Politicians Should Not be Judged by the Contents of their Underpants, but by the Content of their Character

This post was written by Salman Shaheen on May 26, 2010
Posted Under: Gender Politics,Labour,Racism/Fascism

Writing in today’s Guardian, the last standard bearer of the dead dream that is a socialist Labour Party hit out at critics by saying that if necessary, he would stand aside to secure Diane Abbot’s nomination for Labour leader. In fact, John McDonnell went further to say that “if my standing down would mean securing any woman on this ballot paper, or any black person, of course I will do so.”

That’s very noble of him. I’m sure he’d hold the door open for them too, unless he had to run off to help an old lady cross the street. McDonnell is right to say that principles must come before career. But giving a leg up to female and ethnic minority candidates, regardless of their policies, is not a principled position in and of itself. Would his offer extend to Thatcher? Or Mugabe? Clearly he felt saddened by the decisions of such shining leftwing beacons as Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper not to stand. Why? Because there aren’t enough vaginas on the ballot paper. Diane Abbot adds one, and can at least be said to have mildly progressive views.

But the point is, politics should not be about the colour of your skin, or the contents of your underpants, but the content of your character. It should not even be – and this will be a controversial point amongst socialists – about class. The defining point has to be policy. It doesn’t matter that John McDonnell is a middle-aged white male. It wouldn’t matter if he were Oxbridge educated like the New Labourite clones leading the race. All that matters is that he has the right policies, the right ideas, the right values. Of course more needs to be done to remove barriers to women and ethnic minorities succeeding across society and parliamentary politics is not exempt from this. But this cannot come at the expense of ideology.

Like most of the world, I cheered when Barack Obama won the US election. Not because he was black, but because he wasn’t a right-wing nutjob like the opposition. If the situation had been reversed, if McCain had been on the left and Obama the right, I would have forgone the opportunity to celebrate America’s first black president and cheered the man with the better politics regardless of his skin colour. To pretend otherwise is, well, slightly racist. It’s in this sense that I find McDonnell’s arguments, sincere and noble as they are, somewhat patronising. Yes, John, principles must come before career. But they must also come before colour, creed or sex. So go out and fight for them. And then maybe you’ll be in a position to genuinely help build a society that is free from all forms of discrimination.

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Reader Comments

jonathan colwill

I totally agree we have already had a female prime minister so its been proved that a women can get to the highest office in the UK.
I’m sure that we could have a black prime minister I think standing aside for someone is really a sort of discrimination.
Saying that you need to stand aside to me means you think the labour party is so sexist or racist a good candidate wouldn’t have a far chance if they were the wrong colour or gender, I don’t think thats the case

#1 
Written By jonathan colwill on May 26th, 2010 @ 10:26 pm

If him and Diane had exactly the same politics, then I would argue that he should definitely stand aside to allow her on – that’s principles over personal gain. But I agree, standing aside to let ‘any’ black woman on the ballot paper is patronising and a betrayal of the left-wing supporters that wanted him to stand in the first place.

#2 
Written By Elly B on May 27th, 2010 @ 8:54 am
jonathan colwill

Well if he gave up his place I would see it as tokenism and the sort of sexism that caused men to give up their places in the lifeboats of the titanic, or the sexism that allowed men to be drafted in world war 2 while women were not drafted even when they had the vote .
why do we have lower physical fitness standards for women in the army clearly this is discrimination towards men and not equality .
why do men on average get higher sentences for the same crime in our legal system, why is there worse treatment for complaints that effect men more than women .

#3 
Written By jonathan colwill on May 27th, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

Christ, where do I even start with that.

Okay, WW2: do you seriously think that women had it easy swanning around at home whilst their men went off to die? Er no, they ran the factories, did the engineering, carpentry and construction, worked in the fields – and if they hadn’t done it then not only would millions of people died in the war but Britain would have totally fallen apart. No, they didn’t fight in the front lines (although some might have wanted to – you seem to assume that just because something is a law, it follows that all people affected by that law support it) but how can you imply any wrongdoing on their part?

Actually the rest are all so ridiculous that I don’t know if I can be bothered…seriously, people who think that men are structurally oppressed on the basis of their masculinity need to take a look at the fucking real world.

#4 
Written By Elly B on May 27th, 2010 @ 4:44 pm
Ed Lamb

You seem to imply that people’s identity in terms of race, gender, sexuality etc should be irrelevant when considering them for office and positions of power – that one should consider them on the basis of their policy alone. This is a nice ideal to aspire to. However, when so much systematic discrimination still exists this viewpoint is naive and permits or at worst encourages the continuation of the status quo. Identity is important to a huge number of people and since identity discrimination exists it cannot be ignored. To separate policy or politics from identity is to suggest that identity is not a part of politics. This is wrong. The struggle against discrimination is political. That isn’t to say it should trump all other issues – just that it shouldn’t be disregarded.

#5 
Written By Ed Lamb on May 28th, 2010 @ 9:22 am
jonathan colwill

what systematic discrimination effects women ?I can see there is discrimination against men, you have for example a biased legal system weighted against males, you have men having to work longer before they retire than women .
you have men doing most of the dangerous jobs in our society, in the case of war they are forced to do those jobs when women are not.
Look at the relative death rates in the world wars between the sexes how is this equality, the suffragettes actually went round shaming men with white feathers to fight in a war they did not fight in .

#6 
Written By jonathan colwill on May 28th, 2010 @ 12:16 pm
avm

jonathon, most of the evidence you cite for the discrimination against men seems to me be examples of how our society is biased against women as ‘the weaker sex’.
deny it if you like, but in spite of the advancements over the last century, we live in a patriarcal society where men are considered more capable of handling positions requiring physical power or social power, and this is echoed in the unequal distribution of sexes in many areas of work. it is of course far more complicated than that, with everything from family attitudes to biology coming into play. for instance, i think your comment about women not being drafted is at odds with your next example: i think the lower physical fitness requirements for women to join the army could encourage more women to apply – in other words make it a slightly less sexist institution.
maybe it is unfair that men have a higher retirement age than women, but i think to suggest that this outweighs the discrimination against women in terms of pay, opportunities, and attitudes, is quite frankly laughable.

#7 
Written By avm on May 28th, 2010 @ 8:36 pm

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