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Council Councillors deserve Counselling?

7 Sept 2020

Jennifer Maidment

Council Councillors deserve Counselling?

Usually, when we hear the word ‘councillor’ in our social circles, we assume the political kind. Most within the party find it easier to talk of the councillor seats or local election then the abuse that is continuously faced specifically by BAME and marginalised members.

It is easy to find bigotry that is thrown the way of MPs such as Diane Abbot or former MP Ruth Smeeth: log onto twitter.com. There is even more abuse within their offices, from emails, sometimes the general public and even more severe, death threats. These emails usually go through others before the MP themselves, profoundly impacting the entire MP’s office. Reading vitriol and hatred is not an easy thing to stomach. Having to have the police round due to substantiated threats is traumatic. Even when the laptops are closed, it does not mean the words are forgotten.

We will struggle to win because there is nowhere near a level playing field. While some of our MP’s are having to coordinate police presence to be able to campaign, are worried their offices will be graffitied again or that the threatening words graffitied may become a reality, their opponents often continue on unaffected. This is a topic that is rarely discussed, ‘check your privilege’ is a shrugged at comment, usually accompanied by a mutter over how pretentious social justice warriors are, but things like gender or race or sexuality is stopping great people becoming MPs - whether by dampening ambition from even early on in people’s careers or hampering campaigns. Labour needs these people to win, and these people need Labours support. The party itself needs to be the one providing support to MPs who are under threat, for example, Ruth Smeeth (at the time one of the few Jewish female Labour MPs) had to rely on the police for protection when campaigning in 2019. Still, she didn’t want them to be there in person because the people at the doors might feel threatened. She was therefore forced to have her father be her bodyguard. When he couldn’t it was one of her office staff, who was not trained in self-defence, often still left questioning “What was I gonna do if someone attacked her?”.

If the Labour Party is serious about equality, serious about inclusion and helping create safe work environments for everyone, they need to offer support. There have, rightly, been calls for a more painless process to get rid of ‘cranks’ (our way of saying bigots without having to admit the left is filled with them) within the party. Still, it won’t eradicate all the pain already caused. There needs to be optional, and free counselling to not only public figures such as MP’s, but also those working in the office, at the very least. We will not have a more diverse party, top through to the bottom unless we make sure it is a safe place to be. Overall there is a lack of protection; some cannot be helped, the public nature of the job causes public opinion, which can always be cruel. But we must accept it is a lot easier to face criticism over policy rather than appearance. It is easier to face criticism over mistakes then hearing thinly-veiled racially charged comments even after achievements. The danger of violence is an unacceptable part of the process, predominantly for those from marginalised groups; labour needs to do more to support those going through this.

Labour can do better by the excellent staff we have. Anyone who’s ever canvassed will know that our staff are incredible, working the weekends, making sure we have tea, leaflets and are organised to go out. We must keep them mentally and physically well, taking care of them, just like how they take care of us -  keeping the party going.

Image by The Labour Party