We are constantly being told that attitudes to working women have changed over the past half century, that claims of sexism are just overdoing it, that bad behaviour by men in the workplace and when socialising after hours is a thing of the past - and that such misbehaviour is taken that much more seriously nowadays. All of this, though, has been conveniently forgotten by the right-wing press this week.
Diane Abbott - press dismissive
Parliament has been debating the bill to enable the Government to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and thus begin Britain’s journey out of the EU. None of the amendments put forward succeeded, and so on Wednesday evening the Tories could celebrate a job swiftly completed. In the Strangers’ Bar at the Commons, Labour MP Diane Abbott was approached by Brexit Minister David Davis, who may have been worse for wear.
Davis, according to Paul Waugh, moved “to give [Ms] Abbott a kiss”. She recoiled and told the minister to fuck off. Davis “walked off laughing”. The Murdoch Sun laughed it off too: “BREXIT NOT SEALED WITH A KISS Diane Abbott tells David Davis to ‘f*** off’ for trying to kiss her in Commons bar after she helped trigger Brexit by voting for the Brexit bill … Brexit Secretary apparently walked off laughing after the incident last night”.
The Mail took an equally dismissive line: “Diane Abbott 'tells Brexit minister David Davis to 'f*** off' as he tries to KISS her in Commons bar' after she helped the Tories to a resounding victory by voting through Article 50 bill … The Tory MP for Haltemprice and Howden reportedly walked off laughing”. Worse, it was Ms Abbott’s fault!
David Davis - should be saying sorry
Why so? “Shadow home secretary Diane Abbot launched a four-letter tirade at Brexit minister David David as he tried to kiss her in the Commons bar after she helped vote through the Article 50 bill”. Yeah, she SWORE at a minister! How bad is that? And she was a hypocrite too: “Her comment on Newsnight sparked a number of people on Twitter to call her out on her ‘hypocrisy’”. No-one made the obvious comment.
None of the right-leaning press would have joined Davis in laughing off an incident where a Labour MP tried that on with a Tory like, er, oh I dunno, how about Theresa May? Or even (shudder) Nadine Dorries? Had it been the latter, the screaming denunciation from her media pals would have been ceaseless. There would have been no laughing it off, no chance of dismissing it as a sweary maverick woman MPs having no sense of humour.
As Stephen Bush at the Staggers has put it, “So why aren’t the headlines ‘Secretary of State attempts to humiliate woman’, or ‘Secretary of the State tries to kiss woman without her consent’, ‘Brexit minister under pressure to apologise to MP’, or some variant thereof? These aren’t behaviours that would be viewed anything other than dimly in any other workplace. Why is the focus on Abbott telling Davis to ‘fuck off’ and not on his behaviour?”
Bush concludes by simply saying “These are rhetorical questions, of course. We all know why”. We do indeed. Sexual assault is fine as long as it’s a right-wing male MP doing it to one of those uppity black Labour women. They don’t really count.
Outside the Westminster Village, it’s 2017. But for lobby hacks, the clock got stuck.