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To tackle abuse, we first have to accept that the Left receives it too

Corbyn and ProgressIf you follow Labour politics, you’ll have read many appeals in recent months for a crackdown on abusive and bullying behaviour by Corbynite activists towards their moderate peers. Jeremy Corbyn stands accused of opening the doors of the Labour Party to teeming thousands of misogynistic “brocialists”, racist anti-Israel zealots and bullying “Trots”, who are terrorising MPs and members into a state of silence. Corbyn, this argument goes, has done too little to root out this behaviour, and probably secretly approves of the manner in which it chills and suppresses his parliamentary critics.

Many on the Left find these accusations galling, and it’s easy to see why. The press is generally quick to raise the alarm over allegations of abuse, and nowhere to be seen when those accusations turn out to be somewhat questionable – or even, in some cases, to be fabrications. It is deeply regrettable, too, that some observers have blurred the lines between criminal malice and genuine democratic agitation, as when the Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore reflected on Twitter that “[the] level of abuse to anti -Corbyn people [concerning] Rape/ death/deselection [is] out of control”. But these genuine inequities in how the issue is reported and analysed do not mean that a problem does not exist. The party has more than doubled in size, and the number of people who feel deeply, personally invested in Labour’s internecine struggles has grown immeasurably; it was always inevitable, in these circumstances, that there would be a big increase in abusive and threatening discourse, as part of an enormous growth in discourse generally. The arrival on the scene of opportunistic trolls from every Internet hellhole has made matters worse.

But if we’re serious about tackling abuse, we have to acknowledge something else: verbal or even physical bullying is not a one-way street within Labour, and Corbynites have been falling victim to it as well as moderates. Indeed, perhaps the worst disservice done to the Labour Party by the media has not been to exaggerate the roster of accusations against Corbynites, but rather to almost totally obscure the other half of the tally.

At the extreme end, there have been reports of violence and physical intimidation against leading Momentum activists. Corbyn himself has received multiple death threats. BAME Corbynites, most notably the Jewish socialist activist Rhea Wolfson, have also been the object of horrific racial invective online – and no, there’s no particular reason to think that the people behind this were anti-Corbyn Labour activists; but then, similar benefit of the doubt is never extended to Corbynites when their opponents are subjected to similar disgusting attacks.

Meanwhile, at ground level, rank-and-file members encounter abuse and hostility in the sprawling ecosystem of anti-Corbyn Twitter accounts and Facebook pages have been established in recent months, many of which play on every grotesque stereotype about Muslims, black people, immigrants, welfare “scroungers” and other social groups seen as part of the good-for-nothing, down-and-out pro-Corbyn demographic. One of them, a dating website parody called Momentum Matches – which has been retweeted by numerous Labour councillors and members – sets the tone with a picture of a Muslim woman, captioned: “Ayesha is looking for love with Momentum Matches. Likes: Allah, pies (all of them) Dislikes: Pigs, immodest attire”. Another photo, this time of a white woman, is labelled: “Giulietta is looking for love and a UK passport with Momentum Matches. Likes: working cash in hand, not being deported”. In other cases, whole accounts are explicitly based on racist themes, and yet they never seem to catch the attention of the Labour Right, let alone earn its condemnation.

At the centre of this lurid, bottom-feeding discourse-within-a-discourse is, of course, a fanatical and often violent hatred of Jeremy Corbyn himself. Not unrepresentative is one former parliamentary special adviser on Twitter – followed by Progress, Saving Labour and assorted Labour MPs including Tom Watson and Dan Jarvis – who calls her opponents “Corbynista scum”, the Shadow Chancellor a “Fucking piece of shit” and suggests that Jeremy Corbyn is a paedophile. And it is in this area – the matter of Corbyn’s personal character – that anti-Corbyn party leaders have been so strikingly irresponsible and negligent in their own rhetoric.

There has been a small spasm of outrage on the party’s Left (the Right has made no comment whatsoever) over a recent Mail on Sunday article, written by the Labour donor and former parliamentary candidate Michael Foster, which directly compares Jeremy Corbyn to Adolf Hitler. But the truth is that this despicable analogy has been completely mainstream among anti-Corbyn MPs, journalists and aides since before Corbyn’s leadership. The journalist Nick Cohen repeated it, in the liberal and respectable Guardian, only the other day. The Left is admonished for failing to “keep it comradely”, but anti-Corbyn Labour MPs were comparing the elected Left-of-centre leadership to a genocidal Nazi occupation as early as August of last year. Such talk is not only stunningly offensive, but dangerous and irresponsible.

In spite of all of the above – and of the radio silence on the issue from Owen Smith and his parliamentary backers – I have no interest in trying to pin responsibility on Smith for the disgusting comments made by some of his supporters. I won’t go poring through his political biography for the smallest footnote that I could somehow connect with the numerous people tweeting hate above an “Owen Smith” twibbon. What should concern every Labour Party member, whoever they plan to vote for, is the construction and mediation of a safe, respectful space for our debates and disagreements. That won’t happen as long as one side keeps pretending that abuse and bullying is a one-way street.

39 Comments

  1. peter willsman says:

    Over on LabList Fixer-Luke is pouring cold water on JC’s huge nomination lead and tries to suggest that in reality it is almost neck and neck.He does a convoluted analysis of those CLPs that didn’t nom.and tries to suggest many would have nominated Owen Who?In fact, in many CLPs with Right Wing Officers and/or anti JC MPs there were moves to stop Nom.Meetings in order to stop a decision for JC.The MPs did not want egg on their faces.

  2. John P Reid says:

    It was a shame when Ann black voted for the rules,in the cut off date ,by the NEC she had threats from m her own side, what did they expect,her to do, break the party rules.
    I’m sure john mcdonnell, goes with the Margaret thatcher quote, I like personal insults as it means they’ve nothing to say about the policy.
    Islam isn’t a race so the Muslim lady on momentum matches isn’t subject to racism,
    Very poor article

    1. Verity says:

      It was not a question of rules, Ann Black’s vote was a choice she made. She had declared that she was not convinced by the Supporter scheme and therefore chose to use her position to try to implement constraints on that scheme. I am sure whether having seen the possible consequences of her choices, i.e. ten of thousands of potential new enthusiasts either being denied a vote or having to pay an extra £25 on top of their membership fees just to gain their rightful entitlement, but I hope she has reflected on that representing made of some of the resentment that some member’s harboured about the scheme.

      1. John P Reid says:

        Ok’ thanks,if that’s her reason, then it’s illogical, but she made a decision based on what she thought was within the rule, how much to register and a cut off date,

  3. John P Reid says:

    Why is momentum gaza, racist, or are Muslims a race?

  4. Karl Stewart says:

    Wow! That ‘former SPAD’ lady you link to is certainly a vile piece of work isn’t she?

    One of her tweets just says, simply “Corbyn is a hypocritical c***” (except she uses the full word).

    And you’re right, no-one on the right, no-one at all, ever criticises this kind of abuse.

    No-one on the right said anything about Foster’s disgusting comparison to the Nazis.

    No-one on the right said anything about Gobshite Phillips’s death threat to Corbyn.

    They’re a revolting bunch and they’ll never, ever be reasonable – let’s just give it back to them double.

  5. Chris says:

    Sick of weaklings moaning about “abuse”. Sticks and stones, chaps, sticks and stones.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      The ‘weaklings’ are all on the right mate. They’re the ones whining.

      All this article does is point out their hypocrisy.

      1. Chris says:

        I never said they weren’t on the right. Obviously they are.

        However, the left shouldn’t give credence to the concept that slagging someone off online is somehow “abuse” – a term more fittingly reserved for child molestation, neglect and the like.

        1. Paul Dias says:

          Ok Chris, let’s say someone spammed your mum’s email box with all manner of offensive material, to the point where she stopped using the internet altogether, what would you say then – “Sticks and stones, mum!”

          The consequences of online abuse are all too real.

        2. Karl Stewart says:

          Fair point Chris. People need to develop a thicker skin.

          1. Historyintime says:

            I wish you’d stop repeating the Jess Phillips death threat. It’s rubbish and you know it. Stick to real abuse and bullying, there’s enough of that around.

          2. Karl Stewart says:

            Response to Historyintime at 12.46pm. You might want to ‘play cricket’ but the enemy aren’t bothered about ‘fair play’ or ‘Queensbury Rules’ they just want to smash us by any means. Stop being such a wimp.

      2. Jim Denham says:

        Abuse is abuse within the labour movement. It must be condemned. It’s not good enough to deny that “our side” is ever guilty. Here in Birmingham, Momentum have – quite rightly – had to suspend an individual for posting threats to an MP.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          Which MP?

    2. David Pavett says:

      How does your view fit with Corbyn’s call for a kinder form of politics?

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        My view doesn’t fit with calls for ‘kinder, gentler politics’ at all DavyP, I don’t think ‘kinder, gentler politics’ is realistic.

        I must say though, I’m disappointed at JimD going soft on this issue – I really used to enjoy my robust exchanges with him and it’s a shame he’s gone all ‘vegetarian’.

        1. Barry Hearth says:

          there goes another term of abuse, unless of course like me he really is “vegetarian”.

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            Hi Barry, just having a bit if fun with JimD.

          2. Jim Denham says:

            I’m all in favour of vigorous, frank and (even) personally rude political exchanges. Opposing sending death threats to people within the labour movement, is however not “vegetarianism” and only an ignorant idiot with no understanding of labour movement norms would describe it as such.

          3. Karl Stewart says:

            Reply to JimD at 11.26pm 31.08:

            I totally agree with you there JimmyD. I completely condemn death threats too. And Jess Phillips should have been arrested for the literal death threat she made against Jeremy Corbyn.

          4. Jim Denham says:

            I presume Karl, in his reference to Jess Phillips’s “literal death threat” to JC is referring to the “I’d stab him in the front, not the back” statement:

            http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3359339/I-ll-knife-Jeremy-Labour-MP-tells-leader-ll-stab-not-sinks-party-s-election-hopes.html

            I don’t think anyone seriously took this as a literal threat of stabbing – the expression “stab in the back” is a well established metaphor, and “stab in the front” is also a pretty well-known variation. But you know that don’t you, Karl?

            The messages sent to Phillips from a person associated (unfortunately) with Momentum in Birmingham were of an entirely different, and more sinister nature (I’ve seen one of them, referring to what happened to “your friend, Jo Cox”): I can’t go into more detail, because the matter is still under investigation, but I would hope that all of us, whatever we might think of Jess Phillips, would condemn this sort of thing without reservation.

          5. Karl Stewart says:

            Reply to JimD at 2.26pm:

            I don’t need the Daily Mail’s spin pal, here’s the actual interview:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1TcLhDTUxVs

            Gobshite Phillips says she’ll ‘knife’ Corbyn ‘in the front’.

            If someone attacks someone with a knife to the front of their body, there’s a very high risk that it could be fatal.

            Yes, accusing someone else of having performed a ‘stab in the back’ is a common metaphor, but a future tense, first-person, (i.e. ‘I will’) direct threat to ‘knife’ someone ‘in the front’ is not a common metaphor.

            Can you find me a single other example of anyone, ever, using the same first-person, future-tense construct, as a ‘metaphor’ or as a ‘figure of speech’?

            In the same interview, Gobshite also refers to having grabbed people by their lapels and held them up against a wall, and she also says that the police should shoot suspects ’10 times in the head’ in the street.

            Is this intended as ‘metaphor’ as well?

            This person is utterly unfit to be an MP, unfit to be a member of the Labour Party, and should have been arrested and spoken to by the police.

            Imagine if similar comments had been made by, say, a working-class teenager to a police officer in the street, or by dark-skinned person travelling through an airport, or by someone on the left of the Labour Party?

            But the comments were made by the darling of the right, and so she gets away with it.

            And sadly, some on the left make excuses for her too.

          6. Jim Denham says:

            Karl, pal: I’m no fan of Jess Phillips but your comments:

            “Gobshite Phillips says she’ll ‘knife’ Corbyn ‘in the front’.

            “If someone attacks someone with a knife to the front of their body, there’s a very high risk that it could be fatal.

            “Yes, accusing someone else of having performed a ‘stab in the back’ is a common metaphor, but a future tense, first-person, (i.e. ‘I will’) direct threat to ‘knife’ someone ‘in the front’ is not a common metaphor” …

            are drivel that no-one with any experience of labour movement parlance could possibly take seriously.

            “Stab (or “knife”) in the front” (or “back”) is common parlance and no rational person would take it as a literal physical threat. However much you hate Jess Phillips doesn’t get you round this obvious fact or absolve you from the reality of labour movement norms of discussion. I told a comrade recently that they should aim to “make mincemeat” of an opponent in a debate. No rational person would take that literally.

            Apparently serious threats, making reference to what happened to Jo Cox, are of a qualitatively different order.

            If you cannot understand this, I simply give up.

          7. Karl Stewart says:

            Reply to JimD at 12.27pm:

            And yet neither you nor anyone else can provide one, single example of anyone ever having used that same first-person, future-tense construct, as a ‘metaphor’ or as a ‘figure of speech’ of vowing to ‘knife’ someone ‘in the front’.

            It isn’t a common metaphor.

          8. Jim Denham says:

            “first-person, future-tense construct, as a ‘metaphor’ or as a ‘figure of speech’ of vowing to ‘knife’ someone ‘in the front’.”

            Karl: you are beninning to sound a bit desperate, pedantic, and pathetic: I think everyone knows what “knife/stab in the front/back” means, regardless of tense oir other grammatical niceties.

            If your central point is that the Labour right are hypocrites who make a big song-and-dance about relatively innocuous criticism that does not amount to threats, etc, while often ignoring or excusing nasty stusff from their own side, then I can agree.

            But, please, pal, don’t make yourself look a pillock by replicating the bleating of the right when you try to make out that Jess Phillips’ remarks about stabbing “in the front” were some kind of physical threat, when any rational person knows that’s not the case.

            And, I would hope, you’d also agree with me, that when it comes to threats, we on the left need to adopt the ‘Caesar’s wife’ principle.

          9. Jim Denham says:

            How dare you accuse me of “liking” Jess Phillips, and for pointing out that yopur understanding of common English usage is remiss, you wanker!

            It’s a good job that the credibility of the left isn’t in unserious hands like yours, you tosser karl.

        2. Karl Stewart says:

          Further reply to JimD at 12.17pm:

          JimD, the only time I’ve ever heard anyone threaten to ‘knife’ someone ‘in the front’ was on one occaision when I was a lot younger, when someone said it to me.

          I didn’t stop to ask if the person was speaking ‘metaphorically’ or using a ‘figure of speech’ or even if he was using ‘common parlance’. I just got myself away from the situation as quickly as possible and, fortunately, I wasn’t ‘knifed’.

          But maybe, yes maybe, he might have been using a ‘metaphor’.

          1. Jim Denham says:

            Don’t be an idiot Karl: “knife in the back” in politics doesn’t mean a threat to stab, and everyone knows that.

            Just as “make mincemeat of” doesn’t mean to chop your opponent’s physical body up into little pieces.

            And “tanks on lawn” doesn’t actually mean I’m going to purchase a big armoured assault vehicle and drive in onto the front of your house.

            These are well-known phrases. Not the same as literal threats. At some point common sense and an understanding of common usage of language has to come into play. Or – in other words, Karl – grow up!

          2. Karl Stewart says:

            Reply to JimD at 8.39pm:
            So, you can’t find one, single example from anyone anywhere ever of any previous use of Gobshite Phillips’s ‘common phrase’. This is because, as I’ve said, it isn’t a ‘common phrase’.

            You keep repeating that it’s a ‘common phrase’ yet you can’t find one single example of any prior use of it, as a metaphor, by anyone ever.

            You’re upset at losing the argument, I get that, but you have lost the argument.

            Basically, you like Gobshite Phillips and I don’t. So you want to give her the benefit of the doubt by seeking to give her death threat a generous interpretation, while I don’t.

          3. Jim Denham says:

            You illiterate tosspot, Karl. If you really are as stupid as you seem here, then the left is best off ignoring ignorant clowns like you: I certainly intend to do so.

          4. Karl Stewart says:

            Reply to JimD at 12.22am:

            It intrigues me that you chose to look up a long-forgotten thread from nearly a month ago, in order to post a comment telling me that you’re going to ignore me.

            I think you really quite like me.

  6. David Pavett says:

    Robin Fith gives us a helpful corrective to the extreme imbalance in media reporting and political commentary regarding out-of-control political discourse.

    The language of victimhood has become often ludicrous. My MP complained that she felt “intimidated” when, shortly after the no confidence vote, she turned up late (10.00 pm) to an event on Saturday evening in a pub events room and was heckled by a few people for a few minutes when she spoke (they wanted to know how she had voted).

    At the same time we should make no excuses for people on the left who think that verbal attacks on persons is a valid form of political discourse. We even see it here on Left Futures.

    1. C MacMackin says:

      Hear hear. Political forums always have a certain undercurrent of personal attacks and Left Futures was never an exception. Even putting aside the issue of it not contributing to political discourse are making providing valid arguments, it is self-defeating. You do not convince people to come to your position by accusing them of being in an ivory tower, claiming that they are right-wingers are heart, calling them liars, etc. In fact, you only alienate them further and make them less likely to be convinced.

      1. David Pavett says:

        Indeed, and when this stuff comes from a leading left activist, as we see repeatedly here on left futures it is all the more worrying. We all know the drill: “sitting in your ivory tower”: “your judgement is defective because you were once in another party”; “you talk in abstractions, I deal with concrete reality”; “Your obsession with how many angels can dance on a pin head”; “your magistral proniuncements”; and so on and so forth.

        And then there is the implicit “beautiful syllogism”

        1. I am committed to fighting oppression.
        2. Your arguments are compketely wrong.
        3. Therefore you do not fight oppression.

        That nonsense like this can be offered as a contribution to discussion by a leading left activist not once but over and over again with boring regularity is a good indicator of how far the left is from being able to conduct productive debates let alone from convincing others of the need for fundamental social change. When it is not clearly understood that in proper debate you must “play the ball and not the man” we are still short of basic the kinder and more humane politics we claim to stand for.

        I wrote an article a few weeks ago countering the idea of a torrent if abuse from Corbyn supporters. I found that, in all honesty I could not send it. While I agree with the case made here by Robin Fith, When I thought about the abuse I have received in national and local discussions for expressing critical (non-adulatory) support for Corbyn, I felt that a simple refutation of abusive behaviour on the left was not tenable. I am used to this stuff. I had loads of it during the miners’ strike of ’85 for suggesting that Scargill’s inflexibility and intransigence would lead the miners and the whoke TU movement to a terrible defeat (even 40 years later it can be difficult to say those things). It doesn’t put me off but I am damned sure that it is off-putting for others thinking of joining debate for the first time. I also believe this stuff is implicitly sexist. It is part of a male macho culture which used to be regarded as acceptable in the labour movement.

        So, as I am sure you will agree, let’s point out abuse from the right and the way it is ignored by the media, but let’s also make strenuous efforts to keep our own house in order.

        1. C MacMackin says:

          Something which I think needs to be confronted head-on is the concept of uncritical support. The fact that people regard this as a virtue is shocking to me. No movement should demand it and no one should be willing to give it. There is a big distinction between absolute support of a value or goal and uncritical support of an individual/struggle/movement/strategy. I have absolute support of the goal of socialism, but that does not mean I will give uncritical support to the Labour Party or its leader, whoever that may be. People like to have figures and institutions which they can see as entirely virtuous (and I’m not immune from that) but, if we are honest, no one can live up to that standard and we shouldn’t pretend that they can.

          Something which I see among some commenters here is an absurd level of certainty that they are correct. They seem to view the willingness to question one’s assumptions or engage with contrary opinions as a flaw. It is in fact the opposite. It is not a fun or comfortable process and I certainly don’t claim to do it as well or as often as I should, but it is vital if we are to have any sort of effective politics. This should be a starting point for all of our debate.

          Your note about machismo is an interesting one and I think you are on to something there. I notice that there do not appear to be any women among the regular commenters to this site (at least, not among those whose user name identifies a gender). I don’t wish to talk down to women in saying this, but I can’t help but think that the general atmosphere helps to turn them away.

          1. David Pavett says:

            I agree about the absolute certsinty thing. I think this is connected with the fact that far too many have not understood that winning an argument means casting your opponents view in its best possible light. Rubbishing an argument on the basis of its worst interpretation is easy but also worthless. I always want to say to people convinced by thst sort of thing “okay, so tell me what sort of information would give you cause to doubt your stance?”. I don’t ask it because I know that most of the people in question would not understand it. They have not got beyond the idea that arguing a case is a matter of looking around for facts that are consistent with it. Too many long for certainty where none is possible. Anyone who hasn’t learned from the last 50 years that the unexpected and the unpredicted can be massively important hasn’t understood much.

  7. also, crucially . . . . says:

    blacklisting exists – mostly of trade unionists, single-issue campaigners – those of the left – despite recent successful court cases . . . . names found to have been collected included thousands of folk who were never going to apply for jobs in, say, the construction industry. Long term “placed people” amidst the left/campaigners were/are often far more likely to be from these same overlapping networks of corrupt “economic leagues”-like “private detective” outfits or “corporate reputation protection” firms. Although it was the actual police “undercover” types that were exposed recently – the global private sector involves far more of them. All too often they see “going low” as their “u.s.p” – hence “agent provocateurs” exist – discrediting what they pretend to support – particularly, of course, amidst the new “social” media, as trolls etc.
    Worth reminding folk of these verifiable facts occasionally without having to get too specific or witchhunting about it all – but definitely, to paraphrase the excellent Mr Drury, ” Reasons to be reasonable, 1, 2 , 3 !!!” – despite the passion – in fact – because of it!
    cheers

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