Was Emily Thornberry a victim of sexism?

It’s been a busy week in the world of politics with the Commons returning after the summer recess, Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley being elected the new leaders of the Green party and David Cameron resigning as an MP. Yesterday (Sunday) was a particularly interesting day with some fascinating interviews being given by various politicians.

Emily Thornberry, a Labour MP and the Shadow Foreign Secretary, was being interviewed by Sky’s Dermot Murnaghan. When asked by Murnaghan she failed to recall the name of France’s Foreign Minister. While the interviewer proceeded to condemn her, stating that the Shadow Foreign Secretary should know who the French Foreign Minister was, Thornberry quickly got annoyed.

Initially accusing Murnaghan of ‘pub-quizzing’ her, she later called him sexist and patronising, stating that he did not interview men like he was interviewing her. You can make your own mind up about who was in the wrong  – see the clip below.

The name ‘Thornberry’ was trending on Twitter for most of yesterday and while swiping through Tweets I failed to see a single one that supported the politician. Many big names even came out against her for trivialising sexism and using it as an excuse for lack of preparation. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson was one of them.

Thornberry has been under fire before. Just last year, weeks before the 2015 General Election the politician tweeted an image of a house with an English flag and a white van with the caption, ‘Image from #Rochester’. She was criticised for snobbery (mocking a ‘typical working-class man’) and was sacked from Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet.

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Whatever your view of Thornberry or her interview a few things are clear. Firstly, she was unable to name the French Foreign Minister, something that a Shadow Foreign Secretary should be expected to know. That, to me, is extremely incompetent and very embarrassing on her behalf. Secondly, Thornberry seemed to use the term ‘sexism’ as an excuse, to cover her back. Any decent interviewer is trained to grill politicians and expose their weaknesses and Murnaghan was clearly trying to do just that. Maybe women are targeted more than men in this respect but looking at that clip alone it is hard to agree that it was sexism on the Sky presenter’s part.

Thornberry is right that politics is not egalitarian – only 30% of UK MPs are female. There is, however, a fine line between protecting the rights of women in politics and trivialising a very serious issue. For me, Thornberry crossed that line yesterday.

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