Suggesting Nicola Sturgeon should eat a gobstopper to shut her up
In a tweet sent a few months ago, Owen Smith attached a picture of a jar of gobstoppers, calling them a “perfect present” for the Scottish First Minister – the implication being to stop her from speaking.
— Owen Smith (@OwenSmith_MP) April 10, 2016
An SNP spokesperson told PoliticsHome: “Owen Smith is developing a habit of putting his foot in his mouth when it comes to female politicians – and the suggestion that women should be seen but not heard is one that should be well and truly consigned to the dustbin of history.”
But rather than apologising for wanting to forcibly prevent a woman from having a voice, Smith has insisted it was just “a bit of political banter”. He also pointed out that there are “so many women running my campaign”, when accused of having a problem with women. This is the classic response of a uni-lad who has been caught out for his sexist remarks: essentially, “can’t you take a joke?” and “some of my best friends are women”. #bantz.
Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”
During a speech at a campaign event, Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about physically 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?
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.”
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.