PMQs Verdict: The Tories show they aren’t the British Obamas – they’ve got a serious women problem

7th November, 2012 1:19 pm

Well that was always going to be an anti-climax, and so it transpired. 5 hours after Barack Obama gave one of the finest acceptance speeches of all time – a soaring work of hard rhetoric and dreamy imagery – we were back down to earth with the hardest of bumps.

It’s PMQs, Jim – but not as we know it.

Prime Minister’s Questions without either the Prime Minister or the opposition leader tends to be a somewhat bloodless affair – verging on pointless – and this, I’m afraid was little different. Harman landed a few jabs on Clegg, but he’d clearly decided to get some cheers from the Tory benches (he just wants to be loved, bless him) so he came flying out of the traps, attempting to windmill Harman, with some success.

Well done Nick, you got cheered by the Tory Right. Even Peter Bone was nice to you. Well done. Pat on head. Dave WILL be pleased…

But as today is the (glorious) day of Barack Obama’s re-election as President, it might be worth comparing and contrasting between our two political systems. Particularly when it comes to women. Barack Obama’s (now increasingly comfortable looking) victory, was secured with the support of women voters. Mitt Romney and his Republican band of men with…dubious…views on rape and abortion were, shockingly, a turn off for women.

Cameron has in the past been said to fret about his own “women problem”. That led to brief but transparent attempts to flank the PM with female MPs at PMQs and other similarly flawed stunts. Today though, the real attitude of some in the Tory Party to women was laid bare. Heckling is always a problem at PMQs, but for women it’s far, far worse. Sometimes it’s hard to hear female MPs deliver their questions such is the barracking (or worse, just talking over them). Today, Harriet Harman was given the full hairdryer treatment from the moment she stood up until the moment she sat down. It was relentless, ugly and shocking. No group of MPs would treat a senior male politician in such a way. And yet Harman is considered fair game. Not that it will bother Harriet unduly, I’m sure – she’s tough – but that doesn’t excuse it.

Meanwhile on Twitter, Tory MP Michael Fabricant decided it would be appropriate to refer to Yvette Cooper as “Yvette Cooper-Balls“. That is not her name. It has never been her name. It is no more her name that Ed Balls-Cooper is the shadow chancellor’s name. It’s almost like  Fabricant felt like Cooper (an MP of 15 years, a former minister, the current shadow home secretary) would only be recognised if she used her husband’s name. Or perhaps Fabricant considers the name to confer ownership of some sort. The precise meaning was unclear, the inference – that Cooper doesn’t have her own identity and can’t decide so much as her own name, was horrible.

What rot, to be polite – a politeness that Fabricant barely deserves, having not extended it to Yvette Cooper.

If the Tories want to be the British Obamas (stop laughing at the back)  – and they will want that, because 90+% of Brits were supporting Obama in the election (only 13% of Tories supported Romney) – then they need to think hard about the way they treat and address women.

They could start with their opponents.

If not, the women voters of Britain will have a fairly clear choice. We saw in America what a decisive impact that can have.

The choice is theirs.

  • Jesse Samasuwo

    Would you have preferred it if the back benches were completely silent during Harriet Harman’s questions? I would find it even more sexist if they had silently listened to her, given that both sides always heckle whoever is speaking. I believe passionately in equality: Harriet Harman should be heckled as vigorously as Ed Miliband. 

    (And if you want to talk about poor treatment of female politicians, how about the Police Federation and Theresa May?)

  • Pingback: Harriet Harman was not 'bullied' at PMQs today » Spectator Blogs()


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