Hope and Inspiration

How Barack Obama inspired Jonn Elledge, a former Hillary supporter.

I need to confess something. Five months ago, I couldn't stand Barack Obama.

During the primaries I was rooting for Hillary. Partly this was because of her character and intelligence, but mostly it was simply because I have rose-tinted memories of the last president who wasn't chronically incompetent. From that point of view, Obama was an irritant: an upstart who clearly didn't have enough experience for the job, and whose name was too funny and whose skin too dark to win an election.

Once he got the nomination, I fell in line, if only because of a heartfelt desire to see the Republicans suffer for eight years of incompetence, ignorance and greed. (You know Sarah Palin thinks Africa is a country, by the way? True story.) And as I learnt more about his biography, his policies, his intellect, I began to come round to the idea that Barack Obama might just do a good job of this.

But any lingering doubt I had about whether he was the right choice would have been erased by a conversation I had two weeks ago in Pennsylvania.

When we pulled into a gas station in Erie, Luther, its elderly black owner, was hunched over three huge boxes stuffing envelopes. His eyes unaccountably brightened when I told him I was a British journalist.

'You wouldn't be the journalist who wrote that piece saying that Americans should vote for Obama to show how much progress they've made, would you?' he asked. I wouldn't. Boris Johnson would. Luther had photocopied the mayor's Obama endorsement two hundred times and was sending it to everyone he could think of. Because he wanted to believe the claim that - with hard work and intelligence and perseverance - his grandchildren had as much of a chance of being president as the white kids next door.

Because for the first time, being black didn't exclude him from the American dream.

President Obama will inevitably prove a disappointment. No one could live up to the huge expectations placed on him, and in six months time the thousands of t-shirts bearing his face will be completely unwearable. (What, after all, could be less cool than to go round with a sitting world leader on your chest while he ducks questions about the budget deficit?)

But his campaign promised change, and it promised hope. And if he achieves nothing else, he's already delivered those.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.