How this year's silly season turned nasty

Without a Labour leadership contest to occupy the minds of the ­chattering classes, July and August ­returned to the traditional “silly season”. That was only to be expected, but this year’s was one of the silliest I can remember and on occasions, it wasn’t simply silly, it was downright unpleasant and sinister, too.

What surprised me was that I was the target for much of this twaddle. The old “reds under the bed” guff was dusted off for another outing, malicious accusations of sexism and anti-Semitism were thrown around like confetti, while some MPs behaved like medieval feudal barons.

I encountered the baronial persona of some MPs when I had the audacity to announce that I was helping to launch a new Momentum branch covering Redcar, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland. I was publicly taken to task on Twitter for failing to notify the local MP that I was attending a meeting in her ­constituency. The only problem was the meeting wasn’t in her constituency, but an adjoining one where the Labour candidate who fought the general election was in attendance.

Incredibly this incident led to widespread “news” coverage including an appearance on Radio 4’s World at One.

The red scare attack lines were risible. The surge in the Labour Party’s membership has occurred because millions have been inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s advocacy of what I have described as common sense socialism. Hundreds of thousands of these Labour supporters have now joined the Labour Party, which is a cause for huge celebration.

However, much to the chagrin of media commentators and New Labour throwbacks, some constituencies have had the temerity to elect officers who reflect the views of party members. This seems to have come as a shock to those who prefer backroom deals, but members actually prefer open democracy to stitch-ups.

The red scare tactics didn’t stop there either. I was pilloried for suggesting an extension to the Labour Party’s democracy by introducing mandatory reselections for MPs. Such a move would enhance the standing of MPs by keeping them grounded, and resist the propensity of some of them to float away with the Westminster bubble.

Moreover, no other elected position continues in perpetuity whether it be a trade union leader, councillor or chair of a local bowls club, so why should MPs be given a special dispensation? MPs do of course subject themselves to election by the electorate every five years or so, but without the support of Labour Party members their parliamentary careers would be over.

The problems in Venezuela were also used over the summer months to cast aspersions on anyone who has spoken in support of the Venezuelan government in the past. The critics conveniently ignore the progressive reforms introduced there before the present crisis, and wilfully disregard the impact of the oil price collapse, economic sabotage by Venezuela’s right-wing elites and US interference. Then they overlook the extreme violence being perpetrated by paramilitary groups supporting the right-wing opposition, and the fact that security service personnel and police officers who have used excessive force have been arrested and charged.

These denunciations were followed by ridiculous accusations of sexism. One prominent MP even went so far as to say left-wing men “are literally the worst” sexists. I fell victim to this absurd assertion after retweeting a story about the 150 per cent increase in assaults on women travelling on trains.

The story highlighted the fact that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign had floated the idea of women-only carriages two years ago. I was then contacted by the media for a comment and said it might be worth consulting on offering a choice. But I insisted that if there was support for the idea, there would need to be more guards on trains and better security at stations to enforce it. Sadly, facts weren’t allowed to impinge on the preposterous claims that I was advocating “segregation” and “apartheid”!

Although the allegations about sexism were unpleasant, the accusations of anti-Semitism were positively sinister and followed my lengthy interview with The Guardian newspaper in August. In it I said that many people in the Jewish community had told me they were ­appalled by what they had publicly described as the “weaponisation of anti-Semitism.” I also stated that false allegations were a “dirty, lowdown trick.” This led to demands for me to be sacked from the frontbench because, it was claimed, I was denying anti-Semitism existed, which I wasn’t. Some even made the highly offensive and hurtful suggestion that I was an anti-Semite myself, yet I have fought racism all my adult life, from the 1970s when I was active in the Anti-Nazi League.

But despite these innuendos and ­outright smears, support for common sense socialism is growing and with ­solidarity we will defeat the bullies and the haters to deliver a Corbyn-led Labour government.

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