The hysteria around Corbyn’s women-only carriages shows why we have such boring politicians
Jeremy Corbyn's greatest advantage is his ability to speak clearly and confidently, without mincing his words or engaging in the cautious, passive, managerial language which so alienates voters. And it's also the quality which is going to get him in the most trouble, as today's comments on women-only train carriages shows.
The Labour leadership candidate published proposals on tackling violence and harassment against women overnight. In it, he said this:
"Some women have raised with me that a solution to the rise in assault and harassment on public transport could be to introduce women only carriages. My intention would be to make public transport safer for everyone from the train platform, to the bus stop to on the mode of transport itself. However, I would consult with women and open it up to hear their views on whether women-only carriages would be welcome – and also if piloting this at times and modes of transport where harassment is reported most frequently would be of interest."
It may sound like a man considering a relatively radical policy option and pledging consultation on it, but apparently it is in fact the end of days.
As it happens, I don't agree with Corbyn. Segregation proposals act like male harassment is a constant unchangeable truth of the world, which it isn't. It puts the onus on women to protect themselves rather than men not to be scumbags. And segregation anywhere, on any basis, is not something to be entered into lightly. It's a massive moral decision and should ideally be reserved for very specific situations.
Quite apart from all that, it seems logistically impossible, as Transport for London's previous response to the suggestion, back in 1999, suggests. Train operators who struggle to enforce quiet carriages should not be realistically expected to enforce gender separation carriages.
But the strength of the reaction to Corbyn's comments is completely out of proportion to what he suggested. In part, this is due to the increasingly shrill behaviour of the anti-Corbyn troops online. They are using anything they can against him – some of it valid, some of it not. They are increasingly hard to distinguish from the pro-Corbyn Twitter accounts who pile on any journalist who even asks a question about him. Watching both sides flap away at each other every day is becoming increasingly tiresome.
The rest of the reaction seems to suggest that Corbyn is some sort of Wahhabist misogynist, whose Islamic friends on pro-Palestinian campaigns have made him a sexist pig by osmosis. Or he is a relic of decades-old gender politics – even though a substantial chunk of debates around feminism and racism online is about 'safe space', this time in a civic or political, rather than security, sense. But once debates centre on creating 'safe space' on campus political meetings, it's not so surprising that people would suggest it in a more literal way for getting home at night.
The women's-only carriages idea is logistically, politically and morally unsound. But considering it – and saying you want to consult women over it – is hardly worthy of the hysterical responses we've seen this morning. This is the punishment for politicians who dare to express opinions clearly. This is what has helped create the current generation of political pygmies in Westminster.
It's why families who help their loved-ones with assisted dying must do so while technically breaking the law – because we have politicians without the bravery to discuss the issue. It's why politicians speak in a way which constantly hedges their bets, without ever saying anything of value. It's why we have a prime minister who can make whole speeches without a single identifiable meaningful political statement in them. It's why Corbyn is facing three candidates who are seemingly incapable of expressing what it is they actually want to do with power.
Our instinctive response to people expressing political opinions – especially, but not exclusively, in the world of gender, race and sexuality – is the witch hunt and collective craziness. Merely considering a consultation on something is now considered offensive and unacceptable.
And then, when everyone calms down, they will watch Newsnight and complain that politicians all sound the same. What happened to all the politicians with character, they will ask? Well we killed them all off, by losing our minds at the slightest provocation.