The left is commonly considered as the home of liberation movements, the place from which struggles against “all forms of discrimination” originated, and continue to be waged. In line with its founding principles of fairness, equality and justice, it follows that the fight against discrimination within the Labour Party is not simply an area that we pay lip service to, but one in which we have a long and proud history.
Yet, in the past two weeks, we have seen the outbreak of an antisemitism crisis and a barrage of abuse levelled at Laura Kuenssberg, coupled with a petition to remove her as the BBC’s political editor. It is of course possible to remark that these are both forms of discrimination deserving of our undivided attention and condemnation, but what is infinitely less helpful, is a tendency on the left to pat ourselves on the back and deploy that all too familiar justification; “we fight all forms of prejudice”.
What is even less helpful, is the leap we take from virtue signalling that we stand united against discrimination to a stubborn conviction that we could never be guilty of sexism because we’re on the left. This, according to our binary moral code, makes us the “good ones”. After all, at least we’re better than the Conservatives on such issues.
Yet, what some Labour Party members are failing to grasp is that in the same way you can challenge the Israeli government without being anti-Semitic, you can criticise a woman’s journalism without resorting to an onslaught of sexist slurs. The hurling of insults such as “whore”, “bitch”, “slag” and “cunt”, alongside death threats and memes picturing Kuenssberg as a Tory hostage do not constitute genuine criticisms of a journalist’s professionalism. They are just examples of unashamed, misogynistic abuse.
Aside from the issue of language, is the intensity of criticism itself. Proponents of removing Laura Kuenssberg from her role at the BBC cite her journalistic impartiality or lack thereof as the basis of their critiques. However, the BBC’s former political editor, Nick Robinson, though also challenged for Tory bias, did not receive the same deluge of abusive and obscene remarks as those cast at Kuenssberg. Nor, it bears mentioning, was he targeted with an online petition calling for his dismissal.
Laura Kuenssberg is one in a long series of women to have received such levels of abuse. For further examples, we need only refer to the rape and death threats directed at Caroline Flint, Stella Creasy and Liz Kendall, amongst others. Or, alternatively, look at the abuse hailed at female Labour Party politicians during the leadership for the mere fact of having opinions and exercising their “equal” right to voice them. Except it’s not equal, is it. When a woman in the public sphere makes a comment we disagree with, the go-to response is not to debate said clash of opinions, but instead silence them with sexist vitriol.
In its almost 100-year history, Laura Kuenssberg is the BBC’s first female political editor. We may not agree with her journalistic style or surmise that she doesn’t have the same political inclinations as us. We might even call into question the objectivity of BBC news sources, but when we wage a sexist, smear conspiracy fuelled war against one woman for being “negative” towards the leader of a party professing fairness and equality, we completely undermine the very principles that we stand and exist for.