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IN August 1892, James Keir Hardie (pictured) and his cap entered the House of Commons.
After his election as MP for West Ham South, he was berated by Tory MPs for what he wore to Parliament: a suit that identified him as fighting for the common worker and a deerstalker hat, otherwise knowing as a coming-and-going hat, which was frowned upon by the top-hat-wearing peers.
At a meeting with constituents he was queried about the type of hat he wore. He replied that it was not what was on the head that mattered, so much as what’s in it.
Chances are that you have seen an online video of Jeremy Corbyn in 1984 getting questioned on his dress sense, and made fun of because he was wearing a knitted jumper made by his mum.
It was after Tory MP Terry Dicks said: “Labour scruffs like Corbyn should be barred from addressing the house unless they pull their socks up.”
Fast forward to 2017, and the newly elected Labour MP Hugh Gaffney showed up to his first day in Parliament in his work uniform — a Parcelforce T-shirt. When Gaffney was asked what he was there to deliver he confidently replied: “Justice for the workers.”
Gaffney has recently spoken out about the personal attacks he has endured, specifically aimed at the way he talks and dresses.
However this is nothing new — attacking a person personally and not their politics or beliefs. We would be naive to think that this is not a tactic to distract people from the cold, hard truth.
The three examples that I have used are male, but females in a majority of workplaces are also judged for their outward appearance on a day-to-day basis.
This kind of superficial judgement affects men and women alike and can have an adverse effect on their psyche. Countless times the news has commented on what a woman was wearing rather than tackling the relevant issues.
In my time, I have witnessed three successful campaigns that have stuck to policies and not personality — the Corbyn and Richard Leonard leadership campaigns.
Neil Findlay’s previous campaign for Scottish Labour leadership also really challenged people’s views.
Findlay wanted to drastically change the way we view political leadership and took the risk to do something innovative and courageous.
Even though we were unable to defeat Jim Murphy, it brought a large group of like-minded people together because of the ideas that Findlay put forward to change Scottish Labour — something which we shouldn’t forget and should be commended.
That campaign laid the foundations to build on for real Labour values, leaving personality at the door and making our campaigns about policies.
Such personal attacks not only affect that person directly but those closest to them — family, friends, husband, wife. And I have asked myself on numerous occasions: “How can we help protect people?”
The answer, I believe, lies within our communities, and I strongly believe that things can and will get better with the right support and guidance.
Findlay and I have campaigned with one another on a number of occasions. Most recently in relation to the living wage in the new town of Livingstone, proposing a “Livi Living Wage,” targeting the town’s biggest employers to encourage them to become accredited living wage employers.
Our ability to work together as comrades should be used to protect the growing number of members from nasty politics. We need to lead by example and shift the focus from polished politicians to policies and purpose of power. Being able to build up people’s spirit and confidence is what will enable them to tackle the issues that they face within their own community, or the wider community.
After all, who cares what shoes you are wearing, as long as you want to stamp out injustice. That’s what counts.
Keir Hardie wrote in an article: “Of all the forms of poverty with which I have been brought into contact, poverty of spirit is altogether the most appalling.”
In Britain today there has been no shortage of people’s spirits being robbed. With growing inequality, poverty and continued austerity, the fight to change and rekindle that spirit is well and truly on.
When people have an enriched spirit they are able to be drive positive change, like Monica Lennon MSP, who has been campaigning to tackle period poverty.
These kinds of fundamental changes don’t just happen overnight, but with spirit and fight, it goes to show attitudes can be changed for the better.
Austerity is robbing people of their spirit. The worry and isolation that comes with unemployment, zero-hours contracts and stagnating wages is all too real and the people affected most are those who need to be involved in trade unions.
Trade unions are a voice to help bring around change, not just in our communities but to join in with educating others. Such collectivism will help people to empower themselves and others around them to find that spirit to fight.
Jamie-Max Caldwell is a Unite the Union Community co-ordinator.
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