Austin Mitchell should apologise – and think before he tweets

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Austin Mitchell has come in for some entirely justified criticism this morning, after tweeting the following, in response to the Louise Mensch story that we covered yesterday:

Delightful. Just the sort of forward thinking One Nation sentiment Ed Miliband’s Labour Party is about. Right?

No – obviously not.

It’s a tweet from the dark ages. It’s the kind of thing I’d be savaging if it were a Tory MP (“proof that the nasty party lives on”, I’d say, no doubt). It’d bloody awful. Austin Mitchell should apologise, and quickly.

“But surely it was a joke”, the defenders of Austin will say. Well, perhaps. Although for something to be a “joke” it has to be “funny” which doesn’t mean simply repeating old-fashioned, sexist, lazy stereotypes about how a woman should behave (in the view of out of touch, out of date bigots).

[Update: Mitchell has since claimed his tweet was an example of “irony”…]

Now I don’t know Austin Mitchell at all. I remember him being amusing on TV a few times. I remember him changing his name by deed poll to Austin Haddock. I know that he chaired the famous TV “debate” between  Brian Clough and Don Revie in 1974. I don’t know if, for example, Austin Mitchell is a bloody good bloke, and a passionate advocate of gender equality. But even if that were true, his desperately unfunny tweet just makes him look like a misogynist. And he’ll continue to look that way unless he apologises.

Some will no doubt blame Twitter for this whole mess. And they would, I’m afraid, be totally wrong. The first thing I always tell MPs who are reticent about using Twitter, is that you only need to worry online if you’re the kind of person who regularly makes an arse of themselves offline. Twitter is just another opportunity to do just that. If you are the kind of person who habitually draws negative publicity due to your outrageous behaviour or comments (I’m look at you, Mr Burley) then we shouldn’t be surprised if you do the same on Twitter. Rarely have I seen a Twitterstorm about an MP and thought “Really? But they’re usually such a calm, measured and balanced sort. I really can’t believe they would say such a thing.”

That’s because you can tell from a mile off who will get in trouble on Twitter, because they get into trouble anyway. Blaming Twitter for an MP making a prat of themselves is like blaming the invention of the printing press for shoddy output of the Daily Mail. It’s tangentially responsible, but it’s not really the point.

Now as I’ve said, I don’t know Austin, so I don’t know if this sort of thing is in character or not. But law of averages says it’s unlikely to have been a one off, and that as well as apologising, it might be worth taking a little Twitter break for a while, because at the moment, whatever his intentions, he’s come across as a sexist fool.

And if he’d thought before he tweeted, that might have been avoided.

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