Shortbread, Ulysses and sex workers’ rights: when Mumsnet users grilled Jeremy Corbyn

What happened when the Labour leader did a live webchat with the UK’s most militant mothers?

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Ahead of Jeremy Corbyn’s Mumsnet webchat, members had already begun submitting their questions for the Labour leader. “On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is it to you that Labour win the next election?” was one pointed submission. And an even more difficult question for the Labour leader, if that is even possible, followed that one: “Why is the left in favour of the free market only when it’s women’s bodies being bought and sold?”

It became clear to the Mumsnet message board and those stalking it (salivating journalists, sweating Labour press officers) that this could be Corbyn’s most hostile audience yet. Gone was the innocence of message boards past, in which a “sexy” Corbyn was hailed as “attractive in a world weary old sea dog sort of way” and in “the same arena” as Dumbledore, hottie-wise. No more. He was heading for a mauling by the internet’s most militant mothers.

So it panned out, with many users expressing their fury at his lack of speed answering their questions – and accusing him of cherry-picking the easy ones.

In fact, Corbyn did tackle questions about Brexit, prostitution and the accusation of operating in an echo chamber – but his responses weren’t meaty enough for some of Mumsnet’s users. “The answers are typical politician’s platitudes,” wrote one. “And Corbyn is supposed to be a breath of fresh air? Straight talking? He sounds like any other politician here.”

Indeed, some of his messages – on building a social movement, and condemning misogyny in the party – did sound like rather knackered stock responses. But he gave a fairly clear indication of Labour’s direction on Brexit (emphasis on workers’ rights; no appetite for free movement, single market membership or a second referendum), and clarified that he still favours decriminalising sex work:

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But, as is Corbyn’s way, his participation mainly caused internal division. Specifically regarding biscuits. His willingness to answer the traditional Mumsnet favourite biscuit question (in classic Corbyn style: “I’m totally anti-sugar on health grounds, so eat very few biscuits, but if forced to accept one, it’s always a pleasure to have a shortbread”) triggered a bitter split in the Mumsnet community.

Some celebrated his idiosyncratic response, along with his assertion that his favourite book is Ulysses – which he read for the first of four times when travelling on trains from London to Marrakech (yah, really) – saying his answers showed “integrity”.

Others less taken with his approach to the webchat began to call for the abolition of the biscuit question, claiming it gave him an excuse to bypass tougher questions on trans issues and the Labour party’s definition of “woman”.

“No one gives a flying fuck what biscuits people like,” lamented one user. “And the wider media jumps on it as proof that women (XX women, natch) are stupid. Just ban it. Please.”

But what this all revealed was something we already knew: the best way to approach any politician is with a healthy dose of scepticism. As demonstrated by the sharpest participant of the lot: “How can a person be anti-sugar when one of their hobbies in making JAM?!”

How indeed? Once again, the Labour leader has a lot of questions to answer.

Read the full webchat here.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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