Laurie Penny and Mary Beard in Conway Hall.
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VIDEO: Laurie Penny and Mary Beard discuss the public voice of women

Highlights from our Conway Hall event on 30 July 2014.

Within the setting of Conway Hall, a landmark of London’s independent intellectual, political and cultural thought, Mary Beard and Laurie Penny tackled the question: why are we so afraid of outspoken women?

From the Ancient Roman forum to Twitter, women have long had to fight for freedom of speech. In 2014, women are still fighting for this basic human right. Online abuse directed at women crosses all forums of the internet. Few women writers and campaigners have not had their views or arguments mocked online at some point. More worryingly, women online also regularly face abuse, harassment, intimidation and violent threats. The purpose of this abuse is to silence women and remove them from public debate.

Mary Beard is Britain’s best-known classicist. A professor in classics at Cambridge and classics editor of the Times Literary Supplement, she is also a regular commentator on both the modern and the ancient world via her blog, A Don’s Life. She presented the BBC 2 programme Meet the Romans with Mary Beard and has appeared on BBC Question Time.

Laurie Penny is a blogger, activist and New Statesman columnist who writes on social justice, pop culture and gender issues. She is the author of Meat Market: Female Flesh under CapitalismPenny Red: Notes from a New Age of Dissent, and Discordia: Six Nights in Crisis Athens. Her latest book, Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, is out now.

Chairing the event was Helen Lewis, deputy editor of the New Statesman.

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Paul Nuttall is like his party: sad, desperate and finished

The party hope if they can survive until March 2019, they will grow strong off disillusionment with Brexit. They may not make it until then. 

It’s a measure of how far Ukip have fallen that while Theresa May faced a grilling over her social care U-Turn and Jeremy Corbyn was called to account over his past, the opening sections of Andrew Neill’s interview with Paul Nuttall was about the question of whether or not his party has a future.

The blunt truth is that Ukip faces a battering in this election. They will be blown away in the seats they have put up a candidate in and have pre-emptively retreated from numerous contests across the country.

A party whose leader in Wales once said that climate change was “ridiculous” is now the victim of climate change itself. With Britain heading out of the European Union and Theresa May in Downing Street, it’s difficult to work out what the pressing question in public life to which Ukip is the answer.

Their quest for relevance isn’t helped by Paul Nuttall, who at times tonight cast an unwittingly comic figure. Pressing his case for Ukip’s burka ban, he said earnestly: “For [CCTV] to work, you have to see people’s faces.” It was if he had intended to pick up Nigel Farage’s old dogwhistle and instead put a kazoo to his lips.

Remarks that are, written down, offensive, just carried a stench of desperation. Nuttall’s policy prescriptions – a noun, a verb, and the most rancid comment underneath a Mail article – came across as a cry for attention. Small wonder that senior figures in Ukip expect Nuttall to face a move on his position, though they also expect that he will see off any attempt to remove him from his crown.

But despite his poor performance, Ukip might not be dead yet. There was a gleam of strategy amid the froth from Nuttall in the party’s pledge to oppose any continuing payment to Brussels as part of the Brexit deal, something that May and Corbyn have yet to rule out.

If May does manage to make it back to Downing Street on 8 June, the gap between campaign rhetoric – we’ll have the best Brexit, France will pay for it – and government policy – we’ll pay a one-off bill and continuing contributions if need be – will be fertile territory for Ukip, if they can survive as a going concern politically and financially, until March 2019.

On tonight’s performance, they’ll need a better centre-forward than Paul Nuttall if they are to make it that far. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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