Jeremy Corbyn has been heavily criticised for the lack of female and BME politicians featured in his Shadow Cabinet. The main complaint is that the so-called "top four" jobs have gone to four middle-aged white men.
But to accuse Corbyn of any kind of racism or sexism is to ignore his exemplary record on both issues. In some cases, it is even better than those of the female/BME candidates that people wanted him to include in his Shadow Cabinet. For example, he has vowed to bring abortion rights to Northern Ireland as well as same sex marriage. He has launched a "Women’s Manifesto" promising to tackle not just the very difficult issues such as violence against women and FGM, but also the everyday sexism that women have to endure such as sexual harassment and unequal pay. He was also the only candidate for the Labour leadership to vote against the welfare bill, which will reportedly hit women disproportionately harder than men.
What's more, Corbyn has spoken out against racism for years, and was arrested for protesting against apartheid in South Africa. He challenged Ed Miliband over the release of Labour party mugs that many believed demonised immigrants. And the first thing he did after winning the leadership contest was to address the 100,000 people in Parliament Square at the Refugees Welcome demonstration.
As well as choosing to ignore this, many of those criticising Corbyn for the make up of his Shadow Cabinet have never even shown an interest in diversity before. Where were they when the Tories were making brutal cuts to services to women, attacking single mothers and implementing policies that stoke racial prejudice?
If you're still worried about Corbyn's cabinet, it's worth taking a look at the options he had available. After his victory on Saturday, 11 senior Labour MP’s immediately refused to serve in his Shadow Cabinet. Eight of them come under the female and/or BME umbrella. By throwing their toys out of the pram, rather than staying and trying to work with Corbyn, all these politicians have done is prove how unsuitable they were for any senior position in the first place.
Yet sixteen out of the thirty-one positions in the Shadow Cabinet have still been filled by women, and for the first time history they outnumber the men. Only three are BME, but we have to remember that many of Labour's BME MPs were newly elected in May. And while the argument against tokenism is often used to keep women and minorities out of top level positions across all professions, we must be careful not to argue for people to be included regardless of their policies, capability and experience.
No-one can be expected to rely solely on tokenism and to ignore everything else. Being female or BME doesn't automatically mean that you'll champion the best interests of those groups. What about the many female MPs who voted to cut benefits for single parents, when a disproportionate amount of lone parents are women?
As the dust begins to settle on the Shadow Cabinet announcements, Labour needs to show a united front. There will be valid criticisms of Corbyn's leadership, and for the sake of credibility these must be acknowledged. But the party must not be distracted by cynical attempts to undermine Corbyn’s leadership. There is too much at stake for all of us.
Ava Vidal is a stand-up comedian and journalist. She has appeared on a number of TV shows, including Mock the Week, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, and Kings of Comedy.Reuse content