Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers and the web

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait argues that the American obsession with "centrism" and "moderation" paralyses independent thought:

[T]aking the middle ground between the two parties is not a way of liberating yourself from dogma. It's simply a way of lashing your own judgement to the prevailing sentiments of the moment. Fifty years ago, the notion that the federal government should cover the cost of health care for all senior citizens was too liberal for even many mainstream Democrats to swallow. These days, even right-wing Republicans embrace it.

In the Guardian, David Marquand writes that Thomas Paine's arguments for the American Revolution should inspire David Cameron to support root-and-branch reform of the British state:

[T]here is more to the Whig tradition to which Cameron patently belongs than meets the eye. Over the French Revolution, Edmund Burke -- the greatest ornament of the Whig tradition -- differed bitterly with Tom Paine, the democratic republican par excellence. But they were on the same side over the American one. If Cameron wants to be a real progressive, instead of a phoney one in Blair's mould, he should start by reading Burke and Paine on the struggle between the American colonists and the British crown.

The Independent's Hamish McRae says that Barack Obama's recent speech on health care should teach British politicians how to discuss individual responsibility:

There is a string of areas where people throughout the developed world will have to take greater responsibility for themselves. Health care is one, because the great health issues of an ageing population will be more about people leading generally healthy lifestyles than receiving hi-tech medical interventions . . . President Obama gets all this and articulates it in a way that no European politician would dare do.

The Times's leader argues that David Cameron is wrong not to support higher salaries for MPs:

We, the public, are effectively MPs' employers. Like any employer, if we want a better staff, we must be prepared to pay a better wage. The alternative is a parliament made up of those who do not expect one, or those who do not need one. A smaller salary still risks limiting the House of Commons to toffs, trustafarians and retired hedge-fund managers, dabbling. A political class not closer to the people, but farther away.

In the Daily Mail, Alex Brummer writes that Alistair Darling may be vindicated as the economy begins to emerge from recession:

The apparent return to health of the economy does mean that Alistair Darling's rose-tinted promise of an upturn before the end of this year -- and in time for an election next spring -- does now seem a possibility rather than a forlorn hope.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.