Wage a genuine fight against sexism

By Joy Macready

Labour Right’s “misogyny” accusations against Corbyn are a study in hypocrisy

THE Labour party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) took the correct action in suspending Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk’s party membership after revelations he sent lewd text messages to a 17-year old woman. He used his position of power to make sexual advances on Sophena Houlihan, who approached Danczuk for a job as a caseworker in his constituency office.

While apologising “unreservedly”, Danczuk dismissed suggestions that he should step down, blaming his drink problem and weakness for younger women and tweeting that “there’s no fool like an old fool…”. And so with a sweeping tweet, he absolved himself of any real wrongdoing.

The media has been quick to back his version, publishing sexy photos of Houlihan to prove that she is a “temptress”. Danczuk is portrayed as a gullible man unable to control himself, while women are to blame because of what they wear or how they present themselves.

Yet Danczuk didn’t “sext” Houlihan just once when he was on a drunken bender; the texts continued for months. When she told him her age, he replied “Good for you!”

He is now under investigation for raping his first wife, Sonia Rossington, while she was asleep.

By suspending Danczuk and launching an independent inquiry into his conduct, the current Labour leadership is sending a clear message that a sexist culture won’t be tolerated within its ranks.

This marks it out from the Blairite and Brownite cliques, which would rather lose members than allow one of their own to be disciplined. In 2009, when Danczuk was accused of hitting his then girlfriend Karen Burke, Labour expelled seven longstanding party members in Rochdale for “bringing the party into disrepute” by requesting an investigation.

But today Labour needs to go much further. The NEC should expel Danczuk from the party. There is no room in a progressive or labour movement organisation for a serial abuser of women or any other oppressed group.

And Rochdale party members should have the right to recall Danczuk and hold him to account for his reprehensible behaviour. Women within the party must have to right to caucus to root out other sexist conduct.

For the many women who face sexual harassment and discrimination at work, at school, college, university and on the streets on a daily basis, Labour’s firm stance will make the party much more attractive to them.

To think that this was likely Houlihan’s first contact with a political organisation, it is no wonder that many women are turned off politics when they are treated like sex objects instead of party activists and class fighters equal to men.

Shadow cabinet reshuffle

Jeremy Corbyn’s long-awaited reshuffle sees more women than men in the shadow cabinet for the first time in history. Women now hold 17 out of 31 positions, and make up 55 per cent of Labour’s top team, compared with 33 per cent for the Tories.

But that isn’t enough for right-wingers like Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips, who attacked Corbyn for appointing men in the “top four” positions (Leader, Shadow Chancellor and Shadow Home and Foreign Secretaries).

She said that, “some people in the Labour Party are accepting low-level non-violent misogyny because it’s Jeremy doing it”, and even had the gall to claim that, “Had Tony Blair not given any of top jobs to the women – had that same make-up of his team existed – people would rightly have been up in arms.” In fact none of the above posts were held by women in any of Blair’s three administrations, and in none of them did the proportion of women exceed one quarter of cabinet posts.

Harriet Harman has proposed a constitutional change to guarantee either the party’s leader or deputy leader is female. Yet those that argue for more women in the higher echelons of the party out of the pool currently available are glossing over their political positions and experience.

It is not just about shoehorning women into top positions, as the “Blair babes” quickly discovered, but about developing and building a whole network of women activists. At a time when more women than men are joining the party, Labour has a great opportunity to launch a working-class women’s movement to root out sexism and fight for fundamental change within society.

Labour could be at the centre of such a movement, bringing together women from trade unions, communities, local campaigns, colleges and universities, those in the Labour party and those outside. Labour’s National Women’s Conference on 24 September, a day before the start of the full party conference, should be the launching pad for such a movement: a working conference and not just a talking shop.

In addition the Labour Women blog needs to be re-launched, creating a strong network of women in every constituency, actively recruiting more women to the party and actually becoming, as its tagline says, “the voice of Labour women”.

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