I’ve just come back from another twelve days in the French and Spanish Pyrenees as part of my research for a book. Up in the mountains I had only intermittent Internet access as usual, so I was only occasionally able to follow the peculiar goings on back in the motherland.
The hilarious weirdness of PigGate was something that I hadn’t really expected. I have to admit I hugely enjoyed it, because even though I generally try to subscribe to Jeremy Corbyn’s admirable determination to keep the personal out of politics, Lord Snooty and His Pals are such a thoroughly obnoxious and essentially despicable group of politicians on so many levels that I can’t help feeling that Hameron deserved every one of the contemptuous belly laughs that his porcine rituals produced.
Of course the most significant aspect of the story wasn’t the hog itself, but the divisions within the Tory Party revealed by Lord Ashcroft’s revenge plot and the Daily Mail‘s cynical collusion in it.
But political cynicism isn’t a uniquely Conservative trait. Barely had I landed at Stansted, than the whiff of hypocrisy and bad faith came wafting across the Fens from Brighton, whipped up by the latest brazen attempts of the Labour Right and its fellow-travelling journalists to instrumentalize feminism in its ongoing campaign against Corbyn.
These tendencies were already present during the leadership campaign, when Corbyn was accused of promoting sexual apartheid by merely saying that he would listen to arguments in favour of women-only carriages as a solution to sexual harassment. The chorus of outrage grew even shriller when Corbyn announced a cabinet in which none of the top positions were occupied by women.
And yesterday Harriet Harman delivered a speech in Brighton condemning the ‘clean sweep of men’ in top positions that was splashed across the papers and given the serious attention of a suffragette cri de coeur.
When Richard Desmond’s Daily Express gives precedence to a Labour speech about the rights of women you know something’s up, and it is. Without mentioning Corbyn directly, Harman told an audience of women ‘We’ve got to sort it out so that we have women’s leadership at the top of the party – and that must include women who are chosen by and accountable to us women in the party.’
There might have been some women at the top of the party had not Yvette Cooper, Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds, Liz Kendall, Shabana Mahmood, Caroline Flint, Mary Creagh all refused to serve under Corbyn. All of them are rightwingers, yet if they had not ruled themselves out it is difficult to believe that at least some of them wouldn’t have been given top jobs as part of Corbyn’s broad church strategy.
Even so, there are still 16 women in Corbyn’s cabinet and 15 men – the first time in history that a British shadow cabinet has had more women than men. Blair’s class of 1997 had five women – despite record numbers of female MPs that year. Brown’s 2007 cabinet had the same number. Yet neither Blair nor Brown were castigated for by politicians or the media for their sexism and lack of concern for women’s rights in the same way that Corbyn has.
Yesterday Harman was full of moral fervor, declaring:
‘Let’s never forget that women in this country are looking to us, to Labour women to continue to speak up as the voice of women in our democracy and we must do that with courage and determination.’
Too true. But in 1997 Harman voted for and actively defended Labour’s benefits bill, which cut benefits to lone parent families. And in July this year she and most Labour MPs abstained on the Tory Welfare Reform Bill – thereby allowing it to be passed, despite abundant evidence that women will suffer disproportionately from such cuts because of their reliance on benefits and tax credits, and the high proportion of women in part-time work.
Yet here she is, wielding feminism like a political stiletto blade, for reasons which have nothing to do with women’s rights and equality and everything to do with bringing Corbyn down and depicting him as a macho hypocrite.
But the hypocrisy doesn’t come from him, because the sexism criticisms being directed against Corbyn are as calculated and vicious as Lord Ashcroft’s farcical revenger’s comedy.
And there may not be a pig in it, but it still stinks.