Thursday, May 28, 2009


Go Jo!

The best of luck to Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat MP on tonight’s Question Time. She’s talented, intelligent, engaging, fiercely principled, and one of the few MPs to have been publishing her expenses online for many months. But, because she’s the youngest MP, and a woman, and good-looking – and, I suspect, because she’s a Liberal Democrat – the Daily Telegraph last week dumped a torrent of misogynist smears on her. With wealthy Tories claiming for servants’ quarters, moats and duck houses, and not-so-wealthy Labour MPs dodging taxes and claiming for non-existent mortgages, what did the Torygraph attack Jo for?

They plastered a full page and more on the outrageous slur that she wears make-up. Which she didn’t claim on expenses, and which even the Torygraph didn’t say she did – though the BBC and the Scotsman (clue to the sexual politics in the name there) did claim that even though, er, you can literally see at a glance that’s not true (she handed in a receipt with three items clearly marked as Parliamentary expenses; she explicitly asked only for those; she was only reimbursed for those; but on the same receipt were a few small make-up items she’d paid for with her own money and never asked the taxpayer to give her a penny for). Well smeared, Torygraph.

Why does the Tories’ house newspaper want to damage her with these obvious lies? Because she’s a superb MP. She’s dangerous. Just last week, another newspaper named her as Scotland’s hardest-working MP, and earlier this year the Torygraph themselves praised her for being the MP who led the opposition to the Labour Government’s attempt to exempt MPs and their expenses from freedom of information!

Two political memories spring to mind.

When I was just starting to notice politics, in the early ’80s – about the time that Jo was born – I noticed that all anyone ever said about Shirley Williams was that she was badly dressed, had her hair all over the place, looked a mess… In short, that she was a woman and didn’t look after her appearance, because that was apparently the only thing that mattered. I wondered why I never heard the same about all the men in their horrible ’80s suits that didn’t fit.

You can bet that if Jo dressed badly or didn’t wear make-up, the Torygraph would lead on that, too.

My other memory is first meeting Jo, about ten years ago, at a Lib Dem Youth and Students Conference. We were on different sides in a debate, and it got a bit heated. I had a lot more debating experience, and I won… But she listened, and decided that I’d got it right after all. She’s still grown-up enough to listen to people, but nowadays I suspect I’d lose any debate when she was on the other side. Because not only is she very bright, and usually right, but she’s very much more engaging than my ‘Mr Shouty’ persona.

I hope she wins tonight, as she often does, and sticks it to the Torygraph in the best way possible – by showing that she’s a brilliant MP, and they’re just jealous, sad old men.

Others have written at greater length and with far more detail, evidence and practical tips than I have. For a balanced view, I particularly recommend Caron and Caron again, Jennie, Costigan (on the Guardian jumping on the sexist bandwagon) and James, displaying the Torygraph’s disgusting coverage , and then James again, who makes me seem positively demure but provides an excellent example of his well-deserved reputation as the Lib Dem blogosphere’s tactical nuclear bastard.

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* smooch *

Off to watch it now :D
Love it - and especially your description of James:-). Spot on!
We love Mr Shouty.
Awwhh, thank you (and particularly Caron, for the link!). And I think Mr Shouty goes down better among the converted ;-)

I have to admit that the line about James isn’t entirely mine; it came up in conversation with someone who doesn’t want to be mentioned and made me laugh, so I asked if I could use it!

The really depressing thing about my early Shirley memory is that, as I said, she was being treated that way about the time Jo was born. And now Jo’s in Parliament, two and a half decades later, and they’re still doing down women politicians in the same way…

I thought Jo was pretty good last night, though it wasn’t her best; with six of them on the panel, I don’t think anyone ‘won’, and it’s always refreshing to see Jo actually answer the question, as so few MPs do.

A pleasure to see UKIP Leader Mr Farage unravelling at last, though. Usually, he comes across as dangerously plausible, but last night his populist lines kept coming unstuck. He looked very unhappy when he was confronted with his boast last week that he’d taken two million pounds in allowances – the boast he’d thought was away from the microphone!

More importantly, he revealed the true, ugly face of UKIP on a question about the BNP. He said that he’d never do a deal with them, that they were a racist party… Then, literally only after pausing for breath, he launched into a long rant against immigrants. And the longer he ranted, the more sickened the audience looked. Not only did he get boos, but the Labour Minister who spoke immediately afterwards and condemned him was actually rewarded with thunderous applause – and who can remember the last time that happened?
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