The bullying of Austin Mitchell shows once more where hegemony lies in Labour

What I have been saying here about where hegemony lies in the Labour Party has been shown off once more with bells on following Austin Mitchell’s provocative article about Labour women in the Mail on Sunday. The amount and tenor of concerted personal attacks on him have been quite remarkable, encouraged by the leader’s office (not surprising given what he says about it).

Before examining what Mitchell actually said – much of which is rather delicious for any serious Labourologist – let’s have a look at what some powerful and influential Labour figures have said in response. It's very much the reaction of an establishment stamping down on an unwanted outsider and hanging him out to dry.

The responses of prominent Labour women in an article for the right-leaning Telegraph for example could hardly have been stronger. Lucy Powell, shadow children's minister and Ed Miliband’s leadership bid campaign manager, referred to Mitchell’s sexist and misogynistic comments”. Former cabinet minister and potential London mayoral candidate Tessa Jowell said: “It’s the old cloth-eared macho politics that have alienated so many [women] across all parties.”

Moving over to party news organ LabourList, “Ed Miliband’s spokesperson” dictated a statement which “slaps down Austin Mitchell” according to the headline, with the writer joining in the hatchet job by concluding: “Mitchell has previously been in hot water over accusations of sexism and comparing a corporate takeover to rape - as of next May, he’ll no longer be a Labour MP…”

Johanna Baxter, who has just been re-elected to Labour’s governing body the NEC on a ticket of ‘#PuttingMembersFirst , then laid in, saying that Mitchell hadbrought shame to our PLP” with his “his bucket of bile”, that he was “ageist and sexist – in the extreme”, showed “complete contempt for both our party and his constituents, confirmed every disengaged voter’s fear about the politicians – that they’re only in it for themselves – and showed us exactly why we need All Women Shortlists and why politics needs to change”. LabourList editor Mark Ferguson, generally a good, balanced voice, linked to the article in a tweet: “Labour NEC member @JohannaBaxter gives Austin Mitchell both barrels here. Excellent stuff”. If he hadn’t expressed such views, he may been up against the wall himself such is the hysteria going around.

Lastly, Kevin Peel, another Labour NEC candidate (on the Progress slate and unsuccessful), wrote for ProgressOnline how he was “appalled”, and felt “disgust” at the “astonishingly misogynistic claims and assumptions about women MPs”. He added: “we need better education and understanding of equality issues in the party” – a call for political re-education of ignorant believers in inequality like myself then, which should be fun (by the way, I’m in favour of equality as a general idea, but it very easily gets warped into its opposite by these advocates of the ‘equalities agenda’, as I discussed recently here).

Bear in mind that “misogyny” means ‘hatred of women’, so Peel here and Powell have been saying, in public, that Austin Mitchell hates women. I can hardly think of anything more insulting to say about anyone, and it is very hurtful even if you’re familiar with the way itch-hunt: anyone who steps away from the one true path gets stamped down and trampled into the dust.

The past has become another party, and Labour’s pool of experience is being drained, which is perhaps just as well because the bright, bushy-tailed new boys and girls think they know it all anyway.

Oldies are being replaced by amenable youngsters who came of age politically in the post-socialist era of Brown and Blair, those sons of Thatcher who replaced social democracy with free market economics, euro-enthusiasm and Boy Scout wars.

Instead our new preoccupations will be social, educational and family issues, all brought to the fore by the feminisation of Labour through the obsession with All-Women’s Shortlists (AWS)." [and he mentioned two examples where the list has been just one, so not much choice there]

He then related how Ed Miliband’s ‘political fixer’ Anna Yearley works to secure AWS in constituencies like the one he is stepping down from:

So when an MP stands down, the constituency party is consulted about whether they want an AWS, and whatever their reply (usually a confused mumble), the faceless functionaries on the Organisational Sub-committee of Labour’s National Executive, which makes the decision without knowing anything about local circumstances, are told the party will accept one... 

The only exceptions being seats wanted for the scions of our great dynasties, the Kinnocks, the Straws, the Benns, the Blairs.”

What has perhaps received most attention is this section:

 It cannot be denied that feminisation and youthification will make Parliament brighter, smarter and nicer

Yet the Commons will also be more preoccupied with the local rather than the international (not necessarily a bad thing) and small problems rather than big ideas and issues  (a very bad thing as it will be less exciting and lead to sixth-form essays read out word for cut-and-pasted word, replacing oratory).”

And, lastly, “The Left will be even smaller but the party more manageable and reasonable, for apart from obsessive feminism, women MPs are more amenable and leadable and less objectionable. But it might not make us tougher.

If Labour wins in 2015, how a family-friendly, gentler party, less prepared for all-night shenanigans of the parliamentary kind, will face up to Tory hooligans who feel they’ve been unjustly deprived of a power that’s their due, is a more worrying matter."

Mitchell is not generally complimentary about Labour’s women MPs, true, and if applied universally, his views would clearly be wrong. But there seem to be two major questions here. Firstly, if what he said is true; and secondly, if it was unacceptable. For me, if the first applies, then the only ‘unacceptable’ is a political, tribal matter, not a moral one as pitched in the various reactions. The truth can certainly offend, but it cannot be misogynistic.

I can certainly see a great deal of truth in what Mitchell says from observing the Labour Party reasonably closely. If there wasn’t, then the reaction surely wouldn’t have been nearly as vituperative – we could have just brushed what he said off and laughed at it. Rather, the reaction shows a degree of insecurity and a lack of class.

Of course it is not necessarily a facet of women as a whole that they will "be more preoccupied with the local rather than the international...and small problems rather than big ideas and issues", but I think it is a general trait of the women that are coming through the Labour culture and system. They tend to be of a certain type, most interested in feminist politics, with the big ideas they espouse tending to be those of systematic female oppression - ideas that are quite strange and alienating to ordinary people (including most women).

But this is the dominant tendency on the wider liberal-left and its institutions, including the political parties, unions, media and third sector organisations.

You are very unlikely to see an article anything like this one in the Guardian or New Statesman for example, but you will see the opposite view expressed repeatedly. In liberal-left politics and media, gender as a subject matter has been assigned to the feminist tendency and is largely controlled by it, even though – indeed actually because – these people could hardly be more one-sided in their views.

This is what a hegemony looks like, and you could even see it on the BBC’s Newsnight programme on Tuesday evening, where Mitchell appeared with one of Labour’s most prominent feminist advocates, Stella Creasy.

On the programme, as on Radio 4's Woman’s Hour earlier in the day Mitchell, struck a mollifying tone, saying “the number of women should be increased, and All Women’s Shortlist have been a good way of doing that. But they are undemocratic...” He added: “I’m surprised at the comradely assault by my colleagues.”

Creasy responded cuttingly: “What I recognise is the drip-drip of discrimination and prejudice that women face in every single sphere of public life.” Both Creasy and presenter Kirsty Wark repeatedly interrupted Mitchell whenever he managed to say more than a brief sentence, with Wark even snapping back at Mitchell for saying: “Don’t hector me”...when he was being hectored.

The independent-minded Labour MP Kate Hoey was right when she tweeted:

But the dominant liberal media once more piled in against Mitchell. The New Statesman for example wrote up the encounter as: ‘Stella Creasy trounces Austin Mitchell in a debate on the “feminisation of politics”’.

This is a form of feminism in Labour in which women are deemed to be beyond criticism, and any criticism of them – individually or collectively – is stamped down upon if it gets anywhere near prominence, with any truth largely lost in the maelstrom. It is completely acceptable to make derogatory comments about men, and old white men in particular (“male, stale and pale”), but anything going the other way is met with a wall of noise and condemnation. It isn’t a healthy or attractive situation.

Of course this poses a problem for me personally, for as I have stopped trusting these people to speak or tolerate the truth on issues which are most important to them, I have also stopped trusting them generally. Given these are dominant voices in Labour politics, it has led me to start distrusting the party itself as an institution.

Alongside that, it seems clear that people like me, who think for themselves, keep their eyes and ears open, and are prepared to recognise what they see and hear, are more or less unwelcome in the party. This gives some pause for thought.

For more on similar subjects, see the Labour Party and other party politics page and Identity politics and the left page.


  1. Hi Ben, I got here from your link on Labour List. Gr8t blog. I am a real floating voter, Conservative in 2005 Lib Dem 2010 but am disappointed with them. I voted Labour for council a few months back. As for 2015 it could be NOTA for me because I cant stand all the isms and .ists you seem to get on Labour list. I have always been in moderation and lots of my stuff never gets through I don't know why I don't diss other ppl on there and mainly I ask questions or try to say something useful. For instance today they have something from Lord Glasman and I said that perhaps there are two many lords and ladies in a party that talks about equality. It hasnt got on and I don't suppose it will. Lord Glasman and the others talk about ordinary ppl like Lord Attenborough talks about wild animals, like we are another world. I don't suppose he has to get up for work at 5 in the morning in all weathers or any other of the top brass in political parties.

    I have noticed a lot of dissing of older ppl on the site and this doing up of Mr. Mitchell is typical. On one hand lots of them say there shouldnt be personal remarks about ppl and they go and invite them to do just that. All the guy seems to be saying is that they don't want older ppl in parliament especially if a man, and go out of their way to get young women in. It's obvious it's true because of the AWS. To me that is just two-faced and dishonest, like when you get the Labour guys complaining about millionaires in the government when a lot of the Labour guys are millionaires themselves. I just feel there is no real difference in any of the parties. They all use us and then ignore us, just like Labour have used Mr Mitchell to win is seat for tem now they diss him for telling what he believes is true

    Lee Denham

  2. They cant leave the guy alone on Labourlist. It's a week later and the bloke that runs it has had another go at him. Thats bullying and if you send a reply they never print it. Bullies and cowards


    1. thanks for pointing out Lee. I agree it's basic bullying. Understandable in a sense politically because he's gone way away from the party line, but given the abuse he's suffered in the past, like for saying a company was being 'raped' by a predator, I don't blame him. It seems it's been made very clear to him that he's unwelcome.

  3. I dislike "isms", especially Socialism - but I consider myself to be part of that lumpen mass known as the working class.

    Labour, to most people on my stratus of life, was once a servant - it is now an overbearing and patronising master, only interested in imposing onto us what it thinks, totally uncaring of the cost.

    I can relate to 'Old Labour', I find no resonance with New Labour - university know-alls, devoid of real life experience, mantra-spouting cardboard cut-outs.

    Well done for standing up to this new Labour abomination.

  4. ''I have stopped trusting these people to speak or tolerate the truth on issues which are most important to them, I have also stopped trusting them generally.''

    So very very true. It's why I left the party in the end.

    And what Anonymous above writes is so true as well. I told my staunch Labour friend the other day that I quite like listening to Peter Hitchens even if I don't agree with all his views. I got the most disapproving look...

    In the end, if you don't want to argue with them, you just drift away. The quiet life is preferable to a finger wagged in your face forever.


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