The race is on to get out of the bottom, as the Spice Girls never quite sang about Liam Fox. And isn’t it depressing? I don’t just mean the Conservative leadership contest itself – unlike the Labour Party, the Tories seem to be able to organise a sack-race in a nursery playpen, which will prove a plus when negotiating with Vlad from Moscow. But Lord, some of the headlines are getting lazy. Here, at least, are five phrases I’d like never to see in a headline again.
1. Lady Macbeth
Has a literary character ever done more disservice to women? On Fleet Street, Lady Macbeth seems little more than a lazy shorthand for man’s worst fears about persuasive women. Look how often she crops up when a man in politics is heard actually listening – listening! – to his wife. You don’t have to like Sarah Vine, this week’s target, to spot misogyny in action. It crops up, too, when, Boris Johnson’s team accuse the famously uxorious Michael Gove of being ‘a gossip’ – a trope used to smear men with female friends as far back as Homer. Real men – BoJo, we presume – don’t waste their time on women’s talk. On the upside, Harold Bloom called the Macbeths’ relationship ‘the most erotic in English literature’, which is a lot more optimistic than anything Sarah’s told us about her marital bed. But when Norman Tebbit writes to the Times to warn against Michael Gove bringing his wife ‘into his bed in Number 10’, we could probably all use a cold shower.
While we’re on Sarah Vine, it is true that she didn’t cover herself in feminist glory with that takedown of Justine Thornton’s kitchen during the general election. But is it too much to hope that political kitchens now abjure their reign in the spotlight? The signs are bad. Theresa May has already invited Vine’s employer, the Daily Mail, into the kitchen of her ‘charming and immaculate home’, while dodging the Mail’s chief line of questioning: the state of May’s fruitless uterus. Next up in Childless Political Kitchens: the Daily Express pumps Liam Fox for his sperm count results while rummaging through his cutlery drawer.
3. Theresa May / Andrea Leadsom / Angela Eagle is the new Margaret Thatcher
There is more than one way to be a female leader.
4. Tax Returns
To tone down the feminist outrage for a moment, can we talk about tax returns? Or rather, can we not talk about tax returns? Andrea Leadsom may be cagey about hers, but when it comes to the super-rich there’s an awful lot that tax returns don’t reveal – especially if, like Boris Johnson or George Osborne, you’re only publishing a summary. As Fraser noted a few months ago, MPs are already required to disclose their income and extra earnings. As stunts go, this is an import from American politics. Never cool.
5. Nigel Farage
When Farage gave his thoughts last week on who should lead the Tory party, a collective groan was heard around Westminster. This is a man who left the party, spearheaded a split and campaigned against sitting Conservative MPs. He doesn’t get a say in who gets to lead the party now. Nor, as an unelected figure, does he get any say in negotiating terms for Brexit – a point Ukip-backed Andrea Leadsom would be wise to remember. Now that he has resigned as leader of Ukip, let’s hope that’s the last we have heard from him for a while.