What is it about the hard left and women? The vitriol on social media and from the left-wing party-within-a-party Momentum over the Syria vote has been aimed at both male and female MPs, but it has been nastier, and more organised, against women such as Stella Creasy, Diana Johnson, Ann Coffey and Melanie Onn.
Even before she had decided how to vote, Creasy had activists marching through the streets of Walthamstow, in north-east London, defacing her constituency office. This is more than just anti-war dissent: Momentum is highly organised in the area. Later, someone wrote on Creasy’s Facebook page: “Enjoy sleeping when the first child dies. Maybe you can keep one of their limbs as a souvenir.”
The messages sent to women MPs have been more graphic, as if the trolls believe they will be more emotional and empathic, which is sexist in itself. Threats to male MPs have been more straightforward – although nonetheless chilling: the Bermondsey MP Neil Coyle reported a tweet to police that contained knife emojis. But the hard left seems so keen on targeting moderate women MPs that Momentum should, as the Labour former special adviser David Mills wrote on Twitter, perhaps be renamed Bromentum.
No direct link can be proven between Momentum organisers and the keyboard warriors who tweet death threats and graphic pictures. But they are all on the same spectrum of intimidation designed to make last Wednesday’s “free vote” anything but free. It failed. Yet, it highlighted something deeply troubling about Labour at the end of one of the most turbulent years in the party’s history. It is the power that has been given to the £3 activists who voted for Jeremy Corbyn, by the leader himself. In asking for members’ views on the Syria vote, and then taking an unscientific sample of a few hundred out of more than 100,000 to bolster his case against air strikes, Corbyn has inflated their power. It is dangerous, because it is power without responsibility. As Creasy tweeted yesterday, she cannot even contact Momentum members because they do not reveal their names.
One shadow minister told me groups like Momentum are “up for a civil war”. The hard left, egged on by the Labour leader, seems to think MPs are delegates, who must consult them on every issue and face consequences if the MP does something with which they disagree. Several Labour MPs who voted for air strikes wrote open letters explaining their decision. This is laudable, but they shouldn’t have to. MPs are not delegates for a hardcore of left-wing £3 Corbynistas. They were elected to represent every constituent: not just Labour voters.
To distance himself and the party from the intimidation and trolling online, Corbyn has now issued a social media code of conduct for all activists and members to adhere to. This may be welcome, but to some MPs it is nothing but cant, as days earlier the leader said there should be “no hiding place” for Labour MPs who voted for military action. This phrase has incensed moderate MPs, who believe Corbyn has given the trolls and activists who march on Labour constituency offices a licence to bully and intimidate. Tomorrow’s PLP meeting is going to make last week’s stormy occasion look like a picnic.
The Syria effect in Oldham
Nigel Farage was treading on dangerous ground when he said the Oldham West by-election was “bent”, but he was right to say that some of the voting was extraordinary.
Why was the result so decisive when the race between Labour and Ukip had looked closer in the weeks leading up to the vote? It is true to say that Jim McMahon (a Labour moderate who beat a left-wing candidate to selection) won because of his strong local popularity and visibility as leader of Oldham council, while Jeremy Corbyn did not appear on any Labour campaign literature.
But in some areas the Labour leader’s stance against air strikes seemed to drive up the party’s vote. In Werneth, for example, a ward with a large Asian population, I am told that out of a sample of 814 votes, a staggering 812 were for Labour. This does not show fraud but the strength of feeling about Syria in Oldham’s Asian community. It is no wonder Ukip were amazed.
Philanthropy before Facebook
Facebook brings out boasting in all of us, particularly those with children. I am guilty of posting messages of pride about my daughter. But Mark Zuckerberg surpassed us all when he revealed on his own page that he was giving £30bn to a new charitable foundation (but which can still make a profit) in honour of his newborn daughter.
While this astonishing amount of money will hopefully make a difference, something makes me a bit queasy about such ostentatious philanthropy. It is a far cry from the antics of a group of well-heeled British women in the 1930s who went undercover to save the National Trust from rack and ruin. Wearing masks and with pseudonyms like Red Biddy and Bill Stickers, Ferguson’s Gang raised money to save the trust’s buildings and gardens, delivering it undercover – £500 was stuffed into a bottle of sloe gin, while a £100 note was stuffed into a cigar. They never revealed their names, but a new book, Ferguson’s Gang, by Sally Beck and Polly Bagnall, uncovers these shy philanthropists.
Bercow’s special talent
The Speaker John Bercow has earned the title “Golden Bladder” for sitting, sometimes standing, but not leaving to go to the loo, for 11 hours and 24 minutes during Wednesday’s Syria debate and other proceedings.
I can think of worse places to sit for long periods than the green upholstered Speaker’s Chair – perhaps long-distance lorry drivers, supermarket checkout workers and, of course, the keyboard warriors and social media armchair generals, might have something to say about it.
Perhaps not leaving his seat helped the Speaker’s powers of concentration: at an EU summit in December 2011, the Prime Minister used the “full bladder technique” to keep his focus over a nine-hour session with fellow European leaders.