How MPs can unleash the furies by throwing barbs like ‘stupid’

Describe the leader of the Opposition as “Simple Simon”, and it’s all a bit of a lark. Yes, Jacinda Ardern did have to withdraw and apologise in Parliament after she responded to a question from Opposition leader Simon Bridges with reference to a character in a childhood nursery rhyme.

Ardern was elected on a promise to bring a kinder and nicer face to politics, of course,   as a scribe at Stuff pointed out.

So is it kind and nice to respond to Bridges’ question: ” It’s quite simple…..Simon”

Ardern might have been paying Bridges a compliment, of course, saying he is uncomplicated, clear, plain and understandable (yeah,right!).  Those happen to be among the several meanings of “simple”  – but:

“If you say that someone is simple, you mean that they are not very intelligent and have difficulty learning things.”  

At Kiwiblog, David Farrar was not too fussed: 

As sledges go in Parliament, this is about as mild as it gets. What is interesting though is that it goes against the brand she is trying to promote for herself of “kindness”.

It also gives me the great opportunity to contrast her academic record with the guy she is calling simple.

Farrar proceeded to note that Bridges’ CV includes a postgraduate Bachelor of Civil Law (equivalent to an LLM) from Oxford University, which says “only those with outstanding first law degrees are admitted” to the BCL.

But if that was a mild sledge, what might happen if you describe a rival MP as “stupid” rather than “simple”?

It may well depend on gender.

Something akin to a witchhunt was launched after a male MP from the National Party called Ardern a “stupid little girl”.  

The speaker of the house, Trevor Mallard, halted proceedings immediately after the comment was made, and demanded the man apologise for the “very sexist remark” directed towards the prime minister, who is 37 years old and expecting her first child next month.

The MP who spoke the words has yet to own up to the incident. In doing so, he would have to issue an official apology to Ardern and withdraw the remark.

Bridges said he would be reviewing footage of the incident to identify who had spoken, and that if the culprit was identified he would consider what consequences the MP would face.

The minister for women, Julie Anne Genter, said the remark was unacceptable.

“People should get with the times, especially the National party backbenches. Grow up,” she said.  

So did Genter demand the PM grow up for making a deprecating remark about Bridges? We can’t find a record of anything to that effect and if we did find something, we would be agreeably surprised, because Genter has publicly proclaimed her intent to have old white males removed from boards of directors and replaced by women.

In Britain, it transpires, calling the PM a “stupid woman” similarly will unleash a flood of feminist fury.

Brexit was forgotten for a while in a clamour to have Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn punished for saying something that looked like “stupid woman” under his breath after Theresa May said something that bothered him.

“Looked like” is important because nobody actually heard any words.

In The Independent, nevertheless, a female writer consumed a considerable amount of column space fulminating against men while trying to persuade them it matters if Corbyn mouthed the words “stupid woman”.

I shouldn’t have to point this out, but it’s especially hard to swallow when someone mockingly brings up a woman’s gender in parliament, where every British citizen is supposed to be represented (despite 78 per cent of MPs being male.)

It was horrible to watch when David Cameron told Angela Eagle to “calm down, dear” and it’s extremely disappointing if Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of a left-wing opposition party, stooped to similar lows today (his spokesperson has said that there is no basis for an apology as Corbyn mouthed “stupid people” at the Tory frontbench.

I have slowed down and rewatched the footage a number of times and I can’t say with 100 per cent certainty that he did mouth ‘woman’ rather than ‘people’, though Evelyn Glennie, who is deaf and lip-reads, has reportedly said she is sure that it’s ‘woman’ and I’m inclined to believe her.

Whatever was mouthed became massively amplified by an outraged female MP in a BBC news interview.  She railed against sexist males who “shouted down” women in Parliament, making a political career a highly unattractive prospect for females.

But shouldn’t you keep out of the kitchen if you can’t stand the heat?  No, forget we said that.  Anything connecting women with the kitchen is probably sexist too.

Let’s put the boot (or the high heel) on the other foot and ask if it’ s okay for women to describe someone as a stupid man?

Point of Order tracked down a Hansard record of Judith Collins describing Labour’s Grant Robertson as a stupid man. 

But to be fair, Robertson provoked her with some very ungentlemanly remarks:

GRANT ROBERTSON: And there is Judith Collins—there is Judith Collins, a person who consistently in this House comes in here to tell us all the things that we on this side of the House are doing wrong. Well, I challenge Judith Collins to get up on her hind legs and tell this House what the new plan is—no, nothing! There is no plan on that side of the House. There is no plan on that side of the House for what we do next—

Hon Judith Collins: Oh, you stupid man.

She withdrew and apologised but only after complaining that Robertson “should not talk about me as though I am a dog on hind legs—he should apologise”. 

Point of Order also found a reference to a stupid man in an article about judges and the Arbitration Court, 1891~1928.

In August 1898, a worker the Fabian movement in Britain had visited this country and gave William Pember Reeves, then serving as New Zealand’s Agent-General in London, his impressions of the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1894.

Worley Bassett Edwards, president of the Arbitration Court,  was criticised for imperilling the fledgling institution.

“He will not admit the possibility of a rule and repeats parrot-like that all he can do is to decide each case according to momentary expediency. But in short he is a stupid man, and will please neither man nor masters.”

The critic in this case was not a woman, however – the words were used by one Charles Trevelyan.

But wait.  In our search for a clear example of sexist disparagement of a male politician from the female side of the divide, we did find this tweet on Twitter from a woman who wrote:

Shut up, you, stupid man. 

Alas, this looks like fair comment, too.  She was writing about Donald Trump, who undeniably is a stupid man and – according to plenty of strong evidence  – a stupid misogynist too.

In any other circumstance we would have warned him the Twitter barb was coming: “Donald – duck.”  In Trump’s case we are sure he knows how to look after himself.




3 thoughts on “How MPs can unleash the furies by throwing barbs like ‘stupid’

  1. So you don’t like Trump – so then its ok to call him stupid? I find it interesting that of the last few Republican presidents George H. Bush , Ronald Regan and now Trump have been called stupid and their intellect -or lack of it- questioned by the media but no such remarks leveled at Obama or Clinton. One presumes from that its ok to be dishonest and lacking in moral character but not to be considered ‘stupid’. As with most of these personal attacks it says more about the person attacking that the person attacked.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I thought that the main problem with Mr Corbyn’s remark was that he has denied saying it. If he had confirmed the comment, then backed it up with his reason for it (which would not be hard to do), then much of the issue would have died away.


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