Why Was a Tory Councillor Plotting to 'Play Dirty' with Feminist Activists?
We speak to Sisters Uncut, the women's rights campaigners caught up in a leaked smear campaign by a Tory politician.
Always a bit awkward when a top secret email leaks, isn't it. In the latest episode of Politicians Not Caring That Much, a message from a Conservative member of Portsmouth city council got out in which he suggested smearing a local anti-domestic violence charity and feminist group Sisters Uncut. In the email, Councillor Scott Harris set out his plans to attack Shonagh Dillion, the chief executive of Aurora New Dawn, a Portsmouth domestic violence support charity, as well as the local chapter of Sisters Uncut.
The email says, "The elections are coming...quite frankly, it might be a good idea to play dirty this time." Bizarrely, as if he's the star of a shit low-budget political drama, he goes on to promise that he's "compiling some stuff on Shonagh Dillion, Aurora New Dawn, and Sisters Uncut".
We wondered why a small-time politician wanted to attack a charity who are doing vital work to keep women in abuse relationships alive so we spoke to Emily* from Sister's Uncut.
VICE: Hey Emily. What was your reaction to seeing the email?
Sisters Uncut: Our reaction was basically disgust. We know that two women a week in England and Wales die as a result of domestic violence which is why we're doing what we're doing to help save domestic abuse services across the country, which includes this service in Portsmouth which is currently facing £180,000 worth of cuts. It's pretty disgusting that his response to that is to play politics with women's lives.
£180,000 seems a lot to cut in one small city...
That money covers the Early Intervention Project in Portsmouth which has won awards. It would completely cut the whole project which includes more than a dozen staff members who'd lose their jobs. These are workers who are highly specialised; it's not just something anyone can do. It would cut the support that exists for doctors and social workers to get specialist advice from domestic violence professionals if they needed it.
Why were you specifically targeted by this bloke?
We were contacted by activists and workers in Portsmouth who had found out about these proposals and were devastated. At the moment we're a London-based group but we are growing. We worked in conjunction with them to stage direct action at the council meeting which was discussing these cuts. We shut it down with a banner drop saying that cutting these services kills women. Interestingly, the result of that was that all the Conservative councillors ran from the chamber. They couldn't face being confronted with the truth of what they're doing. It's not just resources, this is women and children's lives.
So that sparked the smear campaign?
From the emails that we've seen, basically in order to win the battle against us, he's willing to dig up dirt on us, see what he could find. I guess that'd make us look bad and him and them look better.
What's your response to his email going to be?
It's definitely made us more determined to do our work not just in Portsmouth but everywhere there are people who are angry or cuts to domestic violence services. We understand that the leader of Portstmouth Council has said that she won't be disciplining him, she's drawing a line under it and he's issued apologies to everyone involved. We certainly haven't received an apology. Actually, the only apology we would accept would be a fully-funded specialist domestic violence services in Portsmouth.
Is that where you're focussing your energies at the moment, expanding outside of the capital?
We've got several groups that are starting up across the country. We're looking at how we can go from a London-based activist group to a mass movement. Ever since our first direct action we've been getting emails from women across the country asking us about what's happening. Survivors of domestic violence, workers in the sector and just people who can see what's happening in this country and are angry.
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