To say tensions are high in parliament is a silly understatement: the country hasn’t seen anything like it in living memory. As so often is the case with political buffoonery, it showed itself in the form of PMQs, as Jeremy Corbyn squared off with Boris Johnson. This particular act of buffoonery came in a bizarre exchange where the Prime Minister called Mr Corbyn: “a great big girl’s blouse” when quizzing him on whether he would agree to an early election prior to 31st October, the date of Britain’s departure from the European Union. The use of the phrase undoubtedly caused a stir, but I think it displays something more generic: the casual acceptance, from politicians and journalists alike, of this crass behaviour in society. The use of these phrases displays an arrogance and smugness from the already decaying political class.
To be fair to Mr Johnson, his comments are probably the best of a bad bunch. I would rather be called a “great big girls’ blouse” than say, a “letterbox” or a “pickaninny” with a “watermelon smile”. Comparatively, it is far less offensive, but nonetheless demonstrates the level of his lack of decorum and statesmanship. This statement may be just an off-the-cuff comment to whip up fiery banter, showing the farce for what Parliament is these days, but it plays shadow to more serious gender-related issues in politics. It has echoed again throughout politics on both sides with some rather outrageous comments and actions from other MPs.
In the Tory party, this has reared its ugly head more than enough. Tory grandee Sir Christopher Chope, MP for Christchurch, has certainly made no friends with his views on “upskirting” by shouting “object” and preventing its debate in Parliament. The Dover MP Charlie Elphicke, currently suspended from the Tory Whip, recently appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, charged with the sexual assault of two women, a claim he strenuously denies, but which raises more serious questions on the behaviour of MPs. Whether he is guilty or not, the casual outlook of some of our MPs needs a serious reviewing. Serious allegations of any sexist misconduct, going through to sexual abuse must be deplored by all political persuasions. Former Labour MP, now Independent for Sheffield Hallam, Jared O’Mara, faced fierce criticism of previous tweets deemed misogynistic. He further made homophobic and racist tweets in the past, leading to his suspension and resignation from the party. Cases like these prove that Parliament certainly has a culture of misogyny amongst its largely privileged, male members. It certainly is not a great image for a parliament seen by many as the first beacon of democracy.
Even though Mr Johnson’s comments to the Labour leader weren’t in my view strictly sexist, I see them as another brick in the house of pantomime. The outrage following it is understandable. It continues to stoke the fire of an issue that politics seems to throw into the limelight only to take it out again, exposing a more perverse culture that politics and society need to call out for what it is: shameful.