On Sunday December 4th, I was on BBC Sunday Politics East Midlands to debate Brexit with none other than Anna Soubry, (above), and Margaret Beckett. Although from different parties, these two are joined at the hip as Remainers. Both (and especially Soubry) have a reputation as aggressive debaters. Once Soubry gets going, she can be like a runaway train.
Now I must admit to a problem I face in this context. I still have the quaint old-fashioned idea that a gentleman should be courteous to women, and not interrupt them — a convention that I certainly would not apply to men in a similar position. But in this context, I realised that if I deferred to Soubry and Beckett I shouldn’t get a word in edgeways, so I determined to be a thoroughly modern 21st Century politician, and show them no quarter.
Nonetheless, at one point I wondered if I had overstepped the mark, and seeking to be emollient, I made a dreadful mistake. I referred to “these two charming ladies”. Immediately I felt their hackles rise behind me, and heard Soubry muttering and harrumphing in the background.
On the spur of the moment (you don’t get too much thinking time in a panel debate) I turned to the two women and said “OK. Maybe not charming”. Again, I wondered if I’d said the wrong thing, but looking at the programme later, it was quite amusing. Indeed my press officer said that every time he viewed the clip it seemed funnier than last time.
Bear in mind that this same Anna Soubry made a remark, on air, in 2013, about a fellow panellist, which is frankly too obscene and offensive for me to repeat, though you can find it here. So it is OK, in Soubry’s book, to make a thoroughly offensive, insulting and obscene remark on air, but not OK for a man to refer to two ladies as “charming”. Truly political correctness, and the Sisterhood, are creating some bizarre double standards.
One other point before we let Soubry go. In the course of my work I meet many senior Conservatives, and I have naturally asked how they feel about Brexit. Here is a typical response (no names, no pack-drill, as my old mother used to say): “Well on balance I thought I ought to support the Prime Minister and the Remain side, but the British people have made their decision, we accept it, and our job now is to make it work”.
The few obstinate Remainers in the Tory Party are becoming an embarrassment to their own side. Somehow I suspect that Broxtowe Conservatives may have serious questions about re-selection in 2020 — if Anna lasts that long.