The Labour MP for Great Grimsby, Austin Mitchell, who is standing down in 2015, has written an attack in the Mail against the “feminisation” of parliament. He unhappily claims that the Labour party’s “obsession” with all-women shortlists is making parliament preoccupied with social, educational and family issues (the horror), and warns that this increasing number of women would make a future Labour government less able to focus on international issues, and would lessen the quality of “oratory” in the Commons. This is coming from an MP who changed his name briefly to “Austin Haddock” to champion key fishing concerns of his constituents.
He also called female MPs “more amenable and leadable and less objectionable”, aside from any “obsessive feminism”. He also suggested that female candidates are less suited to the “hairy-arsed local politics” of some constituencies, where it would be “better to choose a man”.
His comments caused outrage among MPs from both sides of the House, with fellow Labour MP and senior party figure Tessa Jowell telling the Telegraph that his argument is “complete nonsense, and shadow childcare minister Lucy Powell added, “Austin Mitchell’s sexist and misogynistic comments only highlight further the need for Parliament to modernise and better represent the people of the country, including women and others.”
Tory defence minister Anna Soubry called on the Labour leader to condemn his MP’s remarks: “Austin Mitchell’s at it again, talking nonsense and insulting women with his absurd theories. To say that women don’t care about the big issues is just not true! Ed Miliband should make it absolutely clear he doesn’t agree with Mitchell’s ridiculous remarks.”
Mitchell’s tirade also included criticism of younger politicians apparently being favoured above the “oldies”, cautioning that, “the past has become another party, and Labour’s pool of experience is being drained, which is perhaps just as well because the bright, bushy-tailed new boys and girls think they know it all anyway.”
Hmm. With unreconstructed views like these, it’s no surprise Mitchell’s decision not to run again in the next general election was apparently met with some enthusiasm by Ed’s office…
UPDATE 19 August, 16:54
Mark Ferguson of LabourList is reporting that a spokesman for Ed Miliband has condemned Mitchell’s view on women in parliament as “ridiculous and wrong”:
Miliband spokesperson on Austin Mitchell “suggestion that women in politics are less inclined to discuss big issues is ridiculous and wrong”
— Mark Ferguson (@Markfergusonuk) August 19, 2014