Angry mobs and bricks being thrown through windows puts the safety of party members in question, writes Euan McColm
As Jeremy Corbyn fought to save his career last week, he revealed the very worst of himself.
During a meeting of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee – convened to decide whether Mr Corbyn’s name should automatically be included on the ballot paper in the upcoming leadership election – some present argued that votes should be held in secret.
Those NEC members, including Johanna Baxter, had good reasons for wishing this to be so. A number of opponents of Mr Corbyn’s disastrous leadership have been subjected to often terrifying intimidation. A brick was thrown through the window of leadership challenger Angela Eagle’s office, mobs have turned up at meetings to shout down other MPs, and – online – threats of murder and rape against those who don’t support Mr Corbyn have become commonplace.
Ms Baxter urged secret votes because of entirely legitimate fears about the personal safety of NEC members who oppose the current leader.
Mr Corbyn, having listened to the passionate expression of these fears, voted against secret ballots. He was defeated. But in his defeat, we saw the nastiness of this self-proclaimed proponent of a “gentler, kinder” politics.
This failure to take the opportunity to protect party colleagues, vulnerable to threats and possible attacks from the rabble, was unforgivable – unless, of course, you are a signed-up member of the Corbyn cult.
When Ms Baxter gave interviews after the meeting, she was clearly distressed. She felt betrayed by her party’s leader. She felt he’d left her and others exposed.
Irony being dead, Corbynistas then attacked her on social media. But while we should be appalled by the misogyny now flourishing in Mr Corbyn’s Labour Party, we should not be in the slightest surprised. One has only to look at the leader of the opposition’s closest allies to understand that.
Whenever we see rallies in support of Mr Corbyn, we see banners carrying the masthead of the Socialist Worker newspaper. This publication is the house journal of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), a truly despicable organisation.
The virtue-signalling middle-class lefties who are now rallied behind the Labour leader can find plenty of energy to attack the Conservatives as immoral but where are the voices speaking out against the misogynists of the SWP who are a key part of the “grassroots” movement keeping Mr Corbyn, for now, in post?
Why is the SWP a problem? Well, there’s the pointless, destructive dogmatism, of course, the unreconstructed hard-leftism that sees pragmatism as a weakness and intimidation as a legitimate campaigning tactic. But there’s something more, something darker.
In 2013, it emerged a young female member of the SWP had made allegations of sexual assault and rape against a senior party official.
The official – described as Comrade Delta in SWP documents – had, it transpired, been at the centre of a number of disturbing allegations over a period of several years, with the first formal complaint about him made to senior party figures in 2010.
When the young woman reported Comrade Delta to SWP officials three years ago, she was not supported in taking this serious matter to the police. Instead, the SWP’s Disputes Committee decided that it would deal with the allegations itself. This was, according to one member of the committee, because the SWP had no faith in the bourgeois court system to deliver justice. Imagine thinking like that.
The Disputes Committee, having set itself up as judge and jury, then subjected the woman who’d made the allegations to questions about her sexual past and her drinking habits. And then, at the instruction of the SWP’s central committee, the party accepted that “no rape had occurred”.
This abhorrent series of events should, surely, have been enough to make even the most committed radical socialist break any links with the SWP.
Now, of course, Mr Corbyn must not be held responsible for those who turn out at rallies held in his honour. Anyone is free to attend one of these events, organised by Momentum, the group which campaigns on his behalf.
But Mr Corbyn is free to comment on those who have declared themselves to be his fellow travellers. He is entitled – some might say duty bound – to denounce the SWP activists who gather in support of his failing leadership. Female Labour MPs and activists have every right to be concerned about the attachment to the Corbyn cause of SWP activists.
That party’s recent record should mean its exclusion from our political discourse and the tolerance of its presence at pro-Corbyn rallies is unforgivable.
The Labour leader and his cronies insist that they stand for a new kind of politics, one that is based on mutual respect, but the facts do not even begin to support that fanciful narrative.
When it became clear that a number of Labour Party members were guilty of making anti-semitic remarks, Mr Corbyn commissioned a review of the issue by the former director of civil liberties group Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti.
This looked like a rare display of leadership by Mr Corbyn but it ended in disaster when, during the launch of Ms Chakrabarti’s report into the matter, one of the Labour leader’s supporters accused Jewish MP, Ruth Smeeth, of colluding with the media. This was one of the anti-semitic tropes – that Jews are part of a wider conspiracy – criticised in the report.
Mr Corbyn stood impassively while Ms Smeeth was verbally attacked, and was later seen chatting to the activist who’d singled her out.
After leaving the launch event, Ms Smeeth said that the Labour Party was not a safe place for British Jews.
Having failed the test of leadership over anti-semitism, what are the chances Mr Corbyn will be any more successful when it comes to misogyny?
The Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn increasingly looks like an unsafe place for women. He might, in his weasel-worded way, denounce “all forms” of racism, and “all forms” of abuse.
But it’s time for him to speak up specifically about those who act in his name, and to condemn them utterly. A good start would be to tell the SWP it’s not welcome at his rallies.