Every week there seems to be someone somewhere in Labour making a problematic comment.
Jared O’Mara has been called out for homophobic and sexist comments from the 00’s. His bigotry isn’t an isolated incident though.
Labour MP Clive Lewis this week had to apologise for saying “get on your knees, bitch” at an event. Earlier this year, Sarah Champion was forced to resign from the Shadow Cabinet for writing an article for The Sun that implied Pakistani men were more likely to sexually assault white British girls. Champion claimed the article was edited but it pandered to right wing, anti migrant and racist views. Corbyn too has had his own gaffe at an LGBT History Month event when he implied being queer was a choice in a pre-planned speech that not one of his team flagged as problematic. Not to mention, during the General Election, Labour were accused of being patronising for their campaign targeting voters of colour.
During the Labour leadership race, Owen Smith seemed to imply he was a normal bloke because he had kids and was married – this was when he was running against the gay MP Angela Eagle. Additionally, while it has been revealed how Diane Abbott overwhelmingly receives more abuse than any other MP, she couldn’t even count on support from her own colleagues when two years ago MP Jess Phillips told Abbott to “fuck off”. In a context where Abbott received daily abuse, even two years ago the comment raised eyebrows. So, does Labour have an equality problem?
Equality is a wide term. It isn’t enough to just be able to understand how classism is impacting British society. There are many different ways in which people are oppressed. If movements don’t acknowledge misogyny, racism, queerphobia and ableism then they’re only working towards helping those most privileged within their own block.
“It isn’t enough to just be able to understand how classism is impacting British society”
Trump’s win was originally hailed as anti-establishment by Corbyn but the real force at work was white supremacy. White people from every class voted for Trump. Without white people, Trump would never have gotten close to the Oval Office. Trump’s victory shows that what is needed is more than class analysis.
Corbyn isn’t remotely in the same world as Trump, but Trump should be a reminder for everyone of the dangers of not tackling every element of equality – because roughly 12% of Bernie voters switched to Trump. Bernie was as left wing as America gets but it still wasn’t enough. Racism and misogyny festered in the left wing movement and so a significant amount felt able to switch to Trump. Labour need to sort out any questions – including over anti-Semitism- and proudly champion all working class people, not just white straight cis people.
It’s not shocking that a left wing movement would fall down in some way. All parties, and all movements, are flawed. Labour are good on class and tend to be mediocre on almost everything else. That’s been the story since the party was established. Left wing spaces often aren’t safe spaces for marginalised people. That doesn’t give the right anything to be smug over; their spaces are never safe. Labour do try, but they have to try harder.
Labour’s real problem though is a lack of commitment. Corbyn is trying; he’s put trans rights back on the table after all, but the policies don’t go far enough (even in comparison to other parties such as the Greens). The gaffes are one thing, but when there’s a melancholy attitude around areas of inequality other than classism then it raises doubts about how truly radical Corbyn’s movement is. This isn’t just Corbyn’s fault; the rot in Labour has been present throughout the decades, but he’s in charge now and he must deal with it.
Strong leadership from Corbyn will show what his movement is really worth. Is Labour’s rebranding just about beating the Tories, or is it about something more? Is it truly about offering hope? That’s the big question Corbyn is now facing.