On Rhea Wolfson, and young women in the Labour Party

By Charlotte Nichols / @charlotte2153

Being a Labour Party member at the moment can often be rather disheartening. Being a member who is part of a Jewish community even moreso, with everything that’s going on at the moment in the party regarding antisemitism. Being a woman member has always been somewhat of an added nuisance- still underrepresented, still subject to sexism (of the everyday, and more serious variety) and sexual harassment still a problem. In 2016. I know. Being a young member means being spoken to like you’re stupid by the left and relative right of the party because you don’t remember the Miner’s Strike or “what Militant did to Liverpool”. So when you’re all of these things, it takes a special concerted effort to get involved and to not let it all grind you down.

So, as someone who contemplated leaving the party I love and have been a member of for best part of a decade in recent weeks, and who wrote to Ian McNicol to say I would have no choice but to do so if Ken Livingstone was not removed from the party, I can’t tell you how good it feels to have someone like me running for NEC. Someone from outside of London too, who realises, unlike so many in our party, that there’s a whole country outside of the M25.

It’s not just about ‘optics’ but about perspective, and one we’re sorely lacking. Following yesterday’s jubilation, however, today I am back to feeling pretty sour about things.

Soured by reams of vile anti-Semitic and sexist abuse sent to Rhea Wolfson and her family because she’s had the audacity to stand for election as a young, Jewish woman. Soured by people queuing up to kick her while she’s down, to make a factional attack and posting snide tweets about comments they’re wilfully ignoring the meaning of.

Young people often (shock horror) have said or written things in the past that don’t accurately capture their views in all their nuance, or that can be easily divorced from context. Older people do it too. It’s called being human.

I think it is important Labour wins in 2020. I hope Labour will win in 2020. I want to help them win in 2020. Rhea believes this too, and her campaigning track record is clear evidence of this. This is not a debate about IF we win in 2020, but HOW we win in 2020. Chapping doors all year round is great, but it doesn’t in and of itself win elections. I want to see sustainable wins- not just 2020, but 2025, 2030 and so on. Not paper-thin minorities that can be eroded over the course of a parliament, or one-term wonders (though obviously I’d take both over the alternative right now).

I used to swim competitively, and in the run-up to a big competition, we’d focus really really hard on our technique over our speed. It seems counterintuitive, but actually, if your technique was spot-on your speed automatically followed. Elections are not unlike this.

If our message is out-of-sync with voters, if our party is divided, if people don’t even know what our policies are and we only fight the Tories on their turf rather than reshaping the debate altogether, we won’t win elections. If we focus on fixing our issues, on building up our party and embedding it into our communities, on working together to achieve our common endeavours, we make our job that much easier. So yes, this should be our priority, because if ‘winning’ is your only priority and you don’t address the foundation of a solid electoral and political strategy, you’re not going to win. And we owe it to our members, and all of the people suffering under this government to win. And keep winning. No-one owes us our vote, and we can’t expect people to vote for us just because we’re Labour. It has to mean something, and they have to know that we’ll stand up for them.

People, rightly in my view, criticised Jon Lansman for comments he made about Jasmin Beckett’s campaign when she ran for NEC Youth Rep. And yet, many of these same people are today tweeting about Rhea in the same way. If it’s sexism when the ‘left’ do it, it’s sexism when the relative right do it. Older men using their political positions and platforms to tear down young women members is unacceptable. Full stop. On a day when she is the victim of a targeted campaign of antisemitic and sexist abuse, it’s especially undignified.

So how about today, we celebrate the fact we could soon have 3 young women members on our NEC at a time when their perspectives are more vital than ever, and not kick people while they’re down just because they’re in a different part of the party to you? How about we remember that other members, evenwhen they’re in different factions, have feelings? How about we remember that everyone has said things that don’t capture exactly their position, and to talk to them to understand their position rather than using articles written by Guido Fawkes (hardly a friend of our party, or of young women members- need I remind you of his comments about Frankie Leach recently) to beat them with and going straight onto social media to do so? How about we stand up together, united, and say that antisemitism is utterly unacceptable without having to qualify it with the fact we don’t agree with the person it’s directed towards? How about we get some perspective and remember that Rhea has replaced Ken Livingstone, a man whose comments over a number of years are far more offensive than anything Rhea has ever said or done?

I expect better of all of you.

If we want more young women involved in our party, this is not how we achieve it. Any less, and it’s a reminder to me and people like me, just when I thought we were turning a corner, that maybe we’re not welcome after all.

Charlotte is Young Labour’s Women’s Officer and a member of Open Labour’s management committee

This post was reproduced from Medium.

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