I’ve been in Westminster all day today, and so am a bit late to the understandable furore that has been caused by Austin Mitchell’s stupid comments on Astrezenca and Pfizer, in which he compared a potential corporate takeover to rape. Late this afternoon I was told about Mitchell’s initial tweet, but understood that he’d apologised. Perhaps it was an unfortunate “autocorrect” error I thought (I’ve had a few), but in the back of my mind I wondered if he hadn’t actually meant to say “rapists” after all.
Indeed, I’ve had to write about Mitchell and his inappropriate and unpleasant Twitter outbursts before. Back in October 2012, Mitchell tweeted at Louise Mensch:
“Shut up Menschkin.A good wife doesn’t disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn’t lie about why shequit politics”.
“Master”. “Good little wife”. “A good little girl”. As I wrote at the time:
“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’s bloody awful. Austin Mitchell should apologise, and quickly.”
The same more than applies today. And so when I heard Mitchell’s radio interview with LBC this evening in which he suggested that the whole thing is a storm in a teacup, and denied that he’s trivialising rape. Except as far as I can see that’s exactly what he has done. Rape is a uniquely vile crime. It violates the human body and it’s a brutal exercise of power from one individual over another than can cause both physical and emotional damage. Conflating anything else with rape by definition trivialises rape – because nothing else is rape.
Mitchell’s bone-headed and stubborn refusal to apologise and admit that he’s wrong – despite seemingly being spoken to by the Chief Whip (although that’s seemingly a matter of debate) – is harmful to the Labour Party and harmful to his own reputation.
Because what baffles me, is that this is not only the same Austin Mitchell who made ludicrous and unpleasant comments about a former female MP, it’s also the Austin Mitchell who recently recorded a remarkable and insightful video announcing his retirement as an MP.It’s the Austin Mitchell who was the interviewer in perhaps the greatest sporting interview of all time (Clough and Revie 1974). It’s the Mitchell who changed his name to “Haddock” because he knew it’d get attention for his constituents.
How can the same Mitchell who is capable of being so self aware and so knowing about how to push people’s buttons be so, so wrong about something so serious?
Austin Mitchell must apologise. And he must do it today. He’s already had ample chance to do so. And if he won’t, then the party should remove the whip – because that’s what we’d be calling for if a Tory did likewise. And this is no time – and no issue – for double standards.