Whataboutery, And the Politics of Bigotry and Hypocrisy

Although the catalyst appears to be have been the revelations about Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood, this has been a long time coming. The worlds of journalism and politics have changed radically in the past few decades.

Their culture has not changed to reflect that reality. Perhaps it should be no surprise that Westminster is one of the places that has most struggled to keep up. That does not mean this sort of behaviour is confined to politics. Perhaps it is to be optimistic to see this as a shock to the system that will change behaviour and attitudes.

From Jared O’Mara to Damian Green, misogyny and bigotry is not a party political matter. However, it is inevitable that political people try to treat it as such. We wear spectacles with rosey-hues. Sometimes we do not realise it.

Those condemning Theresa May for appointing ministers with present and past sexual indiscretions should consider that O’Mara was approved as a Labour candidate despite well-known stories of unacceptable behaviour.

Jeremy Corbyn had to be pushed kicking and screaming into withdrawing the whip from him but Theresa May has yet to act after allegations made against both Mark Garnier and Damien Green.

This is not a witchhunt. It is not partisan. By making it so, we demean its seriousness. Not all those in the Tory dossier are sexual predators: some are female MPs, some are rumoured to be gay, some are just having extramarital affairs. The worst makes for unpleasant reading. There is unacceptable behaviour here. We cannot mix them together. We can look at our attitudes though.

Isn’t it time we looked in the mirror to see ourselves as others see us?

Many people have criticised those whose first reaction to an allegation of rape is to criticise and degrade the female journalist who reported the news. Yet last week, some of these same people were dismissing reports about O’Mara and Lewis merely because the stories came from the right-wing Guido Fawkes website.

It is to be hoped that those female Tory MPs who condemned Lewis and O’Mara will condemn their own side’s follies with an equal condemnation. MPs such as Jess Philips who are prepared to call out misogyny on both sides are few and far between.

As bad as a hypocritical chorus was the attempt to silence female MPs from speaking out. One comedian responded to the allegations about Lewis by saying that Harriet Harman (who had criticised Lewis) had not ended the detention of female refugees when she had the chance but “Lewis would”. Equally, among the excuses made for O’Mara some tweeted that female Tory MPs had no right to condemn Labour MPs for misogyny when they had voted for the Universal Credit which hurts women disproportionately.

This is men effectively telling women they cannot talk about gender. Isn’t it time we looked in the mirror to see ourselves as others see us? Silence cannot be justified when it is followed by a roaring condemnation of misogyny on partisan lines. One crime cannot be excused justifiably, if that forgiveness is applied with skewed vision.

By talking about these allegations in terms of witch hunts, some Tory MPs are showing how little they have adjusted to the reality of the world where woman feel more able to talk about sexism and abuse. It smacks of a desire to cling to a yesterday where their behaviour was only acceptable because of the barage of intimidation that women felt when confronting appalling behaviour. These MPs are not the victims. It is not that unwanted sexual advances were "acceptable" ten or fifteen years ago. No. They weren't. Likewise they seem to wish women would just be quiet.

Equally, the left needs to look at itself. When a left-wing commentator prefers to attack Tories for Section 28 - thirty years ago and acknowledged as a mistake - rather than a Labour MP for homophobic comments, you know you have a problem. Labour and Tories have 7% and 6% LGBT MPs respectively. It was a Conservative prime minister who introduced Marriage Equality legisation. It was Labour votes that  secured its passage.

the left needs to rid itself of its conceit that bigotry cannot exist in its ranks

Yet too often Labour allows a misreading of its history to justify support for wrong-doers in the present.

Corbyn recently tweeted that “under Labour” abortion was legalised with two doctors’ consent. Yet it was a Liberal MP who first introduced the legislation and the act passed with overwhelming cross-party support. Yet Corbyn’s tweet implied one of the greatest advances for women in the 20th century was a Labour achievement. Equally, 1967’s partial decriminalisation of homosexuality was passed despite Labour scepticism. Labour has not always embraced equality.

That changed in the 1980s, but, historically, that they are a gnat’s whisker ahead of the Tories. Even now Labour supporters who profess to care about antisemitism, maintain their support for Jeremy Corbyn despite his failure to sack a frontbencher for blatant racism (etc).

So the left needs to rid itself of its conceit that bigotry cannot exist in its ranks as it can within the Tories’. Nor that some see human rights as a secondary issue to anti-capitalism. That the Tories have had two female prime ministers does not mean they can claim to understand gender.

It may be that ‘sleaze’ once again taints the Tories. Already Michael Fallon has resigned. A weak government becomes weaker. In conjunction with a directionless domestic agenda and Brexit, the public may conclude they have been too long in office. It is not to defend this government to say that this would be to - in part - miss the point.

These latest revelations say a lot about those committing the misdeeds. The culture of secrecy is a comment upon our politics and our political parties. How we respond to them - with silence, excuses and hypocrisy, or just outright and equal condemnation - says something about us.

It is a matter of equality so shouldn’t we be treating it like one?

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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