Goodness me this is a tedious one. As ever, the context: during today’s session of PMQ’s, following a particularly bellowing broadside from the Prime Minister in the direction of the Leader of HM Opposition, the Right Honourable Jeremy Corbyn was caught on camera mouthing what appeared to be an unflattering term. While the words are disputed (sigh…I’ll come back to that), he called her a ‘stupid woman‘.
And before anyone starts, of course this is a ridiculous thing for us to be talking about and focusing on, but it has thrown up so many wider talking points. And those are what I want to discuss.
Because of course, it isn’t about the words. It’s about the person, the target and the fanatical, almost religious, tribalism that now dominates our public discourse. I wrote early on in my blogging life that you can tell someone’s opinion on one subject with a horrifyingly high degree of accuracy, based purely on their opinion on another, entirely separate matter. And here we are again.
To paraphrase the American comedian Bill Burr, all that matters is whether you wear a blue tie or a red tie. That’s it. That’s all you need in order to know what you think about this. Corbynite? Well it’s not a problem. Hate the guy? He must be punished, end of story.
What is particularly depressing has been the responses from the followers of the new Messiah. These range from the absurd (he didn’t say ‘woman’, he said ‘people’), to the deflective (look at what else is going on in the country!), from the downright evasive (Why are we even talking about this?) to the ridiculous (the guy is in trouble for saying something accurate!). What a horrible shame.
Firstly, the absurd. He said ‘people’, guys! No…no he really didn’t. If this is where you are then there really is no hope for conversation. I’d recommend you navigate away from here. I’ll even give you a link to something you’ll like. Go on.
‘We’ve got experts that said categorically…‘ Yeh and so have the other side. Stop being so dense.
Secondly, the deflective. Which would be a perfectly fair argument if it wasn’t for the fact that you wouldn’t be deflecting had a Tory done this. It is simply inconsistent to give JC a free pass on something that another would not. You’d be screaming ‘STRAIGHT WHITE OLD MALE CALLS POOR WEAK WILLED OPPOSITION MEMBER A STUPID WOMAN!!’ Of course there are worse things going on and this obviously doesn’t matter, but it would in reverse. Have some pride – be consistent.
The evasive. Yes ok it happened, but why are we talking about it? You know perfectly well why we’re talking about it. Had he just owned up and either apologised or defended his words, then we wouldn’t need to carry on talking about it. But he hasn’t, he’s lied and covered himself up in the face of blatant evidence – that’s worth talking about.
And finally, the ridiculous. The squalid, creepy defence of the Dear Leader. The backing from those who are quickest to jump on poor taste language, ‘microaggressions’, tiny hints of racism and sexism, the trawlers of social media histories, the petition signers.
‘But…but she is a stupid woman! He was only being accurate!’
Indeed. The problem with this becomes clear with a moment’s thought. To be entirely fair, I did see one or two of my friends come against this line furiously, maintaining their dignity. But come on…this is a slimy and quite shocking thing to do.
Again, had a Tory done this, you would be queueing up to explain why ‘stupid woman’ is different to ‘stupid man’, why their ‘privilege’ disallowed them from making any such statement, that any apology would not be accepted, such was the high cost of the offence.
Let’s take the argument and apply it. It was an accurate statement apparently. Ok, putting aside that it’s an opinion and not a fact, let’s say he was technically accurate to call her a ‘stupid woman’. She’s a woman, and she’s stupid, right? Stupid woman.
Well Diane Abbott is black. She’s demonstrably overweight and seems to have a flimsy grasp of numbers. So it would be totally fine for a Tory to be caught on camera following a statement from Ms. Abbott muttering ‘stupid fat black woman’. Wouldn’t it? Those are all technically accurate words, no?
Perhaps Emily Thornberry could be referred to as a ‘fat, snobby woman’ without fear of recourse? Or maybe Ed Miliband could be called a ‘conniving, backstabbing Jew’? Still accurate, individual words?
These are obviously pejoratives in their context, and nasty ones at that. It is easy to see that, as long as you are willing to. And I don’t claim that these are on the same level as ‘stupid woman’ because they aren’t, but why does that make ‘stupid woman’ ok?
I simply do not understand party tribalism. This is what you get from it and it’s pathetic. I remember wondering what to call this blog when I started it and had a few ideas – I’m so glad I went with Off the Party Line. That’s where we need to be – thinking, allowing for doubt, criticising your own side and praising the other whenever required. How can you have a moral purpose if you stick to party lines? I’ve praised and defended Corbyn in the past, several times, despite the fact I don’t like him or his ideas. And everyone makes mistakes, nobody can be perfect. But defending him even when he does something wrong?
This sort of episode makes Corbynism look more and more like a cult where the leader cannot be criticised, and it’s creepy. Watching perfectly sane and rational people claim he said ‘people’ is frightening, and the double standards are case studies in rank hypocrisy.