Should Andy Burton be fired for calling someone “a bit of a looker”?

Is calling someone a “looker” any worse than calling them good-looking?

The Sky Sports broadcaster Andy Burton has denied that he has been suspended, instead insisting that he has been "stood down" from tomorrow night's Carling Cup match between Birmingham and West Ham.

Either way, it seems he's become embroiled in the scandal surrounding sexist comments from his fellow Sky Sports broadcasters Andy Gray and Richard Keys, who were suspended by the channel after being recorded agreeing that a football official, Siân Massey, would need the offside rule explaining to her because she was a woman. This afternoon it was announced that Gray has been sacked for his comments.

For his part, Burton had said prior to going on air, before last Saturday's game between Liverpool and Wolves, that Massey was a "bit of a looker". There will surely now be considerable debate about whether those comments, taken away from the other comments made by his co-presenters, should be considered sexist in their own right.

One online dictionary has "looker" down as originating in 1893 and the use of the word in this context being "a very attractive person, especially a woman or girl". But not, one should add, a word that can be used only about a woman or a girl. Indeed, in the Guardian, in Simon Hattenstone's 1997 interview with the actor Pete Postlethwaite, he described the actor so:

However often you've watched Pete Postlethwaite on stage or screen, it's hard to prepare for the close-up: the compact body, dainty feet dressed in Kickers, the skin – cross-hatched with thin red contours – resembling a faintly exotic cheese, and those cheekbones bursting out of his head like swollen knuckles. Yet, against all odds, Pete Postlethwaite is a bit of a looker.

But a quick internet search for the use of the term does suggest it's more often used about women. Commenting on Beyoncé's Grammy Awards win in February last year, the Scotsman's Gary Flockhart said of the singer: "I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't start frothing at the mouth when the talk turns to the singer. That's probably because she's a bit of a looker, not to mention one of the best singers on the planet."

Of course, we can't all be "lookers". In a review of the book The Bolter by the Daily Mail's Craig Brown, he says of its heroine: "Idina Sackville, was, to put it bluntly, one of the greatest slags of her day . . . certainly no looker." Charming! The Daily Mail goes a step further in its review of the film Run Lola Run, describing the lead actress, Franka Potente, as, "certainly a looker as well as a goer".

Can the Daily Telegraph's use of the term settle the question – is calling someone a "looker" sexist? Perhaps there was no better opportunity than its review of Sex and the City 2, featuring as it does Sarah Jessica Parker's character Carrie Bradshaw, who herself has been analysed ad infinitum as to the degree of her feminism or otherwise.

The Telegraph's Harry Mount declared: "The penny dropped. The audience loved Sarah Jessica Parker because she's not much of a looker – like a very thin Bette Midler. With Carrie Bradshaw, there's none of the feelings of envy or self-loathing that hit them on seeing a gorgeous model getting hitched."

So, is calling someone a "looker" any worse than calling them good-looking? Is calling someone good-looking enough to get them the sack? It seems Andy Burton may be about to find out.

Jason Stamper is the New Statesman's technology correspondent.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

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The UK is dangerously close to breaking apart - there's one way to fix it

We must rethink our whole constitutional settlement. 

When the then-Labour leader John Smith set up a report on social justice for what would be the incoming government in 1997, he said we must stop wasting our most precious resource – "the extraordinary skills and talents of ordinary people".

It is one of our party’s greatest tragedies that he never had the chance to see that vision put into practice. 

At the time, it was clear that while our values of equality, solidarity and tolerance endured, the solutions we needed were not the same as those when Labour was last in power in the 1970s, and neither were they to be found in the policies of opposition from the 1980s. 

The Commission on Social Justice described a UK transformed by three revolutions:

  • an economic revolution brought about by increasing globalisation, innovation and a changing labour market
  • a social revolution that had seen the role of women in society transformed, the traditional family model change, inequality ingrained and relationships between people in our communities strained
  • a political revolution that challenged the centralisation of power, demanded more individual control and accepted a different role for government in society.

Two decades on, these three revolutions could equally be applied to the UK, and Scotland, today. 

Our economy, society and our politics have been transformed even further, but there is absolutely no consensus – no agreement – about the direction our country should take. 

What that has led to, in my view, is a society more dangerously divided than at any point in our recent history. 

The public reject the status quo but there is no settled will about the direction we should take. 

And instead of grappling with the complex messages that people are sending us, and trying to find the solutions in the shades of grey, politicians of all parties are attached to solutions that are black or white, dividing us further. 

Anyone in Labour, or any party, who claims that we can sit on the margins and wait for politics to “settle down” will rightly be consigned to history. 

The future shape of the UK, how we govern ourselves and how our economy and society should develop, is now the single biggest political question we face. 

Politics driven by nationalism and identity, which were for so long mostly confined to Scotland, have now taken their place firmly in the mainstream of all UK politics. 

Continuing to pull our country in these directions risks breaking the United Kingdom once and for all. 

I believe we need to reaffirm our belief in the UK for the 21st century. 

Over time, political power has become concentrated in too few hands. Power and wealth hoarded in one corner of our United Kingdom has not worked for the vast majority of people. 

That is why the time has come for the rest of the UK to follow where Scotland led in the 1980s and 1990s and establish a People’s Constitutional Convention to re-establish the UK for a new age. 

The convention should bring together groups to deliberate on the future of our country and propose a way forward that strengthens the UK and establishes a new political settlement for the whole of our country. 

After more than 300 years, it is time for a new Act of Union to safeguard our family of nations for generations to come.

This would mean a radical reshaping of our country along federal lines where every component part of the United Kingdom – Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions – take more responsibility for what happens in their own communities, but where we still maintain the protection of being part of a greater whole as the UK. 

The United Kingdom provides the redistribution of wealth that defines our entire Labour movement, and it provides the protection for public finance in Scotland that comes from being part of something larger, something good, and something worth fighting for. 

Kezia Dugdale is the leader of the Scottish Labour party.