Sunday 28 May 2017

What's Age Got to Do With It? | TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May

The 94 year old writer and activist Harry Leslie Smith wrote in his book Harry's Last Stand: how the world my generation built is falling apart and what we can do to save it (published by Icon Books Ltd in 2014):  

Many people who are younger than me presume that because of my age I have a default setting which makes me, amongst other things, a lover of dogs, suspicious of immigrants, wary of welfare benefits and distrusting of those who possess piercings and/or multiple tattoos (p66). 

Last Friday (26th May) was Jeremy Corbyn's 68th birthday and social media was awash with good wishes, love and support. There were vids of Labour members singing the traditional song; memes (one of which I've included here); photos of messages on pub awnings and elsewhere and evidence of people donating the price of a birthday card (and more) to UK Labour in his name. Mr Corbyn's age is often cited by his critics who, often subtly and sometimes explicitly, draw on stereotypical images and views of older people as 'past their best, to challenge his right to lead the Labour Party and his ability to be Prime Minister. He responds to this as he does to the many, many other insults that are flung his way on a daily basis. Quite simply he does not rise to the mocking and is true to his word to 'refuse to get into the gutter with anyone' and so avoids any personal attack of those that happily and regularly attempt to undermine and besmirch him. Relevantly, a brief glance at his daily, weekly, monthly schedule ridicules any suggestion that he has not the energy for the job.

For those that look beyond the mainstream media it is clear that throughout his career Corbyn has worked tirelessly for 'the many, not the few' and this is reflected in the current Labour Party Manifesto with policies aimed at tackling injustices across the lifecourse. From a commitment to free school meals for all primary school children; the re-introduction of housing benefits for the under 21's through to a commitment to compensate those women, born in the 1950s, who have been financially disadvantaged by changes to the State Pension Law; and a pledge to tackle the loneliness that many of the elderly who are living alone are experiencing. In contrast the Conservatives would have us believe that increased longevity is a burden on society and that one of the solutions to this is a post-death tax that in turn will negatively impact on younger family members. Yet more evidence that the Conservative Manifesto offers anything but a 'stronger, fairer, more prosperous Britain' for all. Harry Leslie Smith again (this time on twitter today):

The fact that Britain now has 4 million kids living in poverty b/c of Tory austerity makes #TheresaMay unfit to be PM not #Corbyn @Harryslaststand

Celebrity endorsement, social media, the polls (although of course I accept the many complexities and provisos that others highlight about these), the numbers of new voter registrations and so on and so forth all suggest that younger people are hearing the Labour message under Corbyn more clearly than us older ones. Having taught in higher education for 27 years I am excited by the energetic way that 18+ year olds are getting involved which is unlike anything I have seen over this time. I am also struck by stories of other, much younger, adolescents and children, asking questions that challenge so-called political truisms. All of this gives me much hope for the future. I appreciate too that despite the increasing understanding of and support for what Labour has to offer, what Labour can do for us, there is much more to do. Encouraging people to think differently, particularly with reference to long-held beliefs isn't easy and a sensitive approach is needed. With this in mind I hope that we can avoid any further ageist blaming and stereotyping in our face-to-face and online communications from now on. 

From the canvassing I have done (anecdotal I admit) it is just as likely to be a young mother who says that she is not interesting in talking and has no plans to vote as an older person living alone and 'that Corbyn's a good un' has been said to me by people across the age range. The crowds Corbyn, and others canvassing to be MPs (and for the Party more generally), attract are diverse in terms of age (as well as gender, ethnicity and dis/ability), and those I meet at local Labour Party meetings and engage in #Labourdoorstep(ing) with includes students, retired people and all ages in between. What this suggests to me is that, in this, as in many aspects of life, there is much evidence of positive cross-generational action. So, (and I'm not denying that some age groups may be more entrenched in their views that others) rather than buying into media discourse that encourages us to dismiss the under thirties as naive 'snowflakes' and/or the over fifties as backward looking 'ice-hearts' let's just all WORK TOGETHER TO to encourage people of all ages that what we really, really need to do is TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May.

NB: I have published a number of political opinion pieces in recent months and with my discipline training in mind I have, in most of these, provided references to support my argument/provide links for readers to read more/check my argument. Over the next few days I hope to publish a number of pieces and to enable me to write more rather than less (alongside my other work commitments) such links to sources will be less frequent. 

Tuesday 16 May 2017

What's The Past Got to Do With It? | TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May

Bowie 1971
According to Theresa May, and much of the broadcast and print media that support her, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party have in the last three weeks or so (through the policies they have announced and the much discussed leaked and actual Manifesto) 'taken us back 40 years' to the 1970's. As many people have pointed out there was much about the seventies to applaud. In addition to many cultural references on which there will likely be much difference of opinion #GreatThingsFromThe1970s has prompted much political discussion. Here are just a few I found:

Nationalised transport. Bus fare was 5p, then 9p, then privatised and went up to 32p almost overnight #GreatThingsFromThe1970s

We had secure jobs + free education. Our NHS was in good shape. Work life balance was much better.We could breathe #GreatThingsFromThe1970s

#GreatThingsFromThe1970s Universities were places of learning and research not simply businesses

#GreatThingsFromThe1970s People could afford houses. People looked forward to careers not the gig market

Given that the focus of Labour's policies is on making things better for the 95%, not least in terms of our health, education, security and income, the critique is clearly yet another attempt to smear and to scare. Not everyone is taken in. See for example this series of letters in The Guardian - ‘Finally, a Labour Manifesto to Really Get Behind’ - Just a couple of snippets, do read the letters in full:

. . . .predicable claims from the right that Jeremy Corbyn wants to take the country back to the 1970s, forgetting to mention that this was a time when corporations and high earners contributed a fairer share to the public purse and we had a functioning welfare state and regulated public utilities providing essential services. 

For traditional Labour voters like me – someone who has not voted Labour since the Iraq war – this suddenly sounds like why I joined the Labour party, became a Labour councillor and voted Labour in the first place.

And although the BBC manages daily to find anti-Corbyn, lifelong Labour voters lamenting the fact that they can't vote Labour anymore, there is much evidence on social media of longtime Tories turning left and others who have never voted before being energised by what Jeremy Corbyn's Labour are offering. 

The criticism of Labour as taking us backwards is ironic from a Prime Minister and a party that has a record of doing just this both in terms of attitudes and actions. It was after all Margaret Thatcher (PM 1979-1990) and her government who wanted us to return to 'Victorian Values' (a time notorious for poverty, disease, domestic abuse and other hugely significant inequalities). Thatcher's legacy continues in that there remains a powerful misconception that the 'have nots' are to blame for their own misfortunes and that there are those that 'deserve' help and those that do not. Thus, the blame lies with the individual and not the unjust society in which they/we live. And the woman who would continue as Prime Minister for another five years, and who assures us that only under her is the country safe, herself has attitudes that many would consider outdated, divisive and cruel (from her support of grammar schools to fox hunting), and furthermore presides over a government with a sorry record. An example or two. First,in terms of health and illness:

Second, the economy (unbelievably an area the Conservatives claim as a particular strength of theirs):

And so:

With all of this in mind. Read the Labour Party Manifesto at: 
OR view the policies in brief here (provided by Eoin Clarke @LabourEoin)

If all of this is indeed 'taking us back' to the 1970's: BRING IT ON for what we need right now is change. 
Perhaps I'll pass on the yellow loons this time around though.

SO: What's History Got to Do With It?

Answer: A LOT

Thursday 11 May 2017

What's Gender Got to Do With It? | Turn LEFT and Make June the End of May

A couple of weeks ago I received my copy of a journal which includes an article written by myself and friend and colleague Mike Brennan (Brennan, M. and Letherby, G. (2017) ‘Auto/Biographical Approaches to Researching Death and Bereavement: connections, continuums, contrasts’ for Morality: Promoting the interdisciplinary study of death and dying 22(2)). Our piece is about the interconnection between autobiography and biography in social research focusing on death and bereavement. As such the article contains reference to aspects of each of our personal and professional identities and experiences. Given this we both wrote our biographical notes in the first person. I did not pay much attention to the biographies at the copy-editing stage – ‘silly' mistake. From the content of my contribution to the article it is obvious that I am a woman (amongst other things I make reference to my experience of miscarriage). Yet, my biography now reads:  

Gayle Letherby is currently [job title] and combine (sic) freelance academic activities with other writing and non-academic projects. His academic research and writing interests embrace all things methodological (including feminist, auto/biographical and creative approaches); reproductive and non/parental identities; gender, health and wellbeing; loss and bereavement; travel and transport mobility and working and learning in higher education. His recent publications include . . .

Throughout my career as a sociologist in higher education I, alongside other female colleagues, have experienced regular sexism. I have had my status and titles denied or deleted and my abilities questioned. My late husband (also a sociologist) and I wrote together of our different experiences within the academy (Letherby, G and Shiels, J. (2001) ‘Isn’t he good, but can we take her seriously?’ in Anderson, P. and Williams, J. (eds.) Identity and Difference in Higher Education London: Ashgate). Amongst other things we reflected on the different ways students related to us in that my expertise on many subjects and issues, including feminism, was much more likely to be challenged than John's (i.e. 'Can we take her seriously?'); and although we were both conscientious about and enjoyed the pastoral care aspects of the job John was much more likely to be lauded for this whilst I have have often been criticised for 'not being available' when needed (i.e. 'Isn't he good'). 

I don't recount these anecdotes to wallow but rather to provide examples of some of my personal examples of @EverydaySexism. The general acceptance of words and phrases that are derogatory towards women and girls is another example of day-to-day sexism and with this in mind a little while back I published a Blog entry on how the language used in political debate is often sexist. Here is an extract from my piece:  

Social media - which I greatly appreciate - both for its challenge to the mainstream media and the opportunity it provides for broad based discussion, debate and education - adds to the problem. I, and I know I am not alone in this, am dismayed by the possibilities it gives for smears and insults, bullying and intimidation; both from named individuals and those who hide behind anonymity/alternative identities.  Indeed, on many occasions the ease of the action seems to inflame the activity. Sadly, it seems that people from all sides of the political debate; both those on the right and on the left, use Twitter and Facebook and so on, to assault those with whom they do not agree. Even those who are not particularly aggressive or personal in their condemnation of a person, political party, policy or news item often resort to chauvinistic abuse; unfortunately supporting the view that these are just normal, everyday, acceptable insults.  With this in mind I groan when people I admire refer to the minister for health as Jeremy *unt and I shudder when those I don’t combine racism, sizeism, ageism with misogyny to describe or lambaste female, and male, politicians and those that support or challenge their approach, actions and ideas. Recently, on my Facebook feed I was more than heavyhearted to see, on a page very supportive of the Labour leadership, a cartoon meme with Jeremy Corbyn holding a banner complete with the words ‘let’s try not being twats’.  When asked why he doesn't retaliate to the constant barrage of, often extremely personal, attack he receives Corbyn's response is ‘I’m not going to get in the gutter with anyone’. With this in mind it's hardly likely that 'twat' is part of his vocabulary. As with many other issues, I'm with Corbyn on this.

On Tuesday the 9th May Theresa May and her husband Philip appeared on The One Show on BBC 1. The following has already been much reported: 

‘Well, there’s give and take, like in every marriage!’ said Mr May, laughing. ‘I get to decide when I take the bins out – but not if!’
 ‘There’s boy jobs and girl jobs,’ said Mrs May.
The language used by May is interesting. First: the girl/boy issue. Although, as I wrote in the earlier piece referred to above, reclaiming of language is a good thing, that she used childhood descriptors in referring to herself and her husband is not, I would suggest, 'sweet' as a writer in The Telegraph claimed but rather shows a spectacular like of insight from such a powerful woman.  Second: the gendered job issue. Where to start here. To begin we know that in the UK and elsewhere in heterosexual relationships: 

Women today spend as much time doing housework as in the 1990s. Men have increased their housework contributions – a nod towards greater gender equality. Yet women still spend twice as much time on housework as men.

I sometimes write short fiction including pieces prompted by my research interests. I have for almost 30 years studied and written about the experience of women and men who do and do not have children in terms of both experience and status. This story (also published on ABCtales seems relevant here: 

Hard Labour

I’ve never worked as hard as I have since I gave up my full-time job to stay home with the twins. Then I worked eight-to-five, an occasional evening and a few hours over the weekend. Now I’m on duty all day and all night.

I’m exhausted.

I couldn’t manage without mum. She comes over every weekday and feeds, bathes or plays with Harry and Ben whilst I catch up with housework and throw a few vegetables and some meat in the slow cooker in an attempt to prepare a supper that doesn’t need three to five minutes in the microwave.

I’m exhausted.

I was once amongst the first to scoff at stay-at-home mothers who moaned about their lot. How hard could it be? I’d planned to get back to my art, pick up where I left off after leaving college, before joining the rat race. I haven’t opened the new brushes I bought in the last months of the pregnancy, my artist’s eye useful only for deciding which primary colours to dress the children in.

I’m exhausted.

The boys' faces light up when Sam comes home, devaluing my daily grind in a heartbeat. I listen to the stories of deals and mergers, of collaborations and office politics. I nod but I’m uninterested, my own workplace all consuming. I used to enjoy sex. Now I’m grateful there’s somebody else around at night to take a turn with wet bottoms and fractious moments.

I’m exhausted.

Tuesday and Friday I attend mother and toddler group; my lifeline. I was quiet at first, unusual for me. I felt out of place. But the twins are a novelty and there’s always a pair of arms to relieve me of at least one. I’ve made a new friend. Alice too is overwhelmed by the whole experience and never has time to read a book or take a bath. She tells me about her cracked nipples. I wince, grateful for formula feed, and admit to wearing yesterday’s underwear as all the rest are in the washing basket. Conspiratorially we talk of our lives BC (before children) when we were smart, intelligent change-makers in the workplace, efficient in the home and fun outside of it. Before children we were our own people with our own separate identities. Now all our energy, our effort, our conversation, is devoted to our children.

I’m exhausted.

A rare night out. I book the babysitter early so I can wash and dress slowly and alone. The drive is blissful with folk music on the stereo rather than children’s favourites. After parking the car and flicking a bit of what I think might be banana off my jacket I walk to the party. I see Sam talking animatedly with some old friends. We wave. The hostess hands me a drink and introduces me to her neighbour. He smiles and asks the usual icebreaker question; ‘what do you do?’

‘Me, I’m just a househusband,’ I reply.

And, what about households that do not fit into the neat 'boy/girl' mix? One response I read on Twitter was by a woman asking May's advice on who should take out the rubbish, herself or her female partner. And my Twitter response:  

'As a woman who lives alone luckily I have learnt how to 'take the bins out' - it was tough!' 

In another part of the programme the focus was on Theresa May's love of shoes and she retold an anecdote that she has shared before about a woman she met in a lift who told her that it was her (May's) shoes that prompted her to pursue a political career. If true, is this really something a female Prime Minister should be proud of; that her fashion sense and not her personal and political values are what makes her a role model to others?  In a piece of 'fiction' I wrote recently about both the pantomime that is Prime Minister's Questions and the 'Emperor's New Clothes' type presentation by the Tories, both within and outside of Westminster, I referred to May's love of clothes. Sadly much of the response to this piece was in terms of criticisms of her appearance which was not my intention. I regret that my piece was not clear or nuanced enough although I stand by my view that the Mrs May needs to think more carefully about her presentation 
of self in a society where increasing numbers of people do not have enough money for food and buying new shoes is way down on their list. The best response (in my opinion) to Monday night's programme was from Cat Smith, previous MP and current Labour candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood 'Your shoes got me into politics #GE2017'. Her tweet was accompanied by this picture: 

A few weeks ago I came across an interesting article posted by the Women Against Tories Facebook page (who now kindly also promote my Blog posts). When searching for the page a list of other Women Against . . . options came up. I found the Women Against Feminism page particularly upsetting. This image is prominent on the site. This poster and other pictures and posts on the page are distressing and insulting in their inaccuracy. They are also disrespectful to the many, many female and male campaigners, activists, teachers, academics and others who have throughout history, and to date, worked tirelessly for gender equality. Many/most such advocates also reflect on how issues other than sex/gender such as ethnicity, age, dis/ability, sexuality are significant and indeed often interact with each other and with gendered difference in terms of in/equality and in/justice.  

In my own sociological work on (amongst other things) reproductive and non/parental status and experience; working and learning in higher education; travel and transport; loss and bereavement I have always, alongside other feminist social scientists, considered gendered expectations and experiences. This has included attention to when the gender order works against men and boys; when and how male and female experience intersects as well as a focus on the inequalities that women and girls face (for example Marchank, J. and Letherby, G. (2014) An Introduction to Gender: social science perspectives (revised second edition) London: Routledge).


Gender inequality remains a major barrier to human development. Girls and women have made major strides since 1990, but they have not yet gained gender equity. The disadvantages facing women and girls are a major source of inequality. All too often, women and girls are discriminated against in health, education, political representation, labour market, etc. - with negative consequences for development of their capabilities and their freedom of choice. (see The United Nations Human Development Reports for more detail
A newspaper article written by Ryan Frances in March 2017 highlights some specific issues in the UK. Her analysis considers how gender differences intersect with class, ethnicity and other differences, thus:

That ‘austerity is a feminist issue’ is now a well-used idiom does not mean it’s any less true. Look at the latest gender breakdown of cuts released this month and what’s striking is that nothing’s changing. According to Sarah Champion, the shadow equalities minister, 86% of the burden of austerity has fallen on women since 2010 –a figure that remains entirely static from last year. Inequality is business as usual: by 2020, a decade on from when austerity first began, men will still have borne just 14% of the total burden of ‘welfare’ cuts.

This unequal impact isn’t just contained within the benefit system, but rather spreads to many of the choices the Conservatives are making. NHS and local government cuts of course affect men as well, but as women are a vast chunk of the public sector workforce, they are hurt most when public services are squeezed. Similarly, although it’s rarely talked about in such terms, the crisis in social care is in many ways gendered: it’s largely women who make up home care and agency staff – insecure, low-paid work – while it’s also women who are the bulk of family carers for disabled children and elderly parents. When a council cuts a care package, it’s largely wives, mothers, and daughters doing the unpaid labour to plug the gap.....

Crucially, in the push to acknowledge what’s being done to women in an era of cuts, we have to highlight how race, class, and disability fit into this. By 2020 Asian women in some of the poorest families will be £2,247 worse off. That goes up to £3,996 for black single mothers. White men in some of the richest households, by contrast, are set to lose only £410.  Disabled and chronically ill women – many of whom are carers themselves – face huge and continuing cuts to disability support, from fit-for-work tests to the latest changes to personal independence payments.  

By definition, vast cuts to the social security system are going to hurt not the middle classes, but low-income families already struggling. Yet next month’s new round of benefit measures take this even further, in essence targeting poor mothers and their children. The ‘rape test’ for benefits coming into force in April [and since defended as ‘fair’ by Theresa May and other Conservatives *] – part of a crackdown on child tax credit claims for more than two children – is reflective of how low the government has sunk, yet it is part of a string of upcoming policies that independent bodies warn will cost families thousands. The charity Gingerbread says universal credit changes alone will see working single parents lose £800 a year on average by 2020 (90% of single parents are women).  As a new wave of child poverty approaches,  it’s working class mums – scraping by on zero-hours contracts, agency work and benefits – who will be queuing in food banks and opening eviction notices.

For more detail here read this article (complete with embedded video) by Kerry-Anne Mendoza

With all of this in mind I just can't take this image seriously: 

For some further detail on how the Conservative (Theresa May), Labour (Jeremy Corbyn) and Liberal Democrat (Tim Farron) leaders have voted on issues that specifically affect women see In sum Jeremy Corbyn has voted consistently in favour of women’s reproductive and human rights whereas Tim Farron and Theresa May were much more likely to not vote or vote against issues that benefited women. (NB: the 2015 Amendment making it explicit that gender selective abortion is illegal was aimed at criminalising women and there were concerns of increased ‘back-street’ type terminations). 

In my academic work I have written critically about how women are often expected in their professional life to be better than men, work harder than men, in order to 'get on' whilst at the same time they are required to demonstrate the caring qualities that are seen as a key part of 'ideal' womanhood: 'the doctor/teacher (see above)/social worker (etc.) was a woman so I expected her to be more understanding, supportive blah, blah, blah'. Yet, I cannot help be so very disappointed that the second female British Prime Minister is as unconcerned with gender (and human and animal rights (note her recent statement that she supports an overturn of the current ban on fox hunting)) issues as was the first. As Debbie Cameron wrote recently: 

Conservative women like Thatcher can also exploit the fact that authority itself is positively valued on the political right. As much as he or she may resent being bossed by a woman, your average Tory will take a strong female leader over a weak and ineffectual male one. If she passes their political virility test by being tough enough on their hot-button issues (war, national security, crime and immigration), conservatives may be willing to elevate her to the quasi-mythical status of the ‘Iron Lady’ [as they did with Thatcher].

Despite her record as a hardliner on at least three of the issues mentioned above, Theresa May has not been given the ‘Iron Lady’ title. But it’s no accident that she and her supporters have spent the last two weeks talking incessantly about her ‘strong and stable leadership’. This is simultaneously a dig at her opponent Jeremy Corbyn (who is by implication weak and chaotic), and a message to anyone who might harbour doubts about a woman leader’s strength, determination or resilience. Like Thatcher before her, May is willing to embrace sexist stereotypes, but selectively, to suit her purpose. What she seems to be trying to project in this campaign is a combination of Mummy’s* [maternal power being the only expression of female power acceptable to the right] ruthless protectiveness (she’ll give no quarter when it comes to standing up for her British brood) and the stubborn persistence of the ‘bloody difficult woman’.
*an internal Conservative Party nickname for May and Thatcher before her. 

SO: What Has Gender Got to Do With It? 

Answer: A LOT

8th June 2017, the day of the General Election, is also the 104th anniversary of the death of Emily Davison Wilding a British suffragette who fought for the right for women to vote. She was arrested nine times and was force fed whilst protested through hunger strikes whilst in prison. On the 4th of June 1913 Davison Wilding stepped in front of King George V’s horse and died from her injuries four days later.  

We ALL know what to do.

TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May

Monday 8 May 2017

What Have Love and Hate Got to Do With It? | TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May

I’ve been trying to finish this piece for a few days. After last week’s local elections I wanted to write something hopeful. Despite some good local successes and the analysis suggesting some overall movement in favour of the left at first it was hard. But the more I wrote and thought, and thought and wrote, the more positive I became. This piece, inevitably perhaps, is mixed but bear with me and you’ll see where I’ve got to.

Recently I have begun to think that one of the ways to consider the popularity or not of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May is by using the analogy of a weather house. As one figure comes out in the sun the other retreats only to emerge when the rain falls.

The polls and much of the mainstream media (MSM) assures us that its Mrs May that bathes in the sunshine and Mr Corbyn who has to duck the downpours and yet a mere glance at the internet suggests a different story. In contrast to images of Theresa May in closed meetings (standing in front of banners that emphasis her rather than the Conservative Party, in a bid to play to her ‘popularity’ and to avoid associations with election fraud and the like, l repeating her ‘strong and stable’ mantra there are innumerable images of Jeremy Corbyn in the middle of crowds; talking to children; being hugged, kissed and back-slapped by women and men of all ages, being handed red roses and asked for yet another selfie. An example from yesterday: Corbyn outside the Town Hall in Leamington Spa and May’s ‘team’ in yet another room in Harrow, London; which could have been anywhere as the stage managed outings are all of a muchness. 

Theresa's TEAM in Harrow
Whilst Theresa May locks journalists in cupboards, handpicks the questions that she is willing to answer and constantly refers to ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘my’ Jeremy Corbyn speaks of ‘our’, ‘we’ and ‘us’, sympathises and jokes with everyday people (including journalists) and rolls out policy after policy. The leader of the Labour Party has had poems and songs written about him (this one is my favourite: I feel like Jeremy Corbyn, people chant his name at indoor and outdoor gatherings and meetings and he is apparently notorious for lingering to talk when he should be on his way to another venue or to catch a train (if this makes him late, it doesn’t matter, people wait). 

He is also, as I read yesterday morning, 'The Most Electable Politician in a Generation', not least because of: 

His record of previous success: not only has he been an MP since 1983, and more recently convincingly won two leadership elections, but has also attracted huge numbers of new members to his party. In July 2016 100,000 new members [including me] joined the Labour Party in just 10 days, the majority of whom doing so in support of Corbyn at a time in which his leadership was under threat.

Jeremy Corbyn in Leamington
His character: history has shown that Corbyn has precisely the character that a nation’s leader should have. He has always been highly consistent in his views. He is known, even by those who did not support his leadership bid, as an honest, sincere and decent individual. He has an evident kindness and compassion towards those less fortunate.

AND VERY IMPORTANTLY: His policies: The policies which Corbyn stands for are rarely seriously challenged. There are few negative comments people can make about increasing the minimum wage, renationalising the railways, increasing NHS funding, restoring NHS bursaries, providing free school meals, combating inequalities, building more houses, reversing corporation tax cuts and so on.

Not long after campaigning for the General Election began Brendan Cox (husband of the MP Jo Cox who was murdered last June) wrote an article for The Guardian which includes the following:

At the turn of the year I decided the best way to mark the anniversary of Jo’s death would be to give people the opportunity to come together to celebrate all the good things that unite us as a nation. The idea has really taken off and on the weekend of 16-18 June there will be thousands of events all across the country under the banner of The Great Get Together.  

The idea is simple: to show the truth behind what Jo said in her maiden speech in parliament, that “we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”. The Great Get Together will now take place just a week after the general election. And I’m convinced that after polling day a collective moment of coming together will be more relevant than ever.

Later in the article Cox adds:

For lots of reasons, this isn’t an election I’m looking forward to. We’ve got a proud tradition in this country of airing our opinions and having our disagreements while at the same time respecting those whose views we do not share. What worries me is that respect for our opponents has become a disposable quality, too easily jettisoned when passions rise. But elections don’t have to widen divisions in society and I desperately hope this one won’t….

…. I hope that, while we must have a robust debate over the next few weeks, we also use the campaign as an opportunity to reach out to people whom we might disagree with and, of course, to drive those peddling hate out to the margins where they belong.

Sadly, Brendan Cox’s wish has not been granted. In mainstream and social media the attacks endemic to personality politics abound. There are of course perpetrators and victims on all sides of the political debate. And yet there is clear bias from much of the MSM in favour of the right and just yesterday we heard that the Green Party has made an official complaint to the BBC concerning coverage of the local elections With the Labour Party in mind there is a plethora of examples of key figures, and their supporters, being at the brunt of biased coverage that goes way beyond fair reportage or constructive critique: 

While the right-wing press is expected to be harsh on a Labour leader, biased coverage of Corbyn crosses traditional boundaries, infecting centre-left papers as well. The MsM’s seeming contempt for the people’s decision [the twice election of Corbyn by Labour Party members] gives pause to anyone who values democracy, whatever one’s ideological persuasion, whether you agree with Corbyn’s policies or not.

In addition to writing here I occasionally write pieces for my CLP (Truro and Falmouth) Blog. A piece I wrote last year included:

Several academic studies have highlighted media bias against Jeremy Corbyn, his policies, his shadow cabinet and his supporters (see The Media Reform Coalition 2015; The Department of Media and Communications, London School of Economics (LSE) 2016; The Media Reform Coalition and the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies, Birkbeck, London 2016).
The LSE report went so far as to argue that in the first two months in his role as leader of the opposition the majority of the press did not act as a ‘critical watchdog’ of Jeremy Corbyn, but rather more often as an antagonistic attackdog . . . .

And further:

[A]s the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, reminds us:

It’s not immigration that drives down wages in this country, what drives down wages are globalisation, and predatory employers and employees either not knowing or not having their employment rights.
We need to be careful of that kind of rhetoric, because it’s not helpful…
Yet still the tabloid press regularly publish pieces that draw on the ‘politics of fear’: stereotypes and untruths that negatively label, even demonise immigrants and refugees.

That the Tories campaign is built on the politics of hate and fear is not in doubt. See for example this analysis suggesting that Theresa May’s election platform is identical to that of the BNP in 2005 Additionally, on the day before the local elections last week we were encouraged by the Prime Minister to trust her, and only her, as the one who could save us from those in Europe who threaten our democracy and are by implication ‘out to get us’. Only she, we were told, is strong enough to protect us from the dangerous ‘other’ (although whether this is through negotiation or the buying and deploying of bombs is a little unclear (both probably)). And lest we forget the strength and stability of the PM (and a party) - who backtracks and u-turns on a regular basis; breaks promise after promise; and refuses to debate the leader of the opposition in public - on the day of the local elections the Conservatives paid for four-page adverts (although only acknowledged as such in the small print) in many local newspapers to tell us again. 

That Jeremy Corbyn offers and alternative is obvious also. His ‘people powered’ approach which involves highlighting the many injustices and inequalities resulting from the ‘rigged’ system within society is clearly terrifying to some. If not why this response to a policy that favours the 95% from The Telegraph (or The Torygraph as it’s also know):

Labour tax to hammer workers on £80,000

As Roger C (@enablerbro1) writes in ‘An open letter to the British public regarding the 2017 general election’:

The ONLY factor that can return the Tories in government after the election on the 8th June 2017 is if the public have swallowed what they’ve been led to believe about the leadership of the opposition from the same media who have been lying about the capability of the Tories in government. The Tories can’t rely on a good record in government. They can’t even rely on a claim that they offer stability or that continuity is what Britain needs right now. The Tories can’t even rely on a charismatic, inspiring and inspired leadership. All the Tories can hope for is that the public are gullible enough to believe that the leader of the opposition is in some way worse than them and the ONLY evidence they have to support that is the testimony of a lying media.

Lindsey German, writing for Counterfire, adds to this thus:

It is clear that there are other issues on which people are voting, such as the NHS and education, which Labour has far more popular policies on. However there is a limit to the extent this can be won just on policies, since the Tories are putting forward so few and are trying to make this all about leadership. There is also a limit to seeing elections as being the main way of changing consciousness. We have endured many years of austerity, backed up by right wing ideas from government and the media in terms of migration and scapegoating, and a stress on individual self-advancement, not collective change. There has been a very low level of collective struggle, in particular strikes, at the same time. This leaves working people isolated and open to some right wing arguments. This will not be overcome in weeks or without the struggles which do change people’s ideas. 

But we can use the election to begin to alter those ideas. My suggestion for the next month would be, yes, good policies but a much less cautious way of getting them across. Corbyn won two leadership campaigns on the basis of mass campaigning including large public street rallies. These must be a feature of the next four weeks in order to explain what he stands for, to cohere his existing supporters and to build confidence to go out and mobilise. These rallies would also stand in contrast to the invisibility of May’s public campaign. If Jeremy Corbyn is so unpopular, how come hundreds flock to hear him speak and that he is prepared to turn up in public and deal with any criticism face to face?

Corbyn made a good start on this yesterday.

At the risk of sounding mawkish (I don’t care) it seems to me that if Theresa May’s Team (i.e. the Conservatives) focuses on hate and fear Jeremy’s Corbyn’s Labour is concerned with love and hope for a better present and future for us all. And yet there are many (including sadly some that call themselves left-wing) that continue to attack him. There are those who write and promote articles with titles such as ‘What should you do if you support Labour but can’t stand Jeremy Corbyn?’ (I refuse to provide the link to this); others who insist that he is ‘a perfectly nice and decent man’ but a ‘useless leader’ and of course the torture of the constant drip, drip, drip  in the press and on the TV by those who tell us Labour can’t win and the Conservatives can’t lose. And yet:

We may each be whispers in a raging storm, but eventually enough whispers can turn into voices, and voices into roars which can create a political movement with the potential to defeat those who desire nothing more than to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. There has never been a more important time to increase our collective roars and cries of genuine peace, justice and equality.

Whatever happens in the next few weeks, even if the worst happens (and let us all work every day to try to make sure that it doesn’t), something has changed. Many people, young and older, have become energised in politics in an unprecedented way and social media, if not the MSM, provides us with a wide range of challenge and critique that it seems the mainstream are beginning to fear ( for those of us who are talking and writing about all of these issues there is support, camaraderie and shared humour (see this report of Amazon reviews for life size cardboard cut outs of May and Corbyn OR look for yourself). Although I am aware of the ‘speaking to the converted’ argument, like others I believe that these shifts are fundamental to our current and for our future collective voice in support of the many rather than merely the few.

What happens when humans hug
As noted earlier, contrary to suggestions otherwise (again largely by the MSM), the election campaigns of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are very, very different. Despite the vicious and often libellous critique of Corbyn by the Tories, much of the media and others the warmth and affection surrounding him is palpable and joyous. A while ago I posted this image (shared via Twitter by Banksy) on my Facebook page and then in a Blog post. Despite the negative discourses that surround us, for me as a Labour Party member and Corbyn supporter, as a campaigner and activist (online and on foot) this represents all that is positive about the left at the moment. The picture remains one of my favourite images of the last few months.   

I like this one too: 

SO: What Have Love and Hate Got to Do With It?

Answer: A LOT.

TURN LEFT and Make June the End of May