What a remarkable few days we’ve had. It is so heartwarming to resurface and see so much humility coming from all corners. The Labour Party has been a difficult community to be part of these past couple of years, and I am so hopeful for our future. We have many bright lights, and a remarkable vision for a different kind of world. I met Jeremy when I was working for another MP. He was a scruffy bloke who nobody paid much attention to, least of all me — then everything changed and…you know the drill.
After Jeremy secured the leadership, I was upset to see many of my fellow Labour members be so dismissive of his offering. I felt as if I had clearly missed something, and so started to retreat into my corner. This trend continued for the next year, as colleagues and Generation X/Y’rs continued to naysay his chances. I became less confident, less inclined to publicise my viewpoint, and less able to be honest about my real political feelings. The implication of many of their arguments was that I was too young/not intelligent enough to understand what a catastrophe Jeremy might pose. Like many conscientious women before me, I honestly believed that they might be right — I’m not as old or as intelligent as they are! Clearly the society I yearned for was a fantasy — and that Jeremy’s demise was inevitable.
Ageism, sexism and racism has had a problematic role to play in this election, and continues to have a powerful grip on British politics. Whilst many of my confident, political, male friends (whom I deeply respect) informed me that I was woefully mistaken for holding my views, I would go out for dinner with my girlfriends, where we expressed our hope in the direction Labour was heading. Obviously this cuts in both directions — I know that there are belligerent female Corbynites who would never back down, but there are also a great number of women who have felt forced into a corner over the past two years.
Journalists, like Abi Wilkinson and Dawn Forster, were shut down by their colleagues in the media, and were publicly laughed at on air for (correctly) predicting a hung parliament. Diane Abbott received such unbelievable racist, misogynistic vitriol from the media (as she has done for years) that she felt unable to make it though the final few days of her election campaign. I believe, that bright, intelligent women felt unable to confidently articulate our viewpoint. We were silenced both by our insecurity and the collective over-confidence of some men.
I care so deeply about politics. I have studied it, and worked in it, and been challenged and changed by it. I went to one of the worst schools in the country, that was always in and out of special measures. Politics offered me a life raft, a way of understanding my community and of figuring out some solutions to the problems it faced.
I have considered going in to politics. But I am only going to do so if I feel that there is a recognition of the unique challenges that continue to be experienced by half of our population. It is amazing that we now have the largest number of female MPs we have ever had in Parliament. It was only six months ago that I sat and comforted a Conservative MP, who was deeply upset at the nature of the online abuse she was receiving on a daily basis. Politics is so off putting to so many women, and I am in awe of those who are brave enough to enter into it so knowingly. But these challenges don’t simply exist in Westminster, they are fueled and consolidated on the peripheries, in local parties and in the cut and thrust of our everyday political engagement.
So this really is a small plea to my confident, male, political friends. The next time you are in a pub and are about to cut down a point your female friend has just made, just wait a minute, and listen. Consider that she might not communicate her politics in a linear fashion, but that she might genuinely be exploring all possible scenarios. Consider also, the possibility that your viewpoint is not inevitably correct, and that your friend may be about to share some wisdom with you that will help you understand the world just that little bit better.
And finally, a tribute to all those women, like Diane, who have endured appalling treatment since their election to Parliament. You inspire me to be braver and more resilient, and I want to affirm and encourage you all as you embark on the next four years of your parliamentary career.