13 Days Remaining

Monday 12th
posted by Morning Star in Features

Tatchell’s stunt against the famously anti-war leader of the Labour Party has not helped Syrians in the slightest and has actively harmed the cause of women’s rights, says LOUISE RAW

Dear Peter,

For me, Tatchell will now eternally rhyme with “What the actual…?”

You’ve done some dodgy things as well as some commendable ones over the years. I will always think your advocacy of lowering the age of consent, and sympathy towards adult and child sexual relationships, is wrongheaded and abhorrent. But I have also cheered many of your human rights interventions.

Now, however, you seem to have decided that the way forward is to protest against people who agree with you: which I concede is hella novel.

You’ve said in the past that shock tactics are necessary to combat injustice — I agree wholeheartedly. And what you did in derailing Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on women’s rights was certainly shocking, but only for its irrelevance — for what injustice had Corbyn committed?

Even the anti-Corbyn press and his haters both within and without the Labour Party have never accused him of being responsible for the aerial bombardment of Syria or the blocking of aid drops.

It would be hard to, given his record — which you will know is exemplary in respect of human rights in general.

Last year, Corbyn staged his own intervention on Syria — but against the Tory PM, who is actually responsible for British policy there.

He talked about a Syrian refugee constituent of his, Abdulaziz Almashi, formerly of Manbij city.

The Hansard transcript shows that as soon as he did so, the baying boys’ club on the opposite benches yucked it up hysterically (as they always do when Corbyn mentions a real-life, non-famous person).

Corbyn was undeterred, and posed a question to David Cameron on behalf of Almashi: his family still lived in Manbij city, which he had managed to flee, he said.

Isis couldn’t kill them, but he was desperately afraid that the aerial bombardment might — could the PM guarantee their safety? (He couldn’t, of course.)

There’s nothing there you wouldn’t agree with — and Corbyn hasn’t changed his mind since.

Yet you stood in front of him and his unprecedented all-woman panel (featuring three women of colour, Shami Chakrabarti, Dawn Butler and Diane Abbott) with a placard demanding aid drops. You know who else supports those? Of course you do — shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, who was the fourth woman on stage behind you.

I am at a loss to know what this was supposed to achieve, unless you’d run out of fish in a barrel to shoot; but I eagerly await you interrupting Germaine Greer’s next lecture to tell her she should support feminism.

You are experienced enough to know that the headlines would read as they did the next day — “Tatchell interrupts Corbyn (something about Syria apparently but who cares? FIGHT!).”

You achieved nothing for Syrian civilians, but you did manage to get the attention on you, and Corbyn slated by the mainstream press yet again.

While I don’t believe these were necessarily your main aims, I can understand why people are speculating that perhaps they were: or that, as a prominent Green Party member, you were at least sanguine about them.

But leaving aside male egos, while it’s hard to see what you achieved, it’s easy to quantify the harm you did.

This was to have been a historic day for women. Corbyn had planned to use the occasion of International Human Rights Day to focus on their rights, in an incredible, powerful speech — which this paper is to be commended for having printed in full, even after your shenanigans.

But let’s look again at some of the highlights, because they’re incredibly important.

Corbyn was actually going to speak about Syria once again, and draw attention to the suffering of civilians, and in particular women and girls, who are most at risk of rape as well as other forms of violence, as women in conflict always are.

Corbyn spoke, too, about other wars and other female victims: from Yemen, the Congo, Rwanda.

He pledged to empower women over war; but he didn’t just portray them as victims. Women, he said, were the “agents of resolution and change.”

He referenced Sabrina Jean, now in Britain but fighting for the rights of her fellow Chagos Islanders, expelled in the 1960s to make way for a US military base.

Closer to home, he praised Hillsborough campaigners Becky Shah and Anne Williams, who lost a mother and a son to the disaster but fought tirelessly, with the assistance of the under-threat Human Rights Act, for justice.

He talked about the suffering of women in Britain due to Tory austerity measures — that they are affected more by benefit and tax credit cuts; that they are still working for less pay; that they are being put at risk due to refuge closures.

I am an anti-domestic violence campaigner, so the latter in particular was wonderful to hear. I thought about the awe-inspiring women I’ve met through my work: Lynn Smillie, who as a child watched her father murder her mother, but has gone on to set up No Feart, a Scottish anti-violence initiative; Nina, who was so systematically abused both emotionally and physically by her husband, it took the attainment of two degrees to make her realise she wasn’t, in fact, stupid — she now works as a coach for the Freedom Programme, which re-empowers women like her.

Corbyn’s words would have given them heart. More than that, the Istanbul Convention, which Corbyn rightly slated the British government for refusing to sign, could save the lives of others like them.

This convention both empowers and compels countries to act to prevent and counter violence against women and girls.

Corbyn both held the Tories to account for their failure to ratify, and pledged that a Labour government would immediately do so.

Right now, Peter, the Tories should be having to justify their policy on this. Instead, they must be heaving sighs of relief and getting their secretaries to pick out muffin baskets for you.

You are well aware of the seriousness of the violence women and girls face in our world, I am sure.

Globally it’s on the increase, and it is such an issue that the UN wants femicide — the murder of females because of their sex — to be a recognised crime.

Here at home, two women a week are killed by men; and an estimated 1,634 are raped (no, sadly that’s not a typo — the stat is from Rape Crisis research).

In India, meanwhile, more than 50 million women have been systematically exterminated from the population in three generations, through female foeticide, forced abortions, female infanticides, dowry murders and honour killings.

Merely to raise any of these facts as a woman, however, attracts both online and direct death and rape threats.

That is why a man in a powerful political position calling it out, and publicly standing with us, matters so very much.

Closer to home, Corbyn vowed to tackle misogyny in his own party, which is unprecedented.

Women of the left all know that, when it come to abuse, their “brocialists” can be as vehemently anti-feminist as the right.

Corbyn further undertook to subject every piece of legislation that came before a Labour government to a stringent test to assess its impact on women: “If it works against women, it will fail that test.”

He also committed to raising pensions for women, who make up two-thirds of Britain’s worst-off pensioners.

I’ve waited all my adult life to hear this stuff, Peter. Perhaps, just perhaps, other papers than the Morning Star would have been talking about some of it right now, had you not done what you did.

You have come close to admitting this, in the rather dismissive apology dragged from you by a Morning Star reporter on Sunday.

Please go further and commit to doing nothing further to derail Labour’s groundbreaking attempts to advance the rights of the human race’s most oppressed and exploited sex.

Louise Raw is a historian, journalist, speaker and campaigner. She is the author of Striking a Light (Bloomsbury), and organises the annual Matchwomen’s Festival in London. The next festival will be held on July 1 2017.