What do you do when nearly four dozen female colleagues demand that you take action to stop something that doesn’t have anything to do with you or anybody who works for you?
That, it seems, was the question put before Jeremy Corbyn yesterday (July 22), when Paula Sheriff and 43 other female Labour MPs demanded that he address threats and demonstrations by groups they claim support him.
The letter does not seem to show any evidence that they have researched the perpetrators of these incidents, yet the ladies concerned were quite happy to sign off with, “Jeremy, this is being done in your name.” How do they know?
Are the perpetrators members of the Labour Party? They don’t know. They haven’t checked.
Are they known supporters of Mr Corbyn? No – because he has condemned this behaviour. Ms Sheriff and her colleagues should, therefore, conclude that these people are acting against Mr Corbyn.
But they haven’t.
Instead, they have condemned shadow chancellor John McDonnell and other shadow ministers for addressing rallies where bullying as been “actively encouraged or quietly condoned”. How do they know? Let’s see the evidence.
(If they think Wallasey is a good example, they’d better think again – the allegations of homophobic abuse against Angela Eagle were lies.)
If MPs have experienced threatening behaviour, then it is right that they should bring it to Mr Corbyn’s attention. It is also right that they should contact the police. If these threats were transmitted over the Internet, then This Writer certainly hopes investigators would have checked whether the perpetrators had a Labour affiliation or anything at all to do with Mr Corbyn.
An attempt to lecture Mr Corbyn on his duty to condemn threatening and intimidating behaviour falls flat because he has been doing this, pretty much non-stop, ever since the tragic death of Jo Cox.
Claims about a “culture of hatred and division” are to be taken with a pinch of salt. Where Mr Corbyn has spent weeks extolling the virtues of reconciliation between opposing factions in the Labour Party, his opponents – such as Angela Eagle, Owen Smith and their supporters – have spent that time making personal attacks against him and his.
The level of baiting has grown so great that guidance has been drawn up, advising Corbyn supporters to disengage from any such dialogue as experience has shown that the intention is to draw people into an argument and then publicise any comment that could cast Mr Corbyn’s side in a bad light.
I can certainly attest that these tactics are being used, because people have tried to use them on me. They make bald statements about the victim, evidenceless, and ensure that the victim will see what’s being said about them (this is very easy on Twitter). When the victim attempts to demonstrate that the attacker has no evidence, and explains their own side, that’s when the misrepresentations come in: “Oh, so you’re saying it’s not X but Y?” Of course, both options are prejudicial and neither represents the victim’s case.
I managed to deal with the attacks on me by pointing to the evidence supporting my view, until the attackers fell back on the old trolling technique of repeating a question I had already answered. At that point it was time to disengage and block the other people.
Of course, Mr Corbyn’s detractors never receive any bad publicity – unless you count the Labour Abuse account on Twitter ( @LabourAbuse ).
So, what can Mr Corbyn do when faced with a series of demands supported by unsubstantiated allegations? Here’s where Ms Sheriff’s case – and that of her colleagues – falls a little flat:
It turns out that the demands are empty as they are all for things that Mr Corbyn would do in any case.
He’s happy to hold meetings with the women in the PLP.
He has already issued unequivocal statements about abuse and threatening behaviour and is happy to issue more.
He has made a career out of challenging unacceptable behaviour.
The final demand is a sticking-point, though. It is hard to hold his supporters accountable if somebody attends an event at which they are speaking, wearing T-shirts carrying threatening slogans or carrying posters with threatening messages.
For example – and I think this is the event to which Ms Sheriff is referring: The rally for Mr Corbyn on June 27, at which a person was photographed wearing a T-shirt attacking “Blairite scum”.
This was a stunt carried out by a member of right-wing think tank Progress, along with a PR company that has been heavily involved with the campaign against Mr Corbyn.
Why should his supporters be held accountable for their actions?
Have the people in the photograph been questioned about it? Has the person responsible for this stunt come forward?
If not, then it seems Ms Sheriff will find it hard to take the moral high ground.
Jeremy Corbyn has been plunged into another row over bullying within the Labour party after more than 40 of his female MPs signed a letter calling for him to do more to combat “an extremely worrying trend of escalating abuse and hostility”.
The open letter addressed to Corbyn, tweeted by the Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff and signed by her and 43 colleagues, condemns the Labour leader for what they call an inadequate response to threats and demonstrations by groups who support him in his battle with a rebellious parliamentary party.
It expresses alarm that the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, and other shadow ministers have addressed rallies where demonstrations outside MPs’ offices or bullying at constituency Labour party meetings have been “actively encouraged or quietly condoned”.
The strongly worded letter says MPs have experienced rape threats, death threats and other incidents, amid a climate of worry following the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox in June. It adds that female and non-white MPs have been “disproportionately affected” by the abuse.
“We all have a duty to challenge and unequivocally condemn all threatening and intimidating behaviour,” the letter says, describing the “severe distress” caused to MPs and their staff.
It continues: “The culture of hatred and division that is being sown does not benefit anybody, not the party, not the leader and certainly not the British people. We hope that a significant shift takes place within the Labour party regarding the way we deal with future incidents.”
The MPs seek four commitments from Corbyn: to hold regular meetings with the women’s parliamentary Labour party group; to issue an “unequivocal statement” condemning actions such as demonstrations outside MPs’ surgeries; to “actively challenge” any intimidating behaviour; and to hold colleagues accountable if they attend events where threatening slogans are used, including on posters and T-shirts.
It ends by saying of the bullying: “Jeremy, this is being done in your name.”
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