Free speech
Clive Lewis’s vile misogyny

Clive Lewis’s vile misogyny

Don’t give me ‘humour’ or ‘context’. This man is a monster.

It was a harrowing moment. At a Momentum event during the Labour Party conference last month, the spectre of misogyny reared its head. Spectres, as we all know, are especially fond of rearing their heads. And misogynistic spectres are the most head-rearing of the lot.

During a light-hearted ‘game show’, a volunteer from the audience was asked to keep score, and to prevent him from obstructing the audience’s view was asked to kneel down. It was at this point that Labour MP Clive Lewis took the opportunity to demean the young man by uttering the phrase ‘get on your knees, bitch’.

The victim appeared to laugh. The audience laughed too. It’s as though everyone present was under the impression that Lewis’s words were no more than a joke, and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Thankfully, numerous politicians who were not actually in attendance have since been able to pass judgement on Lewis without having their interpretation muddied by ‘context’.

‘In what way did Clive Lewis think this was appropriate?’, mused Conservative director of communications Carrie Symonds. Lewis used ‘violent sexual language’ claimed Labour’s Stella Creasy, and was guilty of ‘normalising violence’. ‘Inexplicable. Inexcusable. Dismayed’, tweeted Harriet Harman, so distraught that she was unable even to compose full sentences.

Meanwhile, equalities minister Justine Greening wrote a stern letter to Jeremy Corbyn demanding that he ‘condemn the sexist language of Clive Lewis’ and once and for all ‘tackle misogyny in the Labour Party’. Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, called for ‘firm, robust and prompt action on the part of the Labour Party to make clear that there is no place for misogyny in the party’. The Guardian also described Lewis’s words as ‘misogynist’. That his comment was made in jest, and the fact that no women were actually involved in the exchange, has not prevented critics from reaching the only possible conclusion: Lewis clearly hates women.

The shockwaves didn’t end there. Yvette Cooper said there can be ‘no excuse for saying this, whatever context’. Anna Soubry dismissed claims that Lewis’s remark was merely ‘campy humour’ as ‘leftist twaddle’. Mims Davies railed against Lewis’s ‘astoundingly inappropriate language’ and suggested that he be reprogrammed – sorry, retrained – by none other than Jess Phillips, a Labour MP often mistaken for a socialist due to her Brummie accent. For her part, Phillips claimed to be ‘obviously’ appalled, which is even worse than being covertly appalled.

With crass insensitivity, political commentator Aaron Bastani then had the audacity to point out what actually happened, as if the fact of him being present at the event made him any more qualified to discuss it. Bastani is co-founder of Novara Media, and a renowned male, so it was perhaps inevitable that both Creasy and Phillips would retort with accusations of ‘mansplaining’. When Bastani’s female colleague Ash Sarkar gave a similar account, Creasy and Phillips were curiously silent. Can’t think why.

Equally mysterious was why the source of all these complaints was a video posted by conservative blogger Paul Staines, otherwise known as Guido Fawkes. A cynic might conclude that all these Conservatives and Labour centrists had some shared vested interest in attacking Corbynistas like Lewis. A cynic might likewise suspect that by taking Lewis’s joke at face value, these critics are adopting the now commonplace strategy of undermining an opponent’s PC credentials through what is effectively a weaponised form of identity politics. I’m no cynic, so for me this is all purely a matter of coincidence.

Back to the Twitterstorm, which continued to rage in unexpected directions. Journalist and broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer, who wasn’t offended by Lewis’s quip, did declare herself to be ‘annoyed’ that Ash Sarkar (who had been hosting the event) can be heard on the Guido Fawkes video saying ‘this is supposed to be a safe space’.  Sarkar, you see, had made the mistake of responding to Lewis’s joke with another joke. She should have known better. In this new enlightened era jokes are to be treated as literal statements. To put it another way, jokes no longer exist.

In all this confusion, it’s too easy to forget about the victim: the volunteer from the audience, an actor called Sam Swann, who from henceforth and forevermore will doubtless be known as ‘Clive Lewis’s bitch’. What did he have to say about the horror that he had endured? ‘It was clearly jovial and nothing vicious’, said Swann. ‘The whole event was so brilliant for seeing MPs letting their hair down and fucking around with people who support them. I think Clive Lewis is an absolute legend.’ Clearly, the young man was too traumatised to appreciate the full extent of his ordeal.

Lewis has since issued the obligatory mea culpa. ‘I apologise unreservedly for the language I used at an event in Brighton last month’, he tweeted. ‘It was offensive and unacceptable.’ This appears to have resolved the matter, for as all good comedians know, the very best jokes are invariably followed by statements of repentance.

So what lessons are we to learn from this unpleasant debacle? An event took place in which a joke was made and literally nobody present was offended. So what? It now seems we have every right to feel offended on other people’s behalf, particularly when there is political capital to be accrued. And if you think this is all a lot of fuss about nothing, you should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.

Andrew Doyle is a stand-up comedian and spiked columnist. He is the co-author of Jonathan Pie: Off the Record. Follow Andrew on Twitter: @andrewdoyle_com

Andrew is chairing and producing the session Can satire survive in the era of fake news? at the Battle of Ideas festival in London on Saturday 28 October. Book tickets here.

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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