Fri, Mar 13, 2015 - Page 7 News List

British MPs make sexist comments, issue justifications

The Guardian, LONDON

Speaker of the British House of Commons John Bercow has apologized to a female Conservative minister for comparing her mode of speech to a washing machine that will not stop going round.

Bercow, who made the remark on Monday afternoon, said he was sorry for his words to British Minister of State for Employment Esther McVey, which Bercow said “may” have been “foolish.”

Bercow issued his rebuke to McVey after deciding that her answer to a question was too lengthy.

“I am reminded of the feeling when one thinks the washing machine will stop — but it does not,” he said.

He was then challenged in the House of Commons in a point of order by Conservative backbencher Heather Wheeler, who said: “You have always advised members of this house of the importance of showing respect to others in the workplace. In that regard, is it appropriate in this house — which is a workplace — that a female minister should have been referred to as a washing machine?”

Bercow said that he had never compared McVey to a washing machine, but added: “If I caused offense to an honorable member on Monday afternoon in the course of question time in rebuking her for a long answer — though it did result in a somewhat shorter one after that — but if I caused offense by what I said I very happily apologize to that member.”

“I intended to cause no offense to her. I hold her in the highest esteem. I hope I ordinarily treat members with great courtesy. It was an off-the-cuff remark; it may well have been a foolish one and I apologize for it,” he added.

During Monday’s debate, McVey also commented on a remark made by British Labour MP Barry Sheerman, who referred to her as a “hard-hearted Hannah.”

“I do hope your opening comment was not a sexist one, because I have had very many from the opposition benches,” she said.

McVey later raised a personal point order, saying: “It is not the first time the opposition benches have been like this to me. John McDonnell actually came to my constituency, using unparliamentary language I know, he asked for people to ‘lynch the bitch.’”

British Labour MP McDonnell had told an event in McVey’s Wirral West constituency in November last year that he had heard an activist say: “Why are we not lynching the bastard?” and defended himself, saying that he was simply repeating the words of a constituent.

Sheerman defended himself at the end of the debate, saying that he had been a “long-term champion of the equality of women in our society and at work.”

“I think she thinks that was a sexist remark; it was not meant as that. It is actually a name of a famous song sung by Ella Fitzgerald,” he added. “[However,] she has a reputation for being a very hard champion of the welfare reforms [that] this government has introduced and I believe it was fair comment and unfair to call me a sexist.”

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