Female MPs, please stop playing the sexism card

Naomi Firsht

Topics Politics UK

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Are you planning on attending a pub quiz this week? Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry would like to know, and she’s here to help – just so long as the bonus round isn’t ‘names of world’s foreign ministers’.

Thornberry provided us with the car-crash interview of the weekend when she was questioned by Dermot Murnaghan on Sky News about the Labour Party’s position on Brexit. In response to Murnaghan asking her if she knew the name of the French foreign minister, Thornberry said, ‘Don’t start pub quizzing me, Dermot’. When the question was repeated, Thornberry said: ‘No, and I’m not going to start answering your questions on this.’

The interview reached its cringe-worthy peak when Thornberry failed to provide the name or gender of the president of South Korea. She then launched into several angry rants, before accusing Murnaghan of sexism. ‘I certainly think sometimes, when it comes to sexism, some Sky presenters need to look at themselves, too’, she said.

Thornberry accused Murnaghan of being ‘patronising’ and of questioning her differently to male politicians. Which is nonsense, given that Murnaghan once famously caught out then shadow chancellor Alan Johnson in 2011 when quizzing him about national-insurance rates.

Thornberry is simply playing the ‘sexism’ card to cover up her own failings. Had Murnaghan asked her about techniques for getting stains out of fabric, or ‘who she was wearing’ that day, that might have been sexist. But she is shadow foreign secretary and Murnaghan asked her questions pertinent to her role. As a journalist, he is supposed to quiz politicians and hold them to account.

Thornberry retorted to Murnaghan: ‘Do Sky journalists have a go at Boris Johnson on this basis? How about Liam Fox? Do you do pub quizzes with them?’ It sounded suspiciously like she expected softer questions because she’s a woman. This does professional women no favours, who have fought for years to be treated as equals to men. In the midst of a discussion about leaving the EU, is it really too much to expect a shadow foreign secretary, man or woman, to know who the French foreign minister is?

Moreover, crying ‘sexism’ is a hefty accusation to make. Similar allegations have ruined careers. Scientist Tim Hunt effectively lost his job at University College London last year when his ill-judged joke about women in laboratories sparked a Twitterstorm.

Thornberry’s churlish tantrum does much more harm to her ‘sisters’ than any imagined sexism. Politicians should be prepared to answer questions from journalists, even if they deem them pub-quiz worthy. Incidentally, if anyone is heading to a pub quiz this week, be sure to remember the name Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister. I’ve a feeling it might come up.

Naomi Firsht is staff writer at spiked and co-author of The Parisians’ Guide to Cafés, Bars and Restaurants.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK


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