THERE was a time when British politics at the highest level was perceived as a relatively austere affair. The tussles between Harold Wilson and Edward Heath seemed unrelated to the rough and tumble of picket lines and marches through city centres. This was shattered when Parliamentary sessions were first broadcast (audio only) in the late 1970s. The braying from the back benches as speaking MPs struggled to be heard over the heckling was a shock to the public. Things have not improved.
The kind of thuggery more associated with a 1970s wildcat strike has penetrated our political process owing to advances in communications technology. Gone are the days when an MP could while away his time at the best drinking club in the world and make no impression on the parliamentary process other than being obediently whipped through the correct lobby. The TV personality David Frost summed it all up rather well in February 1963.
Today, MPs are always ‘on’. They are bombarded by social media posts, some good, some bad, some terrible, all of which require attention lest some career-ending snippet is missed.
Which brings me to Nadia Whittome, who was elected in 2019 to represent Nottingham East and who at 24 is the ‘Baby of the House’, the unofficial title bestowed on the youngest parliamentarian. My TCW colleague Janice Davis has commented on Whittome’s withdrawal from Parliament following a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition colloquially described as ‘shell shock’. However, Whittome has not been in a muddy trench enduring explosive hate delivered from a Krupp howitzer. Instead she appears to have been overwhelmed by the intensity of the job.
Whittome is a Corbynist, apparently a member of the British version of ‘The Squad’, the group of extremist American congresswomen elected on a Democrat ticket. Our own version consists of Whittome, Zarah Sultana (majority 401), Bell Ribeiro-Addy and Apsana Begum, all lauded by Owen Jones.
Begum is due to face trial for fraud, and now Whittome has her own problems. It remains to be seen how the remaining two are impacted by the Jones Effect.
As do all Corbynists, Whittome has displayed ambivalence about Left-inspired political violence, including when police have been injured. In this she was following in the well-trodden steps of her mentor, who is adept at using the Gerry Adams formulation when presented with inconvenient truths.
However studied neutrality is not always possible, and this might explain Whittome’s current predicament. Shortly after Jeremy Corbyn was suspended from the Labour Party last year, an edict went out from headquarters forbidding discussion of his suspension at Constituency Labour Party (CLP) meetings. Since all ‘good’ socialists follow only those rules that they support, this was largely ignored. The fact that Labour, a so-called ‘progressive’ party, clamped down on free speech says rather as much about how it is run, as does the fact that this embargo was disregarded. For a party that is ostensibly ordered according to a book of rules over which members will argue finer points of detail, Labour is actually quite anarchistic.
Whittome’s own constituency party was a prime example, when a motion in support of Corbyn was discussed in an online meeting run by the CLP chair Louise Regan. The atmosphere became hostile and Regan persisted with permitting the motion to be discussed. A Jewish member was subject to abuse and left the meeting. The outcome was that Regan, also a Corbynist, was suspended from the party.
It would be cynical to suggest that Whittome’s response to both the incident and suspension was anything less than sincere. In a statement posted on Twitter, she said, ‘I am disappointed that a motion that was clearly out of order made its way on to the agenda of the Nottingham East CLP meeting this evening which I attended. I take the [Equalities and Human Rights Commission] report into Labour anti-Semitism very seriously, as should all our members given the pain caused to Jewish communities and that the report found the Labour Party to have broken the law. The atmosphere and tone of the meeting that proceeded was wholly unacceptable, leading to a Jewish member of the Labour Party feeling they had no choice but to leave the meeting. I have communicated with the member in question and will continue to make sure his wellbeing is prioritised by the party.’
This did not go down well with Whittome’s fellow-travellers. It was Aaron Bastani, a frequent televisual fixture from the hard Left, who led the charge. He responded, ‘Nadia, you’ve publicly stated Corbyn should have whip re-instated. Why can’t you extend that right to members in your own CLP? This would at least make sense if you thought Corbyn shouldn’t have whip.’
Other Left-wingers piled in on Twitter. Whittome had deviated from the ‘party line’, which is to minimise through denial the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and to describe reports of incidents as ‘smears’ against Corbyn. She was, in the eyes of the Corbyn cult, a heretic.
This is where Whittome’s predicament becomes speculation, though it is based on quite well-established precedent. Female Labour MPs who have criticised Corbyn, Corbynism or Corbynists have been subject to such levels of abuse and threats from the hard Left that one of their number, Luciana Berger, had to have a bodyguard at a Labour conference, suggesting that the threats did not come entirely from outside the party. The major reason for female Labour MPs standing down or leaving the party has been either anti-Semitism or abuse from Corbyn supporters or both. It is therefore possible, if not probable, that Whittome felt the full force of a Corbynist frenzy turned on her. If that was the case, it is possible that the former care worker familiar only with Left-wing ‘solidarity’ could not cope.
Whittome’s back-bench colleagues were probably not much help. Isolated from moderate MPs because of her Corbynist credentials, and now isolated by the Corbynists, the corridors of Westminster would have become a hostile environment.
So Nottingham East now seems to be, as Sheffield Hallam was in the last Parliament, lacking a working MP. Labour has once again been found wanting when it comes to the welfare of its own MPs. This in a party that believes in everyone looking after everyone else.
Although Labour, as its inexperienced leader claims, is ‘under new management’ it remains, as Theresa May once described the Tories, ‘the Nasty Party’.
The nastiness has consumed one of its own who spoke up about a nasty episode. Sir Keir Starmer has a very long way to go, especially if he is now losing his MPs not only at by-elections.