If given a platform, you have a responsibility to conduct yourself to a certain standard that befits your office. Few are higher than the office of the Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition. If you allow casual sexism to slip into your language, in a moment being broadcasted during Prime Minister’s Questions, then you have demeaned both yourself and the office you hold.
In today’s Prime Minister’s Question, Jeremy Corbyn did just that. When Theresa May compared his behaviour this week to being similar to that of a pantomime – “oh no he didn’t, oh yes he did, oh no he didn’t” – with regards to a vote of no confidence, he took his defeat in a less than honourable manner.
Cameras caught the Leader of the Opposition appearing to refer to the Prime Minister as a “stupid woman“. When asked about it in a later question by Paul Scully, the Prime Minister said that “I think that everybody in this House – particularly in this 100th anniversary of women getting the vote – should be aiming to encourage women to come into this chamber, and to stand in this chamber. And should therefore use appropriate language in this chamber when referring to female members“.
In numerous points of order – from Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Andrea Leadsom, Anna Soubry, Vicky Ford, James Cleverly, Dr Caroline Johnson, Sir Oliver Heald Simon Hoare, David Morris, Bob Seely and Mark Francois – the casual sexism of Corbyn was called out. Anna Soubry called on the Speaker to be fair “from the point of view of women in this House who are fed up over decades of being abused by men”.
When women see behaviour like that of the Leader of the Opposition’s today, they feel that the chamber is still a home of casual sexism. However, what we saw today was one Conservative MP after another standing up in the face of this casual sexism, and refusing to let Corbyn get away with it.
The House of Commons must be better than this.