Last Wednesday Owen Smith, challenger to Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, was outlining his major policies during a speech in South Yorkshire. While his policies were the most important aspect of the speech it seems the media, and some Labour MPs, felt it necessary to complain about innocuous comments made against Theresa May.
Context and complete quotes are important, so Owen Smith said as follows while referencing that May had attempted to lecture the Labour Party on equality, social justice, and the like:
“It pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels. These are our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”
Of course, the words “smash” and “heels” where jumped upon in ludicrous fashion by some as sexist or inappropriate. It isn’t either of these things. As Smith originally responded it is simply political rhetoric, and this is true. If you take off the feminist or social justice warrior glasses for a minute you can read the passage in alternative ways. For example, May dared to lecture Labour on equality and justice across all echelons of society which could be seen as the Tory party claiming ground it has no right to and as such Smith comments of smashing them back is the same as pushing them back, reclaiming ground, or offering a rebuttal. And while the rebuttal could have been detailed and pointed to policies which clearly show the Tory party have no claim to what they are claiming he had other matters to address in this speech. Focussing on the choice of his words rather than the idea behind it is a smokescreen of nonsense. Making quips of this nature is inherent in the UK political system, it isn’t always polite, it can be incensed, it can, as Dennis Skinner continues to be, downright insulting. One thing that continues to shine through this in most cases is that the attacks, insults, petty jibes, are made against policy or ideas and not the person, this is how it should be and this is the context in which they should be read, not that of people who take offence at everything.
For PR reasons Corbyn’s camp released this statement in response:
“We need to be careful of the language we use during this contest as many members, including many female Labour MPs, have said they feel intimidated by aggressive language.”
Either this is pandering to a certain crowd for votes or they actually believe that people should censor their own language. The former would be clever but disappointing and the latter downright terrifying. “intimidated by aggressive language” is far to broad a brush to really be analysed but we can look at Smith’s rhetoric and see if it is aggressive. Would “smash her back on her heels” fall under Corbyn’s definition of “aggressive language”? I don’t see it as aggressive but clearly others have. But is it actually the use of the word “smash” they are objecting. Theresa May, the woman in question, did not care about the comments nor was she asked if she did found it offensive. So if May didn’t take offence to the comments why are so many playing the victim in her place? It is absolutely absurd that a comment of “smash her back on her heels” can garner so much attention from everyone BUT the person it is referring to.
Back to Corbyn’s leadership team’s response. Why is there a stipulation of “many female Labour MPs”, why is there special mention here; presumably because Smith was referring to May. However, would there be such outrage if Smith had made the same comments against a male politician? Judging by Dennis Skinner’s track record of insulting Tory MPs, often cheered by left supporters, no one would have cared and just saw the comments as “political rhetoric”.
To be “intimidated by aggressive language” can be a logical response if the language is actually aggressive, as in violent, but not if is innocuous. Anyone who honestly thinks Smith meant to “smash” May literally is wholly disingenuous. This is politics, it gets heated, it should get heated, as MPs have chosen to take on the role of arguing over what is best for the country and often will carry personal values and believe in something wholeheartedly. If they didn’t get heated I would be worried.
To suggest people self censor and police themselves over every little word they choose is an attack on free speech and ignoring what really matters which is the policies and ideas being discussed not the word choice of them. Presume people are good and view their words without added context which is clearly what has happened here and the damage done to Smith’s campaign is unwarranted. Smith’s policies will be looked at in a separate post, this one is becoming bloated.