It has been an interesting few days watching Scottish Labour Party, and a very telling case of the serious problems UK-wide Labour has internally in relation to bullying and respecting others views. In the leadership election of the Scottish branch, it was a battle between MSP centralist Sarwar and MSP Corbynite Leonard, which saw Richard Leonard take the victory with a slight lead of 56%.
But it’s not all fun and games. The election itself was one of the dirtiest and embarrassing in the party’s history with negative, harmful campaigns that got personal and dirty. This was mostly aimed towards Sarwar and his supporters which includes more MSPs and MPs than where supporting Leonard.
The most prominent example of abuse was towards Glasgow Cllr Aileen McKenzie after writing a blog post in support of Sarwar. Sarwar has also been subject to abuse and condemnation for his family business-ties and for the choice of his children’s schooling. This was mainly from groups like Campaign for Socialism, a 23-year-old a left wing socialist group who supported both Leonard and Corbyn. From this, we can clearly see that division and in-fighting are still raging within Labour.
Also this week we’ve seen both a mixture of condemnation and abuse thrown towards previous Scottish Labour Leader, Kezia Dugdale, who has decided to take on the role as a contestant on the reality TV show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here. Though this decision is well deserving of criticism, Dugdale has received much more along the lines of abuse with comments from party insiders, and even Anas Sarwar. This abuse came during anti-bullying week, as pointed out by her partner and SNP MSP, Jenny Gilruth.
I personally feel very bad for Kezia Dugdale; the past few years haven’t been easy for her as Scottish Labour leader. Taking on the role in 2015 after her party’s near desolation at the 2015 General Election, she has had to try and keep her party, which has always been traditionally centralist, together in the face of Corbyn’s revolution and a number of difficult elections for her party. Though I don’t fully believe that going on reality TV whist sitting as an MSP is a good idea, with the current madness within Labour I personally don’t blame her wanting to escape it.
And with most of her ITV salary, and her MSP salary whilst she’s in the jungle, going to charity and the fact she is a regional-list MSP compared to a constituency MSP, I don’t see this being as large a problem as it’s being made out to be, and in no way allows for the type of abuse and bullying she has received especially from thoughts within her own party. But Scottish labour isn’t the only place where abuse has been rife: Labour UK-wide has been having serious issues and this is especially apparent with anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism has for some time been a serious problem within the Labour Party. From Ken Livingstone’s comments on Hitler to more recently with former Labour council candidate, Nasreen Khan, with her anti-Semitic comments; this has been a serious problem especially since Corbyn has taken over the party and with the rise of many extreme left-wing groups. Though in Corbyn’s defence; he has attempted to take action on this issue with reports and rule changes at Labour Conference.
However this has come with mixed responses and issues such as accusations of Jewish MP, Ruth Smeeth, ‘colluding’ with the media, and top UK writers such as Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson expressing concern of anti-Semitism within the party. Whatever your opinions, praises, criticism of the Israel’s Government or Zionism might be; we must make sure that these discussions and debates are done fairly and with respect without resorting to bullying or abusive especially anti-Semitism. It is good to see that progress is being made but the Labour party still have a long way to go on this issue.
The internet has often been seen as a future of political openness, debate and discussion with it opening doors and giving people the access to politics like never before. However, if you look at most social media platforms in recent times, this hasn’t been the case. Online abuse, where the majority of cases mentioned in this article have taken place, has been rampant within politics in recent times especially with the last election and Labour, mainly its fringe groups and supporters, has been a catalyst of this.
Since the rise of Corbyn, we’ve seen the rise of new left-wing groups to fight for extreme left-wing ideas within the Labour party. The most prominent of these, born within weeks of Corbyn’s ascendancy, is Momentum: an unaffiliated, Labour supporting group often seen as the radical fringe, similar to the group Militant which was condemned and expelled under Neil Kinnock in the 1980s. It has been subject to many complaints in its two years of existence from the party’s chief whip and many of its MPs, especially female MPs. In an interview to the BBC earlier this year, Momentum leader Emma Rees was quizzed on the issue of abuse especially towards MPs, confirming that action is taken but declined to provide hard evidence of thus action.
It’s clear that Corbyn and the Labour Party must take a hard look at themselves on this issue. Within his time as leader, Labour has become an oozing bog of abuse especially in relation to online abuse. If politics is to become a more inclusive and easily accessible place for discussion and debate where people feel more enticed to get involved; there must be changes in attitudes and that is especially needed for Labour.