Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Jeremy Corbyn and 'Women Only Carriages'

 I write this blog as a proud, and unashamed, feminist and socialist....

Earlier today, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour leadership frontrunner, proposed a series of measures as to how street harassment and violence against women could be tackled. Many headlines, columnists, other leadership candidates, and people of all genders on various sides of the political spectrum have seized upon the reference, within the proposals, to 'women only carriages' for trains and tubes.

Full disclosure: I am NOT in favour of this idea, as I believe that the efforts that would have to be undertaken by staff to make sure these carriages remained 'women-only' would be better spent actually policing public transport to make it safer from harassment anyway, and I can completely see the argument that were women to choose not to use the women-only carriages, it would become yet another way that authorities or society, intentionally or not, blame the victim. It is not difficult to picture a scenario whereby a woman would be harassed on one of the mixed carriages, and people would say to her that she 'should have used the women-only carriages', placing the responsibility on the victim, rather than the perpetrator.

HOWEVER - let's get ONE thing straight:

Jeremy Corbyn did NOT announce a new policy of women-only carriages.

If you read this extract from his website, this is what he has to say on the matter:

Consultation on public transport

Some women have raised with me that a solution to the rise in assault and harassment on public transport could be to introduce women only carriages. My intention would be to make public transport safer for everyone from the train platform, to the bus stop to on the mode of transport itself. However, I would consult with women and open it up to hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome - and also if piloting this at times and modes of transport where harassment is reported most frequently would be of interest.




*Some women* have approached him and suggested that one of the ways that harassment and assault on public transport could *potentially* be tackled is to introduce women-only carriages.

Now, what was Jeremy Corbyn to do with this information? If he was to announce this as his new policy, based on the anecdotal suggestions of a few (indeterminate number of) women, then it would be a perfectly legitimate criticism to say not only was the policy itself flawed, but that it had effectively been cobbled together on the back of a fag packet.

Alternatively, he could have ignored the suggestions out of hand. But the fact that 'some' women (which would suggest more than one) have approached him over time to suggest a measure to tackle harassment on public transport, would suggest that there are indeed a few women (even if it is a small few) who believe that this would be a worthwhile consideration. Had he, as a candidate running to be leader of his party, and by extension, leader of the opposition, ignored a suggestion to tackle harassment on public transport out of hand, he may well have been accused of misogyny for ignoring women and their concerns. Even if he wasn't accused of misogyny, he may be deemed unfit to be a leader, or even an MP, because of his inability to listen to and/or consider the concerns of people he seeks to represent and ask for the votes of.

So he suggested a *consultation* with regard to public transport and harassment, where it would ask, among other things, whether women-only carriages would be welcome, and whether women believed it was something worth trialling on certain types of public transport, after certain times of night. 

Jeremy's campaign has form for this sort of thing - a few months ago, they launched a consultation called 'Northern Future', regarding productivity in the north of England, where they surveyed over a thousand people in the North to get their ideas as to what would be the best way forward. The same would, presumably, be done here, where hundreds, if not thousands, of women would be surveyed, and one small part of the consultation may broach the idea of women-only carriages.

For this policy to be enacted, it would have to:

  • Gain approval by the vast majority of women surveyed in this hypothetical consultation
  • Jeremy Corbyn would have to be elected leader of the Labour Party (and while polls and bookmakers would seem to suggest that outcome, it is by no means a certainty)
  • It would then have to be approved by the more democratic policy-making structures within the Party that Corbyn wishes to introduce
  • It would then have to make it into the Party's manifesto at the election (which, barring exceptional circumstances, will not be until 2020).
  • The Labour Party would have to win the 2020 election, or be in a position to form a government.
  • Such a policy may then even be put to a parliamentary vote, where a majority out of 600 MPs (after boundary changes) would have to vote for such legislation. And since it is a divisive issue, there is no guarantee that every Labour MP would vote for it (and if Labour were to be leading a minority government, they'd need cross-party support to introduce almost any piece of legislation anyway!)

I am not an uncritical supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. Were he to propose this as an actual policy, I would find it questionable, to say the least. I'm also not sure I'm totally on board with the idea of leaving NATO, for example - I would have to hear more about the case for doing so vs. the case against. I'm also not sure about the UK having closer relations with Russia (as things currently stand). But then, if Donald Trump was to be elected President of the United States, I wouldn't be too keen on Britain maintaining its 'Special Relationship' with the USA, and might prefer that we take a break and see other people.

But I do agree with Jeremy Corbyn on MOST things, and I do believe he is the right candidate to lead the Labour Party. 

I also know that, with regard to some policy proposals that I do not agree with, or am sceptical about, he will make the case for them (if it is a policy he wholeheartedly agrees with), but I know that he will also listen to me, and people like me, when we raise our own concerns. He will listen, he will consider, and the points we raise may even change his mind - and we would grant him that same courtesy in return. 

Under the new, more democratic system of policy making Corbyn proposes (where ordinary members have the power to vote on different proposals and influence policy), then I know that even if a proposal he wholeheartedly believes in is defeated, he will accept that, and abide by the decision of the majority, rather than continue to hand down policies from above as if, as leader, he is suddenly the suppository of all wisdom.

Part of the point of Corbyn doing things like opening up democracy in The Labour Party, and launching consultations with ordinary people with regard to policy, is that he understands that no one person has all the answers.

Jeremy Corbyn does the novel thing of actually saying he is going to listen to people it would effect before constructing a policy, and the media various others have jumped down his throat for it. 

I'm not usually one to sympathise with our current Prime Minister, but I compare it to when David Cameron was asked directly a few months ago if he would stand for a third term in office, and he decisively ruled it out. Suddenly the press and most of the Left jumped down his throat, furious at the 'arrogance' of a man who hadn't yet won a second term ruling out a third.
What they didn't capitalise on, of course, is that Cameron had done the thing we normally chastise politicians for NOT doing. 

He gave a straight answer to a straight question.

And suddenly, when it comes to a politician saying they'll consult and listen to ordinary people's opinions and concerns before formulating policy, we're doing the same thing again.

We decry our politicians for not doing something, to the point that it becomes so rare, that the novelty of them doing so becomes outrageous.


I have read various articles today on this subject that I broadly agree with, and somewhat inspired this article. If you would like to read them, they are:

Jeremy Corbyn, feminism and the Labour leadership - Lindsey German, Counterfire. 

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