Getty
Show Hide image

Kate Green MP: Jeremy Corbyn still doesn't get our concerns about sexist abuse

Promising a Women's Advisory Board isn't enough.

One thing I've learnt in six years as a member of parliament is that choices you have to make as a politician are rarely straightforward. That's not about lack of principles. It's that the consequences of the decisions you take can be complex, unpredictable or unwanted. Apparently "obvious" solutions to problems aren't always the best ones.

Extensive and thoughtful discussion in shadow cabinet and the wider Labour Party mitigate the risk of poor decision making. Careful debate of an issue enables us to share different perspectives, weigh up competing factors, and reach a collective position. But, as a number of my colleagues have already said, too often Jeremy Corbyn has failed to do that.

On 3 March this year, a few months after he appointed me to his shadow cabinet, Jeremy argued that the sex industry should be decriminalised. He made this announcement in front of students at Goldsmiths University, without any discussion or consultation with his shadow cabinet, with me as his shadow minister for women and equalities, with women in the PLP or, to the best of my knowledge, with anyone in the wider Labour Party.

Of course, it may represent his own belief - or that of John McDonnell, who had booked a meeting room in parliament for the English Collective of Prostitutes, who campaign for the decriminalisation of prostitution, weeks earlier. And I agree that prosecuting vulnerable, coerced, abused, sometimes trafficked women (and men) is neither morally right nor sensible. But any notion that we should consider decriminalising pimping or brothel keeping, or that we should legitimise the purchase of sex, or that sex work dignifies the women and men engaged in it, is to many campaigners reckless and offensive. Too often, sex workers experience violence, brutality and abuse. The evidence on how to prevent that is complex and contested.

So it was hardly surprising that the response of my colleagues, especially those like Jess Phillips, with long experience of working with women who've experienced abuse and sexual violence, was one of angry protest. Had Jeremy taken the trouble to ask their opinion, he'd have understood that his comments were ill informed, ill-judged and irresponsible.

Another view: Jeremy Corbyn's secret with women? He's so much better at listening

I went to Jeremy to explain the concerns, and the careful, thoughtful research into the subject that was being carried out, including by the Home Affairs select committee. He didn't seem to understand the problem. He wouldn't accept that he'd oversimplified a difficult and controversial issue. He couldn't see how his remarks might be interpreted.
 
It left a nasty taste in the mouth. It left many of my female colleagues mistrustful and sceptical of his understanding of sexual violence, abuse and coercion. It told them he didn't understand or care to inquire into the complex and gendered nature of abuse and intimidation.
 
Sadly, this is part of a pattern  - of carelessness, indifference and ignorance. Even when Jeremy gets that there's a problem, his solutions too often reinforce rather than address the root causes of gender inequality. So his crass suggestion during last year's leadership campaign of women-only carriages on the tube, to offer women passenger protection against sexual harassment, overlooked the fact that it's not the women who experience such abuse who should have their freedom curtailed when they travel.

Just before the summer recess, more than 40 women Labour MPs wrote to Jeremy about intimidation and bullying of women in our party. This reflected a pattern of online and sometimes physical intimidation they'd experienced, or had reported to them. It followed correspondence and communication a number of my colleagues had had with Jeremy personally,  or with his office, about gender-based abuse in our party, to which they'd either had a dismissive response, or received none at all. There was also concern about reports McDonnell had suggested shutting down the Compliance Unit that should be investigating such cases.
 
Though Jeremy responded to that letter, it's still not clear he understands the depth of women's concern and anger about gender-based abuse and harassment. There was consternation when he suggested just a few days ago that those who experience abuse should ignore it.
 
To be clear, I don't for one moment accuse Jeremy personally of sexist behaviour or misogyny. But I also don't think he gets the gravity of his ill-thought out responses to issues of gender-based abuse and intimidation, whether that's inside our party, or in wider society. Instead, he puts the purity of the tenets he's always held ahead of evidence, complexity or consequence. He listens only to those who share his world view. He defends them even when others, more thoughtful and better informed, present him with an alternative opinion.
 
That isn't the mark of a leader. It's the mark of a lazy thinker. There can be no half-heartedness, no oversimplification or ignoring of facts, when it comes to taking a stand against gender based-abuse and violence. Yet too often in the past year, women have seen Jeremy as being weak, pusillanimous, unwilling to question his own half-baked views, or to challenge the behaviour of his allies. Warm words, and the promise this week of a Women's Advisory Board, won't be enough. Women in our party expect better of our leader. Women's safety and dignity depend on it.

Kate Green is Labour MP for Stretford and Umston and was shadow minister for women and equalities before resigning in June 2016.

Show Hide image

Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear