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Eagle is downed, but not by sexism

by Philip Roddis

Is there a prize for the most featherheaded Guardian analysis of Labour’s crisis? In the face of fierce competition over the months since Corbyn’s election, I shortlist Anne Perkins for this piece yesterday. Eagle shot down? Well that’d be on account of its being female. What else?

Er … that this Eagle hadn’t a single policy idea? That her career as MP began with a swoop on Wallasey in 1992 after Labour’s Frank Field, in neighbouring Birkenhead, had in 1987 urged Wallasey to vote Tory against left Labour candidate Lol Duffy? (Tory Lynda Chalker scraped back in by 279 votes. Before the 1992 general election Duffy lost the candidature to backroom skullduggery, gifting to Eagle the fruits of Team Duffy’s work.) That even in her own terms – leadership quality and media savvy – she was embarrassing? That she’s shown  scant regard for truth and has a voting record that takes in: Iraq war – for … Chilcot – against … Trident and death on Syria – for … tighter controls on fracking – against … 90 day lock up without charge – for … greater parliamentary transparency – against …???

For sure, allegations of sexism in the Labour Party are more credible than those of antisemitism. In this it reflects society at large and as I opined in another post, only a fool denies that ours is still, for all the advances made these past four decades, a sexist and even misogynist world.

But the context for Perkins’ piece is narrow, the bar low. She needn’t show Eagle to be better than every other Labour MP; just better than Owen Smith. Few had heard of Smith a fortnight ago but – bear with me a moment – some will recall Craig Murray, or at least his 2003 dismissal by Tony Blair from the post of Ambassador to Uzbekistan. Murray was sacked for saying Uzbeki boss Islam Karimov – a friend in the war on terror  who allowed coalition strikes on Iraq from his country’s ex Soviet airbases – had the delightful habit, when taking time out from making his family obscenely rich, of boiling political opponents in oil.

That last is by way of context. Murray hosts a blogsite featuring this piece on an Owen Smith now pitching himself as “of the left” and “just as radical as Jeremy”. Murray’s factual assertions re Smith make interesting reading, none more so than the latter’s in and out running on NHS privatisation,* but I don’t want to get sidetracked by the man’s eyebrow raising left claims. For now I’m interested only in assessing Anne Perkins’ argument that it was sexism wot brought down Eagle. I’ll use criteria set out above to compare the two would be ousters of a leader with a mandate bigger than any in the party’s hundred year history.

  1. Policy ideas.** So far Smith offers no more than Eagle but after Blair took over in 1994, Labour embraced more fully a vision of itself as competing with the Tories not on ideology but as technocrats claiming better stewardship of “the economy”. With both New Labour and liberal media seemingly unable to grasp how that tory-lite vision plays in the Labour heartlands, determining which of the two candidates had the better policy ideas may not carry the weight it should.
  2. Dirty tricks. I’m aware of no rerun of Wallasey ’92 to ease Smith into Westminster but who in any case can say how much this criterion, like the preceding one, would weigh in the minds of the PLP?
  3. ‘Looking like a leader’. On standards set by the Blair-Campbell machine, Smith – smarmy where Eagle looks lacklustre going on shifty – wins hands down. (On those same standards New Labour would love  a credible woman leader. If I were looking for evidence of sexism driving Labour’s choices here – and I’m not because it isn’t – I’d focus on Yvette Cooper: another technocrat blown out of the water by the first ideological leader in living memory. Not even her worst enemy could deny that Yvette played well – and may do so again – in the age of spin.)
  4. Dissemblance. Tough call. In the pink corner, Angie with her croc-tears and brick-through-window tweakings of reality … her half truths re cancelled meetings … her shrill claims that “I’m a working class woman, damn it” (see Graun comments below). In the allegedly red corner, Owen: untroubled by his PR contracts with a Pfizer drooling over the NHS privatisation pie. I declare a tie, though Smith would worry me the more on grounds of greater venal competence.
  5. Voting record. As Perkins notes, Smith’s later (2010) entry to parliament makes him a ‘clean skin’. Hard to compare the two on this criterion.

Overall? With a definitive on criterion three only, I think we have the answer. Smith had more backing than Eagle not because of sexism but because Labour’s vision of itself –  embraced by the rebels in defiance of grass roots members – favours a silver tongued and photogenic leader with the media skills to advance their interests. Next to slick Smith, Eagle couldn’t soar – far less land -and Anne Perkins’ take on the why of that is kite-flying at its most bird-brained.

* Watching Smith backer Stephen Kinnock on Newsnight last night was instructive. Asked point blank if his man was compromised by involvement with Big Pharma, Kinnock dodged the question by repeatedly asserting, in textbook ‘broken record’ style, that Smith supported the principle of “an NHS free at point of delivery”. That growing army of folks no longer fooled by this tying – on the face of it unequivocal – of colours to mast may recall the same claim made by Jeremy Hunt. Hunt, like Smith, has a financial stake in creeping privatisation in the NHS.
** Expect a future post on this. Corbyn may not be able to win a general election but that’s down to a divided UK in which Blair’s wins, premised on capturing the centre without alienating the heartlands, were on successively reduced majorities and cannot be repeated. Corbyn’s foes can’t win either. Not because Eagle is weak (though she is) or Cooper, Hunt, Smith, Umunna & Co ideology-lite (though they are) but because the UK’s class fault-lines have deepened and widened. It’s scary. Not just for Labour, which seems sure to split. Not just for Britain either. Western democracy, premised on levels of prosperity sufficient to give most citizens a stake, is in neoliberal induced crisis. It makes things simple though. With “principled but unelectable” versus “iffy but electable” now a false opposition, Corbyn gets my backing on moral grounds.
Philip Roddis blogs at Steel City Scribblings.

14 Comments

  1. Orthus says

    From the article:

    Her gender was not exactly a problem. Her problem was that she was cursed with a bit too much history.

    I believe the thrust is that her sex was all she had to offer, having a somewhat unappealing voting record but Perkins thought that this should have been enough, to appeal to voters not as a genuine virtue. She has a point, neither candidate has much going for them but at least Eagle would have been sending the right signal. Perkins is not blaming sexism but arguably the lack of it.

    BTW, I think ‘shrill’ is fair enough, she does sound different when making unverifiable accusations.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ebony says

    Slightly topic, but Istill about New Labour. I am am tired of New Labour in general. for example in the Guardian in the comments sectionthe New Labour supports are constantly complaining that the Corbyn supporters are abusive, but at the same time they are calling Corbyn and his supporters, Corbynistas, Chairman Mao, Maois, Trokyist, the hard left, and cult members. I am sick of the hypocrisy. What is worst is that the Guardian lets the New Labour supporters get away with their abuse. So much was the “web we want campaign”. I guess if you don’t toe the party line you deserve to be abused. There is one poster new Labour poster in particular, AM Hudson JR. This person is abusive, and should have been ban if the Guardian applied their so called “standards”. I apologise for the rant.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Faye mckeand says

    Great piece, leave out the word ‘shrill’ though Phil. Hegemony rules 101, his voice tone is not commented upon as it belongs to the dominant group.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. chrisb says

    The support for Eagle is the logical consequence of identity politics. Eagle’s main claims to be Labour Party leader was that she doesn’t speak with a posh accent, that she is a woman and that she is gay. Ideology and voting records don’t come into consideration, as far as her supporters are concerned. (That the left-wing press chose to ignore how Owen Smith dismantled her campaign by using his children to prove his heterosexuality is highly hypocritical. Had a Conservative politician used his family to suggest that a lesbian colleague was unsuitable for a position of authority, they would have been hammered as Angela Leadsom indeed was.)

    The reason why Anne Perkins chooses to support Eagle so blindly is probably that her own career, as well as Eagle’s, depend on the possession of a vagina.

    Liked by 1 person

    • reinertorheit says

      I don’t have a problem with her being a lesbian. But I wish she could be a male lesbian – we don’t have enough male lesbians in the Labour Party, I feel.

      Like Lord Meddlesome, for example. He is a lesbian role model more Labour men should aspire to.

      After all, complicity in the death of over two million innocent people in Iraq is a mere pecadillo for Polly Parrot or Owen Jones.

      Like

    • Hi Chris. I agree with your first paragraph. Perkins’ sexism charge is reductionism gone mad and Eagle is too obviously below-par for it to have stuck, not even with those who do buy into identity politics. Its sole merit for me was as a way into the nature of the forces ranged against Corbyn. That, and wanting to keep word count down, is why I didn’t bother with the gay angle – but you’re quite right of course.

      On your second paragraph, well, maybe you’re right. I’m just as inclined, though, to put it down to Perkins being thick …

      Liked by 1 person

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