As a lifelong Labour voter, to the left of Tony Blair and the right of Jeremy Corbyn, I am increasingly concerned that, because of an unusually misogynistic party leadership, some young feminists will turn to what they see as more female-friendly role-models. Unfortunately, at least as far as I am concerned, those role models are Conservative: Theresa May and Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Tories, are formidable women. May is outspoken on issues such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and domestic violence, while Davidson is an out lesbian.
I would argue that being a Conservative and a feminist are mutually exclusive, because equality for women can only be won in a context of wider social equality. But how will young feminists view the Labour Party at present, when its male leaders appear to view women with such disdain?
Several Labour women have accused Corbyn and cronies of treating them appallingly. Thangam Debbonaire, whom I have known for decades as a great campaigner for the rights of women and children, was appointed shadow culture minister and subsequently sacked by Corbyn without even being spoken to by the great man. At the time, Debbonaire was being treated for breast cancer. She has now been reappointed to the Labour front bench, as a shadow whip.
Corbyn also ignored calls from anti-racist and feminist groups to boycott an event organised by the Socialist Workers Party, because of its treatment of two female members who alleged rape by a senior male member in 2012. Some members of the SWP leadership denounced the complaints as motivated by a “dangerous feminism”. The coalition of women’s groups drafted an open letter imploring Corbyn not to attend, and were told by senior party officials that he would not. The letter therefore did not go out, but both Corbyn and his ally Diane Abbott spoke at the SWP event to rapturous applause.
To my ever-increasing consternation, the formidable Nimko Ali, who has tirelessly led the campaign against FGM, is a supporter of the Tory Party and campaigned for Zac Goldsmith in the London mayoral election. “Labour are sexist, offensive and assume my vote,” she says.
Every time I criticise Labour men for their sexism, I am told that I should be using my energy to have a go at the Conservatives, because their policies and track record are far worse for women. I agree. But I will continue to highlight Labour’s sexism because I do not want young women who see the knuckle-dragging antics of Corbyn and friends to defect to the Tories.