Justine Thornton and Ed Miliband. Photo: Getty
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Justine Thornton's rebrand as “Mrs Miliband” shows how Ed is again torn in two

What does Justine Thornton’s decision to use her husband’s surname "in political life" tell us about her husband's approach to electoral politics?

A BBC interview with Ed Miliband's wife has been making headlines this week. But the most interesting thing about the story is not what she said, but how she referred to herself. The environment barrister known as Justine Thornton throughout this parliament is suddenly being called “Justine Miliband”.

The BBC interview refers to her using her husband’s surname, and a report on the interview in the Guardian was corrected, replacing “Thornton” with “Miliband”. Here’s the correction note:

This article was amended on 10 March 2015. The original references to Justine Thornton have been changed to reflect Labour’s statement that she wished to use the surname Miliband in political life.

Although the Labour press office tells me there was no official statement about her name, and won’t comment on what her legal name is, I hear from one spinner that “it’s Justine Miliband when it’s Labour party stuff, but in her own work it’s Thornton. She uses both names”.

Whatever Justine chooses to call herself is up to her, but this feels like Labour chasing the political benefit of rebranding her a "Miliband". As if wheeling out a soft interview with The Wife a couple of months before an election isn’t crass enough.

It also goes against Miliband's insistence that the thing he’s learned most since becoming leader is to be himself. “I am not from central casting,” he says. A rather hollow statement when he's been spooked into the old political trick of using family as campaign fodder.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at 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.