The PR man and his sexist gaffes

Submitted by AWL on 14 September, 2016 - 11:21 Author: Elizabeth Butterworth

Owen Smith’s Labour leadership campaign tagline is “Labour’s Future”. Yet his attitudes to women seem to be stuck in the 1970s.

At a hustings in Westminster on 5 September, a woman audience member called his comments “deeply gendered, quite violent and aggressive towards women”. Smith responded: “It has been the most mortifying experience for me in this contest to have been painted as sexist, because it’s the last thing I am.

“In truth, some of the things you said reflected the way in which some phrases I used, either in a tweet or speech, have been decontextualised and repeated in order to portray me as being sexist.”

I would suggest to Mr Competence that if he wants people to stop thinking he’s sexist or bigoted, he needs to stop saying sexist and bigoted things, as, lacking the window into his soul that we clearly need, the only way we can judge his attitudes is through what he says and the way he acts.

When experienced MP and lesbian Angela Eagle was still running, he described himself in an interview as “normal — I’ve got a wife and three children”. The implication of these remarks are that having a different-sex partner and kids is “normal” and other lifestyles are not.He was challenged on this homophobia in a Pink News interview, where he was asked if Angela Eagle was normal and Jeremy Corbyn (who has been interrogated by the gutter press for having had more than one marriage) was normal, to which he responded in the affirmative.

Smith’s fist-bitingly awkward answer regarding Corbyn was that Jeremy “is normal… he’s the leader of the Labour Party, he’s not a very good leader of the Labour Party, but in other respects he is normal…”

In the first few days of his campaign, Smith said that, after the EU referendum, Labour should have been able to “smash [Theresa May] back on her heels”, then defended these comments, dismissing the implied sexism as “rhetoric”, before his campaign team half-apologised on his behalf. Some defend this language as a sporting analogy, which I understand, but the context is that of Theresa May being only the second female Prime Minister we’ve ever had, and her dress sense being scrutinised in the tabloids, in particular for wearing kitten heels. As much as her politics are terrible, she is still subject to sexism.

Then there is the resurfacing of a “joke” Smith made on Twitter in April: “Perfect ‘slice’ served up by the ladies of the Ritz, Millport. They’ve got the perfect present for Nicola Sturgeon, too [accompanied by a picture of a jar of gobstoppers].”

Putting aside calling women workers “ladies” he told a senior woman politician that she needs a gobstopper. He defended this as “political banter”. Yes, “banter”. And said there are “so many women running my campaign”, as if this excuses his sexism! Revoltingly, Smith said in an interview with the BBC, “I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in
the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

To claim that the Labour party was only beset by these problems nine months ago suggests that Smith is being disingenuous or pig-ignorant about the levels of bigotry that are around in society and on the left, and are therefore an inevitable feature of a large political party.

In 2015, Owen Smith was caught on camera in a discussion with the leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood, saying “your gender helps” in getting appearances on Question Time. Leanne Wood is the leader of the second most popular political party in Wales. Owen Smith is an MP very few people had heard of until recently. It’s not to do with gender, unless you’re a sexist.

In 2010, Smith wrote a blog post for Wales Home, analogising the Liberal Democrats’ role in the coalition government to a domestic violence victim, writing, “The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision. Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

In a more recent interview with Smith talked about his schooldays and meeting his wife, “1,200 boys, three girls and I pulled Liz. So I must have something going on. That must be leadership.”

Truly hideous (and I haven't even mentioned his knob jokes). Women are not property to be won. Not everyone is straight. Relationships and sex aren’t a competition. It’s not just “lad bants” to talk about women in the way that Owen Smith does. Smith is someone who can’t be trusted to form a sentence without making a bigoted remark. If the leadership contest is meant to be about competence, then Smith deserves to lose very badly.

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