Friday 8 July 2016

Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom: Don't fall for the identity politics bullshit

I've always had reservations about identity politics because it defines us by what we are rather than what we do, and because it factionaises society into specific interest groups which is clearly an impediment to building solidarity against the powerful minority who have such strong vested interests in maintaining the status quo.

Some of the appalling reactions in the left-liberal press to the fact that the Tory party leadership contest will be fought between two women have turned my reservations about identity politics into outright revulsion. 

There were two particular articles in the left-liberal press that jumped out at me as being both identity politics driven and woefully misinformed. 

"We're still waiting for a female  Labour leader - and it's getting embarrassing" - New Statesman

This stomach-churningly bad article in the New Statesman used the fact that the two candidates left in the Tory leadership contest are both female to whine that (aside from the caretaker leader stints of Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman) the Labour Party has had no female leader. The conclusion of the article is that "time has run out" for Labour and that the next leader should be female. 

What the article utterly fails to do is point out who this next female leader should actually be. It doesn't explain that two of the four candidates to become Labour leader in 2015 were female, but that they were both routed by a massive surge of support for Jeremy Corbyn (who then appointed the most female dominated cabinet in UK political history). 

The article didn't explain that Liz Kendall was from the unpopular right-wing fringe of the Labour Party and that she only picked up 4.5% of the vote, and it didn't explain that Yvette Cooper is a Blairite loyalist who is married to Ed Balls (the guy who came up with Labour's disastrously uninspiring austerity-lite strategy that led to their defeat in the 2015 General Election and contributed to the absolute massacre in Scotland where Labour lost 40 of their 41 seats) and that she was routed too.

The article also failed to mention Angela Eagle, the low-profile, insincere, gaffe-prone political water carrier who lined herself up to replace Jeremy Corbyn as Labour Party leader during the anti-democratic efforts to bully him out of his job, but then chickened out of launching a democratic leadership challenge when Corbyn steadfastly refused to be bullied into resignation.

The article didn't mention any names because it clearly doesn't matter to the author who this next female leader of the Labour Party is. It doesn't matter whether they are honest or insincere, from the left of the party or the right, an anti-democratic coup plotter or a supporter of Labour Party democracy, an austerity critic or an austerity supporter, or any other consideration, because the only important factor appears to be whether this future leader has a penis or not.

"Sturgeon, May, Leadsom: Women to the rescue amid political turmoil" - The Guardian

This article is even worse than the New Statesman one, so bad in fact that the Guardian decided to retroactively rewrite the title and a chunk of the article to replace the focus on the Tory leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel (as if all female politicians are just nondescript and interchangeable pawns in a male game of chess).

The thrust of the article was that women are going to come along and clean up the mess made by men. This central theme is completely undermined by the way it just lumps a load of completely different women together despite the huge differences in their political standpoints, circumstances and experience. 

Nicola Sturgeon is an extremely popular political leader of a party on the left-liberal side of the political spectrum and Theresa May is a terrifying right-wing authoritarian with her fingerprints all over much of the most illiberal, vindictive, economically illiterate and downright unworkable legislation during David Cameron's tenure as PM. Lumping them together just because they're female is utterly demeaning because there are far more important political considerations than what sex they happen to be.

The decision to erase Andrea Leadsom from the article title and replace her with Angela Merkel is even more absurd. Leadsom is an inexperienced and transparently dishonest political chancer with a CV full of exaggerations and complete bullshit who opportunistically thrust herself into the political limelight during the Brexit debate. Merkel on the other hand has been Chancellor of Germany for ten years, which is four years longer than Leadsom has even been an MP! The idea that these women are interchangeable is absurd.

It's enough of an insult to a social democrat like Nicola Sturgeon to crudely bracket her alongside hard-right fanatics like Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom simply because they all happen to be female, but to consider an inexperienced political opportunist like Leadsom to be interchangeable with an undeniable political giant like Angela Merkel is ridiculous and demeaning.

Corrosive identity politics

The idea that women should automatically support the likes of Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom simply because they're female is such an absurd example of corrosive identity politics it's insulting.

A look at the politics of these two women reveals why it's never a good idea to judge a person simply by their identity, rather than by their actions.

In 2012 Theresa May oversaw the introduction of arbitrary income thresholds for British civilians wishing to live in the UK with their non-EU spouses. The figure was set at £18,600 per year, plus thousands of pounds more per child. It's obvious that such an arbitrary figure discriminates in favour of people who live in London and the Home Counties where incomes are higher, and against people from poorer areas like Cornwall, the north east and the Welsh valleys, but such an arbitrary figure also discriminates against women too, especially mothers. 

Despite the decades long fight for wage equality, women still earn significantly less than men. The upshot of Theresa May's arbitrary income thresholds is that 72% of British males can afford to bring their non-EU partner to live in the UK, while only 43% of British females can afford the sameTheresa May's arbitrary threshold is a blatant example of Tory discrimination against women (and especially mothers, and women from poorer regions of the UK), yet some people want you to ignore her actions and believe that Theresa May would somehow be better qualified to look after the interests of women just because she happens to be one.

Andrea Leadsom is just as bad. Back in 2013 she fantasised about stripping all workers rights from people employed by small businesses, which obviously includes millions of female workers. This is a woman who wants to strip other women of their rights to maternity pay, sick pay, holiday pay and even the right to claim unfair dismissal. 

In a case where a small business owner starts demanding sexual favours from his young female employees and then sacks them if they refuse his perverted demands, Andrea Leadsom is on the employers side because she thinks that victims of sexual harassment by their bosses shouldn't have the right to claim unfair dismissal. 

The fact that Andrea Leadsom is a woman doesn't mean that she's always going to side with other women, but the fact that she's a right-wing Tory MP means that she's always going to side with capital.

Aside from their own specific misogynistic policies both of these women have voted in favour of one set of savage austerity measures after another for the last six years, despite the mountain of evidence pointing to the fact that ideologically driven austerity policies disproportionately impact women.

It's spectacularly naive to imagine that just because someone is a woman, that they must be on the same side as other women. Both Andrea Leadsom and Theresa May have far more in common with male members of the privileged establishment class to which they belong, than with women from ordinary backgrounds.

Both of these women have proven themselves willing to discriminate against other women they deem to be part of the "lower orders", by voting in favour of ideological austerity, or through their own favoured discriminatory policies. However some people would have you believe that the fact that they were born without penises is by far the most important consideration in the matter.

Don't worry your pretty little head about all that boring politics stuff" they'll say, "look, they're a woman and so are you, so you should identify with them and vote for them", and the really sad thing is that many women will fall for this pathetic identity politics bullshit, just as people of either sex have fallen for all manner of equally ridiculous propaganda narratives over the years.

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