"In increasingly polarised political times, calling out unacceptable comments from party colleagues can often come with a backlash"
As a member of a political party in what is comfortably the most polarised political ecosystem of my lifetime, much of my social media output on political and social issues is party political.
However, one area which I believe shouldn’t encompass this is in the case where a member of my own party has behaved in an unacceptable way or made unacceptable comments, as in the recent case of Labour MP Emma Dent-Coad.
Discrimination still blights our politics, especially racial and gender-based discrimination and party members enable its continuation if they stand by and say nothing because the perpetrator is a party colleague, particularly if they are also an elected representative.
I thought that Emma Dent Coad’s comments towards former Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey in a 2010 blog post, namely referring to him as a “token ghetto boy” were abhorrent and I decided to call them out on Twitter, as I would have had they been made by a white Tory MP against a black Labour candidate - or of any other party.
Aside from their racist undertones, Dent Coad’s comments to me reflected a disturbing recent trend from some on the left of only having solidarity with certain groups (such as those from BAME backgrounds, women) if they are on ‘our’ side.
When John McDonnell referred in 2014 to ‘lynching’ then Tory minister Esther McVey, many observers questioned whether he would have said similar about a female Labour colleague.
Much has been done by the Labour Party in recent years to stamp out discrimination, as evidenced by the rise in female and BAME candidates who stood for Parliament at the last two elections (many of whom are now MPs) but we still can and must be better.
In increasingly polarised political times, calling out unacceptable comments from party colleagues can often come with a backlash.
Labour MP Clive Lewis, no stranger to a Twitter-storm, caused quite a stir on Tuesday and Wednesday when he attacked Labour activist and former staffer Abdi Duale for his criticism of Dent Coad’s comments.
Lewis went on to state in a separate conversation that he didn’t believe that someone could “fight racism and be in the Tory party”.
This, for me, highlights the problem with our polarised politics. It is one thing to be loyal to your party and true to your beliefs. It is another entirely to be turning a blind eye to prejudice simply because it is politically inconvenient for your party and it can be difficult for activists to balance the two out on social media, in the current political climate.
My Labour colleague (and editor of this blog) Charlotte Norton summed up this point succinctly on Twitter earlier today. The point that she made is an important one; that if you call out a political opponent on bad behaviour, you are accused of ‘politicising’ the issue, while running the risk of being labelled a ‘traitor’ if you call out someone whose politics you agree with for their bad behaviour.
I have seen Labour colleagues who have also criticised Dent Coad’s comments being attacked on social media and accused of ‘politicising’ them in order to make a factional point against Jeremy Corbyn.
If party members cannot call out discrimination by party colleagues for fear of being labelled ‘traitors’ or having ulterior political motives, this kind of unacceptable behaviour will continue in all parties.
The issue at hand here is surely that the above becomes the norm because calling out a party colleague for acting in a way that you feel is inappropriate is not the norm.
In order to stamp out all forms of discrimination in our politics, all of us involved with political parties need to take responsibility and take a stand against discrimination wherever it occurs in our politics and remember that we have more in common than that which divides us.
Alex Shilling is a Young Fabian. Follow him on Twitter at @alexshilling