2017 Revisited: A look back through the eyes of TCW’s top writers.
First posted February 2017
Ah, by-elections. Gotta love ’em.
Not associated with directly bringing down governments by altering the electoral balance, they are a sort of free-for-all for public expression. They attract joke candidates such as the Monster Raving Loony Party. They are used by the media as a barometer of sorts. This month we have two of them. What fun.
The media narrative is that Labour is due to lose some safe seats. And this will demonstrate to Jeremy Corbyn exactly how destructive his leadership is. There is a small problem with this narrative: it has been the same since Corbyn took over but so far voters have failed to follow it by defeating any Labour candidate for MP or Mayor.
Now all that appears to be changing, ‘appears’ being the operative word. The Tories are set to win in Copeland. Ukip is set to win in Stoke. Given that both by-elections have been caused by Labour MPs quitting Parliament because they see no future under Corbyn, this has to follow.
Well, not quite.
There are mixed reports coming from both campaigns. Well, from Stoke, at least. Copeland has been all but silent.
Over in Stoke, the big fight is between Ukip and Labour. Ukip’s leader is standing in a seat that has been dubbed ‘Brexit Central’. To believe The Guardian and the New Statesman, Labour is set to hold the seat. It is possible that these journals might be biased.
Labour do have a problem with their candidate in Stoke. He has been a bit of a loose cannon on Twitter. Gareth Snell has made disparaging comments about Brexit voters and also about his party’s leader. But then, this may have been at a time when no one believed that the local MP might quit a party rapidly becoming a museum-piece to go and work in an actual museum. But that’s not his only problem.
Snell has been critical of women appearing on television. The Horror. Apparently, many years ago, Snell took it upon himself to provide a running commentary on some television programmes and made some negative remarks about the women on some shows. This is now seen as sexist.
Well, up to a point.
Snell’s comments have not been sexist. They have been derogatory. Surely we live in an age of equality, or we are repeatedly told we should be by the Left. In this mandatory egalitarian age, should it not be normal to be equally rude about women as about men? If women are regarded as a protected species to be insulated from unpleasant comments, that is not equality. We have not seen if Snell has been abusive about men on television. Perhaps he is just a person who likes to be unpleasant online, or is generally a nasty man.
Alternatively, this whole equality lark is just bunkum. If women cannot ‘man-up’ about insults in the same way a man does, then they should not expect to be treated like a man. Insults cannot be abolished. There is something called ‘freedom of speech’.
Snell is not the only person to have been outed for being derogatory about women. David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, sent a text message implying that migraine martyr Diane Abbott should perhaps ditch any ambitions she might have had to compete for Miss Universe 2018.
However, the criticisms by David Davis are coming from the same direction as the harshest attacks that were made against Margaret Thatcher, including those about her appearance. There is a clear double standard going on here. Steve Bell, a veteran cartoonist for The Guardian, depicts Mrs May as a green-haired, pan-faced clone of Mrs Thatcher. This is probably because he is unable to draw a proper caricature of the Right Honourable Member for Maidenhead. A recent cartoon of his depicted an unpleasant physical relationship between President Trump and Mrs May. Lady Thatcher, a woman who has now passed away, is still subject to regular abuse.
No one from the Left complains about the vicious attacks on these women. Somehow, none of this is seen as sexist. Meanwhile a hint, made in the expectation of privacy, about the consequences of Ms Abbott’s apparent success in preventing lettuce getting into her digestive system in quantity, is enough to force an apology. None of Margaret Thatcher’s detractors ever apologised to her.
There seems to be an emotional over-engagement with the superficialities of politics. The words ‘febrile atmosphere’ are seriously overused here. We are living in an age of internet-induced mass psychosis. This drives an unabated emotional response as people are bombarded with a news feed they seem to be unwilling to turn off. At the same time it provokes an immediate emotional reaction based on minimal information. The growth in social media seems to have increased popular hysteria, mainly on the Left.
In this hysteria, a private comment implying the uncomeliness of Jeremy Corbyn’s holiday bike buddy is classed as sexist abuse of the worst kind, enough to be headline news. It is not. An apology is expected. It is not needed, and should not have been made. Jokes were made all the time about Sir Eric Pickles’s dimensions when he was a minister. He even got in on the joke himself. Surely in the age of equality similar hints can be made about stoutness on the distaff side?
Socialists like to talk about the utopian ideal where people can interact in an atmosphere of safety and mutual respect. However a close inspection of comment pages and online reveals that this ‘respect’ applies only to fellow-thinkers. Outside this ideological bubble, it is open season, and this is the norm. There is no limit on the violence and abuse, verbal and physical. All of this is regarded as legitimate or understandable by liberal commentators and politicians. They should, therefore, not be surprised if other people regard it as open season on them, on the verbal level alone. Do unto others, etc. These were not rape threats, which seem to be a normal part of political discourse in Corbyn’s Labour, and appear to have been quietly brushed under the carpet.
Snell was being rude, rather than sexist. David Davis was being disparaging, not assaulting the matriarchy. If it is widely seen as acceptable, as it regrettably is, to be insulting about Conservative women, should not their Left-wing counterparts understand receiving the same treatment when they merit it? That would be the true equality they seem to aspire to.
Alternatively it is time for all the hissing to stop, especially from the Left.