“I’ve taken part in some heated media discussions over the years. The Woman’s Hour discussion on BBC Radio 4 21 July wasn’t one of them.
It was pleasant and civil.
So, when the other day, I received aggressive, judgemental tweets, I was frankly gob-smacked to find that Beth Foster-Ogg, the other guest, turned a reasonable discussion, on both our parts, into something else.
In her article for The Independent, she claimed I “berated” her “not only during the programme but before and after we were on air”; that I said her “movement was violent” and that she “should not be part of a group whose members’ abuse and threaten women MPs’.
One small problem: none of this happened.
On meeting Beth I said “hi” to her from Meg Hillier, her local MP. We talked a bit about ourselves. Beth told me her mum is an art therapist helping at the refugee camp in Calais, and her dad a book dealer. Beth’s going to Warwick University after working the summer for Momentum.
I told her that my mum had me at 17. We first lived in the pub my grandparents’ managed and we reflected on how London has changed. The TV shop below our flat in Clapham Junction was now dedicated to wholefoods. She asked me which university I went to. It was the University of East Anglia, in Norwich, the first in my family to go.
This friendly exchange took place in front of other guests connected to the Proms and a woman trumpeter.
Beth’s article, accuses me of not wanting to talk about how the Labour Party stifles women’s voices, the gender pay gap, junior doctors’ contracts, nurses’ bursaries and cuts to women’s refuges.
The problem is that was not what we were invited to discuss. The topic was: why does Labour keep choosing men, the Leadership and misogyny. Hence, Jenny Murray’s first question: “Why does Labour consistently fail to choose a woman?” My answer briefly mentioned my support for Angela Eagle and as a democratic socialist – and a feminist, of course – I was saddened Labour still trailed the Tories on this. Beth agreed it was disappointing but that Jeremy Corbyn was the only person, in her view, who could stand up for women.
Beth talked about being silenced in Labour Party branch meetings and feeling an outsider. I recalled that same feeling at my first branch meeting. In those days, I never thought someone like me could be an MP.
I certainly never had Beth’s admirable confidence or certainty at her age. I wish I had. As a working-class teenager, I had twice lived away from home by the age of 18, been a lone parent with two children at 26, and lost my mother at 28.
When Jenny Murray asked about abuse directed at people like me, I said: “I’m not saying Jeremy is directly pushing people to act the way they are, but [he] has unleashed with his election a nastiness in our party … and women are bearing the brunt of that.”
I also made the point that as Labour leader you make a choice about attending rallies where placards are raised stating “exterminate the Blairite scum”. I stand by that.
Such images aren’t Photoshopped inventions of a tabloid. They reflect on our leader and, sadly, our party.
It reminds me of the hard left in the 1980s who refused to engage with why the public didn’t support Labour and demonised those who cared about winning elections. Every meeting became a confrontation. Too often this was accompanied by an attitude to women that lacked any real understanding of women’s oppression.
I never said Beth’s movement Momentum “was violent.” But it’s sad that Labour meetings have been suspended nationwide for fear of intimidation.
Nor would I suggest that only Momentum activists can be sexist. I don’t agree with Owen Smith’s choice of words for taking on the Tories – the reference to Theresa May’s heels, a remark for which he later apologised.
Only a few months ago, I sought an apology from John McDonnell after he made a “yak, yak, yak” hand gesture while I was speaking at a meeting of the PLP.
No section of our party is free of sexism.
But what troubles me is the intolerance, aggression and even threats directed at anyone who disagrees with Jeremy Corbyn.
After the broadcast, I asked Beth to look at some of the abusive tweets I’d received from people who make clear they support Jeremy. She glanced, but clearly didn’t want to stop.
Like Beth, I got involved in politics to make our world a better place. I marched to reclaim the night against male violence against women, defended a woman’s right to choose and chaired the Workplace Nurseries campaign.
Those campaigns still live with me today. But my “movement” was and is the Labour Party, my first and only choice for 37 years. A party founded to win power to effect the progressive changes only Labour governments can, for many who need it, including millions of women and girls.
Thirty-seven years on, I never thought Labour would again be choosing between being a “movement” of protest and placards, a long way from government, or a movement trying to win the power to govern.
But that is what we seem to have come to.
My advice to Beth, and her generation, is that I spent my twenties protesting, while Labour lost elections. Only when Labour moved the hearts and minds of millions who never attended a rally could we affect the lasting changes only a Labour government achieves.
My worry is that Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum have lost sight of that.
I’m supporting Owen Smith, because I don’t want Beth and every 19-year-old to live through 18 years of Tory rule.”
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