Richard Seymour’s Refutation of Sexism Smears against Corbyn

A few days ago I put up a piece about Richard Seymour’s book Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics (London: Verso 2016). Seymour’s analysis of the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, and what it means for the Labour party, is very much his own. Seymour points out that one of the reasons why Corbyn was able to take the Labour leadership was because the right-wing Labour vote was divided between three opposing candidates. He sees the Labour party as never having really been a Socialist party, and that Corbyn’s election as leader was part of a process of political stagnation and degeneration both within the Labour party and generally in British politics.

However, in the introduction and first chapter, he does attack the ‘Project Fear’ campaign launched by the Blairites and the press against Corbyn, and refutes the smears against him – that he and his voters were unelectable and anti-Semitic. The Blairites and their toadies in the press also tried smearing Corbyn and his supporters as misogynists, just as Killary had smeared Sanders and his supporters in the US in her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. And just as Killary’s smears against Sanders were lies, so were the accusations against Corbyn and his supporters. Seymour writes

One of the main methods of obloquy from the centre-left papers – aside from the claim that Corbyn’s supporters were either spaniel-eyed naifs, gently prancing around in cloud cuckoo land, or dangerous ideological zealots – was to bait Corbyn’s supporters as sexist. The Guardian had backed Yvette Cooper for the leadership, partially on the grounds that she would be the first female leader, bringing ‘down-to-earth feminism’ to the role, and challenging austerity policies that hurt women. Its leading columnist and former Social Democratic Party (SDP) star Polly Toynbee seconded the endorsement, announcing: ‘Labour needs a woman leader.’ This prompted a reply by the seasoned feminists Selma James and Nina Lopez, who pointed out that Cooper not only supported ‘sexist austerity’ but had also implemented it in government, abolishing income support and extending work-capability assessments for the sick and disabled. Nonetheless, having supported Cooper as a ‘feminist’, it didn’t require much imagination to notice that Corbyn was not female and thus to indict his supporters ‘brocialists’. Suzanne Moore complained that as Corbyn was ‘anointed leader’ – that is to say, elected leader – ‘not one female voice was heard’. The remarkable thing about this complaint was that Corbyn won among women by a landslide. The polls showed that 61 per cent of women eligible to vote in the election supported Corbyn, while the two female candidates, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper, gained 4 per cent and 19 per cent respectively. The polling company YouGov pointed out that ‘women who are eligible to vote are dramatically more likely to vote Corbyn than men’. What Moore meant was the she hadn’t listened to the women who supported Corbyn, an important distinction.

This campaign spread to the Independent,which published a surreal piece headlined, ‘If it’s truly progressive, Labour will have voted in a female leader – regardless of her policies’. It was also mirrored by the Telegraph, which gleefully wondered if Corbyn had a ‘women problem’. Cathy Newman, a Channel 4 News reporter who had recently made headlines by falsely reporting an example of sexist exclusion at a mosque, authored a piece for the Telegraph which sneered ‘Welcome to Jeremy Corbyn’s blokey Britain – where “brocialism” rules’. Newman’s complaint did not concern policy, on which Corbyn was difficult to attack, but representation. She alleged that none of the ‘top jobs’ went to women. Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, it must be said, was notable for being the first to have more than 50 per cent of its posts occupied by women – as opposed to the pathetic 22 per cent representation that women have in wider public life. The shadow ministries of Defence, Business, Health and Education were all run by women. The shadow cabinet was, in other words, more gender-egalitarian on this front than any previous Labour shadow cabinet. It is perfectly fair comment to lament that important posts such as shadow chancellor have never been held by a woman, but the force of the point is blunted if it is simply used in an opportunistic way to belabour Corbyn. Likewise, the New Statesman’s effort to pour cold water on Corbyn’s victory, with the headline ‘Labour chooses white man as leader’, would have been more convincing if the publication had not generously supported every previous white man elected as Labour leader.

(Pp.37-9).

From this it’s very clear that the accusation of sexism and misogyny against Corbyn were merely another opportunistic smear by a group of entitled, wealthy Blairites. It was monumentally hypocritical, as these women were perfectly happy with promoting policies that actively harmed – and under the Tories, are still harming women. The ladies, who supported Corbyn knew better, and voted for substance, rather than the specious feminism of a female candidate, who was only interested in promoting herself and not improving conditions for women as a whole.

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