Among other observations at my tumultuous CLP nomination meeting last night, I stumbled upon a strange phenomenon.
Sitting with two other Labour women, both of whom opposed Jeremy Corbyn, we found ourselves all discussing having been called ‘brainwashed’ for our views, often times repeatedly, online, by men on the Left.
‘Brainwashing’ and false consciousness are, of course, running themes on the Left, assigned to those with whom we disagree. Beyond gender, such a slur is often proscribed to working class people who do not fulfil the activists’ idealistic mould of what a working class person should be. A clear and recent example would be the backlash to GMB members voting to endorse Smith: so the story goes that they are too stupid to understand why Jeremy is better for them, or they all have Trident on the brain (God forbid they work to save their jobs, of course).
This well-tread narrative works as a comfort blanket for a Left that would rather engage its fantasies about people than the real deal. It has become increasingly pronounced by those that justify Corbyn’s bad standing among the public. While divided parties are infamously unpopular in history, the increasingly malign pointing of fingers at the PLP as the primary or only source of unpopularity suggests a logic that paints voters as resoundingly influenced by a shady elite, with no control over their own opinions of Jeremy Corbyn in isolation.
As such, ‘brainwashing’ and ‘brainwashed by Blairites’ have become a central motif in Corbyn’s Labour.
But in recent times, in the Corbyn era, it has also become heavily gendered.
I have had this repeatedly chucked at me, both online and in person, that I am a ‘young girl’ who will eventually ‘get it’. I had been ‘seduced by sinister forces’, in other words.
An early instance was being told in a pub debate that I had been brainwashed by Blairites because I thought effective opposition required of us to appear like a government-in-waiting. I just didn’t understand that we were a social movement now, see. I didn’t get the new politics. I didn’t get it at all.
But actually, it started even before that. I was interviewed by Channel 4 News with 3 other women -all intelligent, all articulate, all worthy of being there and having their views heard. In the comments, the Liz Kendall supporter, Yvette Cooper supporter, and myself as an Andy Burnham supporter were accused of being fed lines, reading from scripts, not having anything independent to say. Only the Corbynite girl spoke eloquently and from the heart.
But I hadn’t noticed a trend until after I had the audacity to introduce Owen Smith on stage in July. My friend Abby Tomlinson -an incredibly talented, intelligent and independent woman- had introduced him a week earlier. Ever since, there have been a select few trolls who constantly tweet us with references to us being ‘young girls’ who are naive, not idealistic enough, with one even blocking me promising to unblock me in 30 years time when I would hopefully have matured into the good little Corbynite I should be.
Since that audacious moment, we have both been, effectively, told we are being influenced from the “Blairite high powers”, as put sarcastically by Abby. Manipulated beyond our control. Despite both being on the soft left, we were malleable, and we didn’t even know it. As with the GMB voters, a shadowy elite was to blame for our corruption. And it is because we are ‘young girls’ that we are such easy targets. Nay, that is, apparently, why we were allowed the platform.
This isn’t a straw man, it is a constant. Something that, having picked up on it among peers, seems to be a common experience for women on the ‘wrong’ side of the argument. It is an easy go to for shutting down debate. This is both online and in person. And it is almost always men.
It creates a dangerous precedent for any women that wish to speak independently. Never taken seriously, we will be accused of already being spoken for. The result is that independent and fiery women -from Abby to Jess Phillips- have the air sucker-punched out of them, desist from a politics that does not tolerate dissent or diversity of opinion. To be ‘outspoken’ – a word, a friend pointed out, that is only ever used to describe women- is sinful. Only Jeremy can have principles. All who disagree are stupid, brainwashed, or -as Owen Jones noticed in his blog- supposedly doing it in bad faith. Either way, it is women who have to face the brunt of this. And not only do my values get questioned, but so too does my intelligence and independence of thought – something that I hold tremendously dear in politics, as I am sure all women do.
Misogyny in the Labour Party has become a central experience for many women on the Left. Our gender is hurled at us as a weapon. Now, it’s being used as a barometer for intelligence.
Women, as with working class voters, know what it feels like to be patronised. We’ve dealt with it for a millennia. We never thought, however, that we would have to deal with it from the Labour Party.