Tuesday, 20 September 2016

No one left behind

Like many Jeremy Corbyn supporters I watched Dispatches last night totally convinced when I began that there was nothing that would change my view of the man who I felt huge gratitude to in raising the issues faced by millions of disabled people in Britain today.

I heard the allegations of Trotsky infiltrations with amusement rather than concern, heard the mantra that Corbyn provided no credible leadership, with cynicism and assumed that the notion of de-selection was a vicious lie prompted by the threat many Blairites felt at the tidal wave of support Corbyn is receiving.

From the beginning the glib Lobotomy joke from a worker at Momentum gave me a worrying shock. There is a mantra of a kinder politics, of equality, of a place for everyone and the assurance that no one is left behind. Yet a glib throwaway joke no doubt delivered to show some kind of machismo, felt like a jarring insult to those of us who believed all of that stuff from the beginning.

As the programme unravelled so did my confidence in my preferred candidate who I’d voted for an hour beforehand. Issues like a potentially breached legality around payment of employees, were worrying. But the two facts were irrefutably established, self-avowed Trots are highly visible within Momentum and de-selection of sitting MP’s with whom they take issue, as an intention is very real.

Immediately Twitter exploded with Corbyn faithful tweets of “Hatchet job” “Stitch up” and suggestions that this was a private production company with an agenda to destroy Corbyn.  I wearily pointed out that all production companies are private companies. They are used by all broadcasters and that despite any efforts in the editing suite, Momentum workers weren’t being forced to say and do these things.

After the programme finished we felt letdown and thoroughly depressed. I’ve been a vocal supporter of Corbyn from the beginning and as the leadership contest has rolled I’ve refused to argue with people I’m very fond of on Twitter who felt differently about the leader of the Labour Party.

I’ve been a party member for 6 years. It’s not been a passive membership for me. I campaigned locally in the 2010 election because I knew the issues that I campaign on outside of politics were going to become inextricably enmeshed with Cameron in charge. I joined to fight for Labour and to fight for my children.

With the coalition came the deconstruction of the welfare on which working and non-working disabled people and carers rely. After the election I was asked to become my CLP secretary. I gave up the little free time I had as a fulltime carer because of my responsibilities. I was glad to do it. I attended conference and spent a lot of time with Johanna Baxter, a devoted advocate for member’s rights and I saw her elected to the NEC. There was no better woman for the job.

My admiration for the leadership waned after there seemed to be no firm intention to fight welfare reform. For me it was a direct denial of the basic principle of the party I loved. So I left the party. After a few months Ed Milliband seemed to recognise the issue needed closer attention and this gave me confidence in my party again, so I rejoined.

When Jeremy Corbyn joined the race for the leadership his direct commentary on the shameful assault on disability benefits had a profound effect on me. He seemed a man of decency and character and had been one of only 22 MP’s to vote against welfare reform from the beginning. I felt huge gratitude and hope and felt sure that in comparison to the old management speak approaches as vocalised by candidates like Liz Kendall, his integrity was, to me, genuine and unvarnished.

When Corbyn was elected leader I felt genuine hope for the first time in a long time.  My battles for my 19 year old learning disabled daughter have given me a deep understanding of the need for equality and fairness in Tory Britain. 

Diane Abbot herself a target for racist abuse online, has always been a supporter of my fight for my daughter and for the issues of disability rights more widely.

My work for the Labour party as CLP secretary has given me a greater understanding of the values of members and the hopes the leadership carries in representing them.  My time on social media has shown me the bias of certain aspects of the media and the real nature of Trolls and cyber bullying.

For 8 years on social media I’ve campaigned on the unpopular issue of disability rights and hate crime. Unpopular, because people don’t really want to change.  If they want to use pejorative words referencing learning disability as a joke or a silencing insult, they tend not to be too keen on my asking them not to.  Unless they’re decent and kind and then they apologise and stop doing it.

Reading articles on the issue of disability hate crime makes some feel uncomfortable. The knowledge that millions remain disenfranchised actually and politically, whilst a centrist Labour party viewed defence of disability benefits, only through the paradigm of political kryptonite, was infuriating.  It was only after Corbyn that this issue was properly addressed. He gave voice to the silenced and it must be said to many Labour Mp’s who were whipped to abstain or voting their conscience and risking career suicide.

The two documentaries last night, didn’t highlight, even with covert cameras that Corbyn is anything other than he seems. No discriminatory unguarded comment, no inappropriate behaviour. However, a man is also judged by the company he keeps and the reputational damage must be addressed by affiliations of extended groups and supporters. If Momentum allow self identifying Trots to speak at events, then the criticism that this is happening is valid. Tom Watson isn’t a liar or a plotter by saying what is true. I feel deceived into believing that this was never true.

Another assurance of a myth that was demonstrably true in both documentaries last night, is the issue of de-selection. This is undemocratic. You can’t claim a broad church and start closing the doors on parishioners who don’t agree with you. Irrespective of what others have done to the hard left within the party, Corbyn’s ticket promises change, difference, equality and fairness. Most of all it promises kindness.

If you’ve been online in recent years, you’ll understand what it is to be a woman on social media with any kind of platform. You’ll know that death and rape threats are common and can be delivered by anyone with a keyboard to any woman with a profile.  Irrespective of how often this issue is highlighted men will still claim that Jeremy Corbyn has received his fair share of abuse. He has many men do. Bullies will target any kind of difference and perceived “weakness” However until all men in positions of power understand the fundamental difference of being a woman online they will never truly be part of the solution.

General remonstrations are not enough. General calls for greater tolerance and calm are not enough. This targeted abuse is highly specific and whether the tinfoil hat of conspiracy theories is obscuring the view, the fact is Jess Phillip and JK Rowling deserve to be able to voice an opinion free from threats of violence. 

Last night when I commented that I liked Peter Kyle, an MP I was unfamiliar with, a Corbyn supporter sent me photographs of dead Syrian Children.

He didn’t know that I was a Corbyn supporter. He’d clearly decided as a Corbyn supporter himself, that I deserved a lesson. He used dead children as propaganda to school me that my opinion needed attention.

Irrespective of whether Corbyn is aware of these people personally is not the issue. They are acting in his name. He has to address the fact that the tidal wave he’s riding on is made up not of a minority of abusive tweeters but a significant number who believe they have the right to attack anyone they choose in defence of Corbyn. In that respect they remind me of my experiences with Trump supporters online, who deem all criticism of their candidate invalid and any methods they deploy as proportionate.

This is where we are now. The mob rule of law, the decision that unless every syllable written is in slavering support of Corbyn and frothing assault on his critics then retribution will be fast and furious.

John Mcdonnell is quoted as saying “We don’t do leaders” that may or may not be true but now they have attained leadership, that is the job at hand. With rights come responsibilities. Corbyn has the right to assemble an army of supporters, he has a right to speak and to be silent but he has the responsibility of those values he voiced which gained him huge support, to support those now being attacked.

Corbyn needs to stand up to the bullying Tories and the bullies within his own ranks. Cyber bullying is a real issue. Verbal abuse and threats and harassment of women and men online and in life is being enabled by his silence.

People reading my tweets last night predictably decided I was now anti-Corbyn. I’m not,  I’m anti bullying.  This binary notion that “If you don’t love him, you hate him” is best left out of the equation. Sometimes supporters need to voice concern, it’s an act of friendship not an assault.

In response to C4’s Dispatches last night the Momentum twitter feed was cracking jokes and boasting about people joining. Bravado is one thing but it underlined to me that there is a lack of understanding about the seriousness of the damage that the programme did. Not to those so entrenched in fanaticism that they say all is well but to members like me who last night saw the Emporer’s nakedness not Momentum’s invisible clothes.

Corbyn’s strength lies in his own attributes, in his values and in his integrity, he must be careful that the group who support him must not be allowed to consume him.

Many people are relying on him, not to leave them behind.