Bullying never ends

Louise Sweeney is a National Executive Committee (NEC) member and on the NUS' Welfare Team

Many people know the feelings; walking through school corridors afraid to look up, feeling worthless as you are publicly belittled in front of a laughing class, that feeling of dread when you reach the bus stop after school to see them waiting there and wondering why me? You leave school and society tells you; you've left the bullies behind too, that you're an adult now and so are they, bullying doesn't happen any more.

Jade Goody showed the word this week that no matter what age you are, bullying and pact culture still rears its head in all its ugly guises. Shock waves spread through the media as Goody and her pack, Jo O'Meara and Danielle Lloyd, made Shilpa Shetty feel isolated, insecure, and demeaned, through hurtful arguments, comments and jibes targeted at her differences, mainly her ethnicity, culture and class, whilst living in the Celebrity Big Brother House.

It was uncomfortable to watch somebody be treated in this way and frustrating to not have the ability to go in there and shout 'open your eyes, look at what you are doing!'. Sadly, what we witnessed through the boxes in our living rooms happens every day; right in front of our very eyes, on our college campuses, in our workplaces and in our communities.

When Goody was evicted by the voting public on Friday night she was shown her actions and given the chance to reflect on them. I am not surprised that Goody was shocked by her actions and nastiness, she didn't realise what she was doing in the house, and the house mates who stood back and did nothing will be just as shocked as well. As outsiders looking in it was very clear to us that bullying was happening.

Living in halls of residences as a student can bear many similarities to the big brother house; total strangers thrown together in a close and stressful environment, clashes in age, culture and class frequently occur, mammoth arguments occurring over trivial matters such as the washing up, and those that don't blend with the majority experience bullying by those that don't even realise they are doing it.

As a fresher, I did nothing to help someone living in the flat opposite me. He was bullied by my friends. Whether it was name calling, tipping the flat's rubbish all over him and his room when he was asleep, or getting ready in complete silence so they could sneak out together for a night out without having to invite him, he was constantly the subject of everyone's jokes and in an attempt to fit in with their new friends, nobody said anything about it. They were just having a laugh, he annoyed them, and we didn't think he'd leave Uni because of it. But he did. It wasn't until years later, reflecting on our first year of University that we remembered those first few weeks, and realised that is was bullying that had taken place - right in front of our very eyes.

Thanks to some very effective campaigning highlighting the terrible impact that bullying can have on school children and teens, and because of reasonably regular reporting on bullying in the work place being resolved in the courts, some types of bullying are very much on the political agenda. But why is the gap between work and school considered unworthy of proper attention- as if this period of people's lives is immune to the problem?

The experience I recounted above isn't a one off. It happens all the time. So how many Universities and Colleges have a policy on Bullying? How many awareness campaigns are run for students to highlight these issues? I can tell you - very few, if any at all. When elected to the National Executive Committee (NEC) of NUS, myself and fellow NEC member Ama Uzowuru, saw the opportunity to look into this issue nationally. NUS has launched its first survey to asses the level of bullying on our campuses, so far we have had over 1700 respondents from across the UK. This is a start but more must be done, more research is needed, students need to be made aware of their rights and support available to them, and that support needs to be there in the first place.

NUS will be equipping Students' Unions with the tools they need to fight for these improvements, supporting them in lobbying for anti-bulling policies and raising the profile of this issue with University and College staff, students and the Government.
Until bullying is recognised as a serious issue little will be done. The events on our screens this week have shown how too easily it happens. We must remember that this was no soap opera, it was a reality TV Show and that bullying is a reality everywhere. When the program ends we cannot forget the debate that has taken place; we must look to our own lives and those around us.

We can often act, and speak too quickly, with little thought to how those words will affect others. A few playful jibes can soon turn into constant, malicious behaviour. We reach a certain age and are told to toughen up or give as good as we get, well its time the bullies took responsibility instead of the bullied and think about their actions and the consequences.
Bulling is harmful to all involved, not just the bullied. The bullied can suffer from increased anxiety and stress, poor health, depression and even suicide. They may leave the course or job of their dreams just to escape the bullies; their whole life could change as a result. Its time to stop dismissing the issue in everyday life and to challenge it head on; the campaign will begin to lead us in this direction by challenging policy and perceptions but as individuals we all must act.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses