Anyone can choose their words poorly under pressure. But the modern Left have made a habit of jumping on the verbal slips of other people and ruthlessly, cynically exploiting them for political gain using the weaponised language of identity politics. So forgive us for being less than sympathetic when one of their own makes the same mistake
In the ongoing, unwatchable carnival of stupidity that is the second Labour leadership contest in the space of a year, this week’s news coverage has been dominated by challenger Owen Smith’s poor choice of words when he spoke about his desire to take the fight to Theresa May and the conservatives.
From the Guardian:
Labour leadership contender Owen Smith has been forced to apologise after saying he wanted to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”, during a major speech to outline his policy ideas.
Smith said he wanted to “smash austerity” and pledged a raft of new measures including scrapping the Department for Work and Pensions in favour of a Department for Labour, plans to make zero-hours contracts unlawful and to end the public sector pay freeze during his speech in South Yorkshire.
Those announcements, pitched to the party’s left, were overshadowed by criticism of his choice of language. Arguing that Labour should be going after the prime minister’s policies harder, he said: “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.”
Smith initially defended the comments as robust political language, but a spokesman said later the remarks were “off-script and, on reflection, it was an inappropriate choice of phrase and he apologises for using it”.
A spokesman for the campaign of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said: “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.”
One can feel for Owen Smith. Clearly he has absolutely no desire to walk around the despatch box, cross the floor and physically punch Theresa May in the face, knocking her off her heels. In fact, the Left has a loud and angry tradition of wanting to “smash” anything and everything it happens to find objectionable, be it austerity, racism, sexism or Tory rule, without necessarily wanting to physically do so. It is fairly understandable how such language might therefore have crept in to a speech by this inexperienced leadership contender.
And yet. And yet…
One cannot help taking a small measure of satisfaction from watching somebody from the Party of Identity Politics – a vicious political clan who think nothing of smearing and ruining other peoples’ reputations with allegations of racism, sexism or any other “ism” they can think of when doing so offers them some slight political advantage – come a cropper by falling victim to the very same culture which their actions promoted.
Nobody seriously thinks that Owen smith wants to literally smash Theresa May and knock her off her feet, heels or no heels (in fact it was the heels reference that is actually the slightly more “sexist”, if one must call it that, rather than the threat of violence). But modern Leftist politicians like Owen Smith often end up self-detonating, and deservedly so, after stepping on one of the very same linguistic or cultural land mines that they love to lay across our language and political discourse. And if you make it unacceptable to say enough things, eventually you will trip over your own rules and find yourself convicted of accidentally infringing one of those very same edicts.
If any Tory MP spoke of smashing, say, Liz Kendall back in her heels, you can bet that Kendall would be touring the news studios that very evening, faux-earnestly warning of the violent misogynistic rhetoric being used by mainstream conservatives. But when one of their own does the same thing, as Comrade Smith did with his unfortunate remarks about Theresa May, nobody utters a peep. And while it certainly became a news story, Conservative MPs were not queuing up to make political capital out of the event, let alone those Labour MPs who fancy themselves champions of women.
Smith is too important to centrist Labour’s flimsy plot to prematurely terminate the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn to be brought down by his own violent rhetoric, you see. Besides, everyone knows that Labour are the good guys and that any racist, sexist or anti-Semitic remarks uttered by one of their own must simply be well-intentioned jokes taken out of context by people with sinister motives.
One would hope that Smith’s brush with political danger might force some kind of rethink within the party as to whether weaponising identity politics and making the English language a veritable landmine of things you can’t say / imagery you can’t adopt is really the best way to go. But of course there will be no such rethink. The next time a hapless Conservative MP talks about crushing the enemy or “targeting” Labour MPs, some weepy party apparatchik will be wheeled out to sob to the media about how terribly threatened and triggered they feel. Labour simply stands to gain too much from weaponised identity politics to consider giving it up, even as it poisons our politics and chills our public discourse.
But let us be magnanimous and take heart that Owen Smith does not seem to have suffered unduly from his amateurish speechwriting error. There are many reasons why Smith does not deserve to win the Labour leadership contest – starting with the fact that his 20-point policy pledge seems to be a condensed version of Labour’s disastrous 1983 “longest suicide note in history” manifesto, while the man himself seems to be nothing other than a younger version of Jeremy Corbyn minus the adoring fans.
We all know, those of us with brains and consciences, that Owen Smith does not harbour secret fantasies of karate kicking Theresa May across the floor of the House of Commons. It was an awkward turn of phrase, not a Freudian slip revealing deep-rooted male chauvinism.
And though Owen Smith’s party will never in a million years extend to us the same courtesy and benefit of the doubt, let’s stop talking about this pointless distraction and move on to matters of substance.
Bottom Image: Independent
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