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Does Labour have a woman problem?

The fate of Diane Abbott suggests it just might.

The latest Ucas figures find that ethnic minority students are one to two per cent less likely to get offers from the top universities than their white peers, even when you control for subject choice and A-Level grades.

A 2009 study by the Department of Work and Pensions found that ethnic minority jobseekers had to send 16 applications for a successful outcome against nine for white jobseekers. (And once again, that’s controlling for qualifications, cover letters, and all of the other bumpf that accompanies a job application.)

And in 1999, researchers at the  University of Wisconsin found that men and women were more likely to hire and give tenure to male applicants than female applicants. (And, as with both previous examples, CVs and applications were identical in all other aspects.)

The Labour party held two concurrent elections this summer. In one, in London, an anti-austerity candidate from the Campaign group of MPs, who no-one expected to win, entered the ballot largely for “a debate”. In the other, across the country, an anti-austerity candidate from the Campaign group of MPs, who no-one expected to win, entered the ballot largely for a debate.

The candidate in London, Diane Abbott, a black woman, got 16 per cent of the vote. She finished third, behind two candidates to her right: a white woman, Tessa Jowell, finished second. An Asian man, Sadiq Khan, finished first.

 The candidate across the country, Jeremy Corbyn, a white man, got 59 per cent of the vote. He defeated three candidates to his right, a man and two women. The women – Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall – finished third and fourth respectively.

I’m not saying that the 44 per cent gap between Abbott and Corbyn is wholly the result of racism and/or sexism.  It is difficult, however, to argue that none of it was.

Throughout the campaign, Abbott was marginalised, not only in the bulk of the coverage of the mayoral race, but by others on the Left. At Jeremy Corbyn’s final victory rally, Len McCluskey praised Corbyn for bringing up a debate that hadn’t been discussed for “more than thirty years”. But Abbott had run on a platform very similar to Corbyn’s just five years ago. (McCluskey’s Unite opted to endorse Ed Miliband instead.)

In the leadership race, there is a perfectly honourable explanation for what happened: Labour members voted for the candidate that was furthest to the left.  But in the deputy race, Tom Watson defeated a woman - Angela Eagle - who was to his left. Khan beat Jowell, who, according to the polls, had a better chance  of beating Zac Goldsmith, and Abbott, who was far to his left. 

The real question isn't: "does Labour have a problem with women?", nor is it "does Labour have a problem with ethnic minorities?". We know that  the culture at large has a problem with women and a problem with minorities. There's no reason at all to suggest Labour is any different from the country. A better question is: what to do about it?

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Cambridge Analytica and the digital war in Africa

Across the continent, UK expertise is being deployed online to sway elections and target dissidents.

Cambridge Analytica, the British political consultancy caught up in a huge scandal over its use of Facebook data, has boasted that they ran the successful campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. In a secretly filmed video, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told a Channel 4 News’ undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s party.

Cambridge Analytica boasts of manipulating voters’ deepest fears and worries. Last year’s Kenyan election was dogged by vicious online propaganda targeting opposition leader Raila Odinga, with images and films playing on people’s concerns about everything from terrorism to spiralling disease. No-one knows who produced the material. Cambridge Analytica denies involvement with these toxic videos – a claim that is hard to square with the company’s boast that they “staged the whole thing.” 

In any event, Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

The work of this British company is only the tip of the iceberg. Another company, the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, has apologised for stirring up racial hostility in South Africa on behalf of former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged financiers – the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger has since gone out of business.

Some electoral manipulation has been home grown. During the 2016 South African municipal elections the African National Congress established its own media manipulations operation.

Called the “war room” it was the ANC’s own “black ops” centre. The operation ranged from producing fake posters, apparently on behalf of opposition parties, to establishing 200 fake social media “influencers”. The team launched a news site, The New South African, which claimed to be a “platform for new voices offering a different perspective of South Africa”. The propaganda branded opposition parties as vehicles for the rich and not caring for the poor.

While the ANC denied any involvement, the matter became public when the public relations consultant hired by the party went to court for the non-payment of her bill. Among the court papers was an agreement between the claimant and the ANC general manager, Ignatius Jacobs. According to the email, the war room “will require input from the GM [ANC general manager Jacobs] and Cde Nkadimeng [an ANC linked businessman] on a daily basis. The ANC must appoint a political champion who has access to approval, as this is one of the key objectives of the war room.”

Such home-grown digital dirty wars appear to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the rest of Africa. Most activities are run by foreign firms.

Ethiopia, which is now in a political ferment, has turned to an Israeli software company to attack opponents of the government. A Canadian research group, Citizens Lab, reported that Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins.

Citizens Lab says it identified the spyware as a product known as “PC Surveillance System (PSS)”. This is a described as a “commercial spyware product offered by Cyberbit —  an Israel-based cyber security company— and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

This is not the first time Ethiopia has been accused of turning to foreign companies for its cyber-operations. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists since 2013.

Much of the early surveillance work was reportedly carried out by the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. More recently it has turned for more advanced surveillance technology from British, German and Italian companies. “Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System,” wrote Human Rights Watch in 2014.

Britain’s international development ministry – DFID – boasts that it not only supports good governance but provides funding to back it up. In 2017 the good governance programme had £20 million at its disposal, with an aim is to “help countries as they carry out political and economic reforms.” Perhaps the government should direct some of this funding to investigate just what British companies are up to in Africa, and the wider developing world.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea and, with Paul Holden, the author of Who Rules South Africa?