MIL-OSI UK: The “stupid woman” row, a Peterborough by-election and merry recess

Source: Labour List UK

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I don’t know whether Jeremy Corbyn muttered “stupid woman” or “stupid people”, and I don’t really care. Call it whataboutery if you like, but let’s get some perspective. Two Tory MPs had the whip restored last week: one was accused of sexual harassment by his own constituents, and we know he sent thousands of texts to them including violent sexual imagery; the other was suspended after “serious allegations” against him including rape (which he denies) were referred to the police. They’re now allowed to vote as Conservative MPs again, although there’s been no transparency about the party investigations that apparently took place. This is not to say that only Tories are misogynists – everyone in Westminster knows of creepy married Labour MPs who hit on young women in parliamentary bars or sleep with staffers. No, I’m saying that if you want to talk about whether the Labour leader hates women, we’d be better discussing a serious policy area such as prostitution than something he said under his breath during a heated PMQs.

The fact that MPs discussed the “stupid woman” row for such a long time in the chamber yesterday wasn’t really about whether Corbyn made a sexist comment. The MPs had varying agendas. Many were playing party politics, cynically pointing out the opposition leader’s remark while failing to call out much worse in their own ranks. Others were taking the opportunity to highlight Speaker Bercow’s behaviour. All were probably desperate to talk about anything but Brexit, out of boredom and/or embarrassment. So yes, language can contribute to further embedding misogyny into our social and political structures. But let’s acknowledge the motivations here, and prioritise matters of actual sexual violence if we really care about fighting against the hatred of women.

In other Labour news, Fiona Onasanya has been found guilty of perverting the course of justice. A party spokesperson said she had been “administratively suspended”, adding: “The Labour Party is deeply disappointed in Fiona Onasanya’s behaviour. It falls well below what is expected of politicians. She should now resign.” A by-election doesn’t necessarily follow – it is only automatically triggered if an MP gets sentenced to over a year in prison – however it seems unlikely that she wouldn’t voluntarily resign her seat regardless. Her constituency, Peterborough, is a very marginal one (607 votes in it) and Leave-voting. We only just won it back last year: this would be a real test for Labour.

The House rises today for Christmas recess. All parliamentarians will no doubt be thinking about Brexit during the festive season, with many decisions to be made (and perhaps U-turns to justify) ahead of the mid-January meaningful vote. Will Labour end up backing another referendum? Not if Len McCluskey’s latest piece in The New Statesman is anything to go by. Could members of the PLP, threatened with ‘no deal’, help drive through a Tory Brexit deal? Stranger things have happened. Like MPs, the LabourList morning email will be back on 7th January – unless something very dramatic happens to ruin my much-needed break – but keep checking the site for the occasional comment piece. Have a lovely holiday, and see you in the new year.

Sienna @siennamarla

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