abuse. The issue here is not whether Khan deserved to be booed, the issue is how it was framed.
The connection to Khan’s race had been made explicit. Not because it was relevant. But because of the culture amongst Guardian reading types that celebrates the achievements of minorities.
I am not saying this is bad. I think representation is a good thing, but it doesn’t end in equality. Barack Obama is one of the better US presidents of recent years and his race is important. But has Obama done much to advance race relations in the US? No, he arguably has set them back.
By allowing these seemingly feel good narratives to flourish, minorities do themselves a disservice. These people have as much impact for their communities as they choose to make. Speaking as a constituent of Umunna’s, I can tell you that he has never offered me any solidarity in this regard. I have not heard him speak on BAME issues, but he is considered to ‘represent’ my interests. He does not represent my interests, nor that of “his” constituency. He represents himself, his race is not his defining characteristic.
The point is actually that it does not need to be, and this is what happened with Khan. He was not being booed as a representative of the Muslim community. He was being booed for his politics. But once he was announced as the ‘Muslim Mayor’ by commentators, I knew that Corbyn supporters would be smeared as racist.
I also know that there is racism throughout Britain, and Corbyn’s supporters and team are no exception. I do not want my Muslim comrades to feel they cannot bring issues forward because it is bad PR. I do not want any Muslim to feel I will not listen to and believe their complaint. I do not want Corbyn supporters to become resistant to the legitimate pain of the oppressed.
The Final Offence
No, not the final offensive, not their last attack, but the last I could bare. I read Chi Onwurah’s account and despaired. Not only had she very heavily implied racism emanating from the leader’s office, she said that in any other industry he would have faced legal action. She bolstered her argument with the idea that something was “statistically interesting” whilst making no explicit allegation.
Onwurah overstepped numerous marks, beyond those made intentionally or as a byproduct of the media. She not only damaged the credibility of the issue, she damaged how we fight it. Statistics are one of few tools available to demonstrate BAME discrimination, and by cheaply using “statistically interesting” she discredits valid arguments.
Here is another take for Onwurah. Under Corbyn a role traditionally filled by a white man has been divided between two BAME women. That is doubling representation, compared to if he had appointed one of the two, or increasing it infinitely compared to having given it to a white man. He is being attacked for creating too many jobs for BAME women, under the subtext that he is inefficient and racist. Statistics are tools, not proof.
The idea he is inefficient I can accept. Lefties usually are. But cheaply using BAME women’s issues and statistics to attack the party leader is a new depth. I want to make it clear I am not accusing Smith or his campaign of being behind this, but it is happening.
Within 24 hours we had moved from Khan backing Smith, to the narrative that Corbyn discriminates racially. If anyone feels that within 24 hours two BAME MPs coming out backing Smith is a coincidence, I am happy to disagree. I cannot prove my assertion further.
The narrative explained thus far is only one interpretation of events, I do no need you to subscribe to it. The next section however is one that is relevant to everyone. Minority or not, Smith or Corbyn, eligible voter or otherwise.
The Real Hurt of Political Weapons
The real damage these attacks cause is not to Corbyn. It is not to Smith or the MPs who have backed him because people may see through them. It is not even to the party. It is to the groups who face genuine issues in these areas. I was on Twitter last night and was incensed by how people had behaved. I got into conversations with a few people regarding the perceived smears, and they showed exactly what I had feared. The appetite for hearing from oppressed groups is rapidly diminishingI had felt slightly alienated from Corbyn’s support base after writing a piece in which did not castigate Tom Watson. During the BLMUK protests, I reached out to several MPs, including my own, to try and get a comment. Not a full endorsement of aims, nor tactics, but an acknowledgement of the issues they were protesting. Nobody, including the Labour Press Office account would comment.
Incidentally it was Richard Burgon who offered the most robust support of BAME issues. He will forever have my respect for that. BAME members do not make up an electorally significant demographic. Our issues usually require an acknowledgement of prejudice, and modern Britain does not like that. Modern Britain has decided it is not sexist, it is not racist, it is not homophobic and it is not for turning.
As such in a party which clearly represents solidarity and none of those reprehensible traits, it becomes hard to gain an audience. Any attempt to call out what is a genuine issue is always an uphill battle. I believe this to be true of society, but all of the above weaponised smears do more. They hurt the ability for Corbyn, his supporters and the electorate to take these issues seriously.
I have not analysed Onwurah’s account in detail here because I feel it would be pointless. But also because as with Phillips, she may have a point. I do not know; it is not for me to determine her oppression. But the timing of this statement has hindered the issue for those who back Corbyn, not the man himself.
In a party obsessed by electability we must all know our places. I now know that mine cannot be one that vocally calls out BAME abuse within the Corbyn camp. I do not believe the man himself is racist, nor did any speaker at his BAME rally. The pictures of him being removed from outside South Africa house and his past actions for minorities speak louder than any smear. But I do understand politics.
I do understand what they mean when they discuss electability, and as a minority in the Labour Party, I have learnt my place. I know that this will be the last time I can write about BAME issues, because even when Corbyn wins, the stench will linger. The issues are tainted.
Labour: Shunning of Minorities
I have called out the difficulty that both women and members of ethnic minorities now face when backing Corbyn. But I wish to allude to two more groups that are not given anywhere near enough time. Namely the disabled and the working class. Whilst anti-Semitism and sexism have partially stuck, the BAME smear is unlikely to. At least we got a paragraph or two in the Chakrabarti report. It discussed how members were not made to feel welcome at meetings, or not good enough to do more than leaflet. But given we have ignored the entirety of that report to call it a whitewash, I grudgingly understand the lack of attention.
The other two groups which I allude to do not get such respect, and I have not found time to dedicate much to either in this article. But comrades I know your struggle, I know some of your struggles are worse than any I will face. I know that you struggle to even be acknowledged, I know that being working class is not considered disadvantageous enough to warrant special meetings. I know disabled issues are dismissed far too easily as issues of competence and practicality. I don’t know the experience, but I know the effect. I will always stand in solidarity with you. I’m sorry I cannot do more.
Labour has taken the vote of the oppressed and minorities for granted. We have nowhere else to go, we know the Tories do not represent us and we know Labour should. I say should, because they rarely do. We are useful for representation, statistics and to weaponise an attack, but lower down the ladder that is not the case.
I would sincerely hope it is not lost on Onwurah that while her treatment may indeed have been unacceptable, she is shouting her complaints down to those of us at the bottom of the ladder. She is shouting about employment discrimination within the Shadow Cabinet when some of us do not feel comfortable going to our local branch meetings – a finding that Chakrabarti made.
It should also be noted that the African branch of Momentum is actually called “African’s for Jeremy Corbyn’s Values”. It is not that Corbyn is our saviour, it is that he is the first man to actually offer us hope. Far more than Umunna or Onwurah have, let alone Labour as a party.
Action Must Be Taken
Whether you agree or disagree with my positions, we must agree on one thing. Action must be taken. We must remember that we are all Labour members and unite around one central point. That we stand in solidarity with one another. That we stand up for the oppressed and that we do not walk by on the other side of the road.
In this spirit I will be writing to Corbyn, Smith and the Party itself. I am deeply disturbed by all of the allegations that have been made. I believe every Labour member should be regardless of their candidate of choice. I believe every Labour member should be committed to stamping out discrimination wherever it occurs. I also believe we should hold our MPs to account for their actions.
Onwurah made some very serious, thinly veiled allegations. Few people will believe them, but that is not the point. She crossed an invisible line which claimed Corbyn had discriminated on grounds of disability and race as well as questioning his ability to fight prejudice. She claims that in any other job Corbyn would be before a tribunal, I would suggest he should be now. Not because I believe he should, but because she made these claims.
The party, if sources are to be believed, is absolutely riddled with anti-Semitism. Not only that but sexism. And racism. These are not Labour values. Any member who has demonstrated these attributes should be disciplined. If Corbyn genuinely has done these things I want him expelled.
But as you may have guessed, I do not believe these things. I believe in Jeremy Corbyn, but I am tired of making life easy for those that would weaponise legitimate issues. I shall therefore be calling on Labour to investigate either Jeremy Corbyn or Chi Onwurah. I do not wish to be in a party riddled with prejudice, but I have no greater wish to share it with those who would turn legitimate issues into spiteful weapons. Weapons that do not damage Corbyn, but do damage his minority supporters.
This was encapsulated in a Twitter conversation about Onwurah, with Corbyn supporters. At some point they began asking “Where is her evidence?”, and it was then I despaired. I despaired because even if the smear failed, the attack had done what I had envisaged. It had insidiously raised the burden of proof. No longer would me claiming racial abuse or discrimination suffice. In our party I must now produce compelling evidence.
I am not actively involved with BLMUK, nor other minority interest groups. I am not, because my political interests are wide ranging and I have always considered the Labour Party the vehicle of socialism and change for Britain. But these weapons are pushing me away. They are pushing me away from my comrades. They are pushing me away from my beliefs. They are pushing me away from my Party, and even if that is acceptable – they are hurting my brothers and sisters that face these issues daily.