Sexism and tractor porn in British politics

You’ve gotta love British politics. Not for what it does or how it works but for its sheer insanity.

At the end of April, Neil Parish, a Conservative MP, was looking at porn sites in the House of Commons–so that’s during working hours and in public–when a couple of his fellow MPs couldn’t help noticing. 

A couple of female fellow MPs, wording that calls attention to the underlying fuckedupedness of the English language, since the word fellow tells us we’re talking about the male of the species, although we’re not. The language doesn’t offer us a parallel word for females or for humans of both or unspecified genders. But never mind that. It’s the language we have, so let’s work with it. We can argue about fixing it when we have the time. In, say, a few hundred years if the species (not to mention the language) is still functioning.

My spellcheck program (since we’ve taken a break to talk about wording) doesn’t stub its toe on fuckedupedness. It just smiles and continues across the kitchen to pick up the mouse parts the cat left in the night. So let’s assume it’s a word English relies on heavily.

At long last, I bring you a relevant photo: This lovely flower is called honesty. What could be more appropriate?

But back to our friend Neil: The aforesaid fellow MPs went public about him watching porn at work and all hell broke loose. And since the incident followed on the heels of another public incident of sexism in the House of Commons, it all turned into a particularly shit-filled shitstorm. (Spell check also accepts shitstorm. Don’t you love the way language evolves?) 

The earlier incident? One of our trashier national newspapers quoted an unnamed MP as saying that Angela Raynor, a leader of the Opposition (that’s the Labour Party), made a point of crossing and uncrossing her legs to distract the prime minister (who’s from the Conservative Party and male) when he was speaking. 

The nerve of her. Any decent woman would have wrapped said legs in burlap. (That’s hessian in British.) Honestly, none of this would be necessary if women would stop showing their ankles in public. How are men supposed to concentrate on running the country with women’s body parts on display everywhere they look?

Where were we before I indulged in that fit of decency? All hell had already broken loose about sexism in Parliament, and in rode Neil Parish and his (I assume) smart phone, although for all I know it could’ve been a laptop, with a bigger screen showing bigger pictures of improbably enlarged body parts.

After a bit of unconvincing waffle (he might have looked at porn, but it might have been by accident), he admitted that he’d watched porn in the Commons twice, but the first time it really did happen by accident. See, he’d been looking for pictures of tractors when up popped (so to speak) this porn site.  

It could happen to anyone. And to be fair, it’s no sillier than the excuse someone offered for one of Boris Johnson’s breaches of his own lockdown rules: He was ambushed by a birthday cake.

Which might or might not have been on a tractor.

*

All of this opened the door to a public discussion of sexism in Parliament, and (refreshingly) it’s not just the opposition parties doing the talking. Women in the Conservative Party–again, that’s the party in power–have waded in, with one suggesting that male MPs should all keep their hands in their pockets, because there isn’t a woman in Parliament who hadn’t been subjected to “wandering hands.” 

What the suggestion lacks in effectiveness it makes up for in evocativeness.

I’ll spare you the specific examples. You’ve heard it all before, and if you’re of the female persuasion you’ve experienced it, but last I heard 56 MPs had been accused of sexual misconduct in one form or another.

To demonstrate how thoroughly the government doesn’t get it, the business minister announced that although there were some bad apples, “that doesn’t mean the entire culture is extremely misogynistic or full of male entitlement.”

If you’re ever following a recipe that calls for a half pound of entitlement and you don’t have one in the refrigerator, you’re welcome to dump that one into the frying pan: The person who doesn’t experience the problem tells the people who do that it’s not as extensive as their silly little minds let them think it is. Because he understands the situation better they possibly could.

*

Not entirely unrelated to this is a 2020 survey reporting that MPs drink more heavily than the general population, with 29% of the ones who answered the survey falling into the risky drinking category. The survey doesn’t seem to have looked at whether they drink at work or after, but the building that houses Parliament is full of bars, and the booze is comparatively cheap. My money’s on a lot of it happening during working hours.

The business secretary (remember him?) said closing the bars would be an “excessively puritanical” response to the problem of sexism in Parliament.

At least he didn’t say “boys will be boys.” At least not in public.

 

The role of traffic cones in British politics

The combination of Tractorgate, Partygate (that’s Boris Johnson breaking his own lockdown rules), and epidemic government incompetence led me to learn a new political phrase: a cones hotline moment. It came into existence when John Major’s government had lost its way in the dark and decided it could generate light by launching a proposal so spectacularly lightless that it became Westminster shorthand for the moment when (warning: metaphor shift ahead) the rising water reaches the governmental nostrils and the only thing anyone can think to do is spend money on a phone line so people can complain about something they know won’t change. In Major’s case, the subject was roadworks. Which is disappointing. Based on the name, I was hoping it was about rogue traffic cones.

I owe thanks to Gaby Hinsliff, writing in the Guardian, for that information.

Has the Johnson government reached its cones hotline moment? Possibly. As the cost of living soars and increasing numbers of people struggle to pay the rent, stay warm, and feed themselves (choose two, or in some cases one and a half), what does the government offer by way of help? Well, if you own a ride-on mower or a golf cart (called a golf buggy in British), it will save you some £50 a year by scrapping a European Union requirement that you insure it as if it was a car. 

Then it called on us to admire the glories Brexit has brought us.

Embarrassingly, the EU’s already scrapped the requirement. And it did so before Britain got around to it. But if the initiative appeals to you, I have a traffic cone hotline that I’d be happy to sell you. If you hurry, you can get it for 30% off.

*

As people struggle to keep up with inflation and the government reorganizes the traffic cones on the Titanic, another Conservative MP delivered his informed opinion about food banks: The only reason people are using food banks is that they don’t know how to cook cheap, nutritious meals from scratch. And they can’t budget, the silly creatures.

The best answer came from Jack Monroe, a food poverty campaigner and a single mother who actually made a career out of recipes using cheap food:

“You can’t cook meals from scratch with nothing. You can’t buy cheap food with nothing. The issue is not ‘skills,’ it’s 12 years of Conservative cuts to social support. The square root of fuck all is ALWAYS going to be fuck all.”

 

In the US, Sarah Palin faces off with someone she’d have thought was an ally

From there, it’s only a small step to American politics:

Remember Sarah Palin? John McCain picked her as his running mate in a presidential election and a lot of silly people–I was one of them–thought US politics could sink no lower. 

Yeah, some jokes aren’t funny but I keep trying.

Sarah’s running for the House of Representatives, hoping to complete the term of someone who died in office, possibly of embarrassment. One of the people running against her is Santa Claus. He lives in North Pole, Alaska, possesses a luxuriant white beard, and changed his name from Tom O’Connor in 2005.

Yes, now that you ask, the new name has caused him problems with airport security once or twice. 

He used to work in law enforcement and although he’s politically unaffiliated his politics have more in common with Bernie Sanders’ than with Palin’s.

This is where I should insert something approximating a punchline but I haven’t come up with one. Sorry.

*

In other US news, three former US officials–all unnamed, although presumably they had names soon after birth–told Rolling Stone that Donald Trump asked his aides, repeatedly, if China wasn’t maybe, please, using a “hurricane gun” to create hurricanes and send them to the US. And could the US retaliate militarily.

Maybe, he suggested, they could destroy the storms with nuclear weapons.

One of his press secretaris, Stephanie Grisham, said, “Stuff like that was not unusual for him. He would blurt out crazy things all the time, and tell aides to look into it or do something about it. His staff would say they’d look into, knowing that more often than not, he’d forget about it quickly – much like a toddler.”

 

Vigilantes face down the vigilantes

Remember Canada’s convoy of honking trucks protesting Covid restrictions? Well, a similar convoy gathered, complete  with bullhorns, outside a California lawmaker’s home to protest her work on a bill that would end coroner investigations of still births and require state businesses to mandate Covid vaccines for their employees.

That’s one bill? Apparently. Or maybe they’re two separate bills these guys objected to. Don’t ask me.

This convoy was run out of town by the legislator’s neighbors, who threw eggs and jumped onto the trucks to go nose to nose with the drivers. 

That’s the annoying thing about threatening, vigilante-type behavior: It’s only fun when you’re winning. 

 

And from the world of conspiracy theories

Have you heard of the claim that birds aren’t real? It occupies an uncomfortable space between conspiracy theory and satire. It started right after Trump was elected, when a guy named Peter McIndoe was watching the women’s march in Memphis and noticed some counterprotesters, who he described as “older, bigger white men, . . . aggravators .  . . encroaching on something that was not their event.”

He made a placard saying, “Birds aren’t real,” and joined them. The idea was to make an absurdist statement. When people asked what it meant, he ad libbed, saying he was part of a movement that had been around for fifty years and had tried and failed to save American birds, which were destroyed by the deep state and replaced with feathered surveillance drones.

Someone filmed him and put it on Facebook, where it went viral. Then it became a movement. People have chanted it at high school football games and shown up here and there with banners and signs. Admittedly, it didn’t spread all on its own. Once he saw what was happening, he gave it a fair bit of encouragement and some organizational structure. 

So how many people get the joke? 

Some. 

McIndoe gives interviews in character as a conspiracy believer, and some of his interviewers–the shock jocks of the world–treat him not quite as if he’s bringing the truth down from Mount Whatever but not as an obvious nutburger. They don’t say, “You do know that’s bonkers, right?” They’re noncommittal. They say things like, “Huh. That’s bad.”

“Real conspiracy theorists will approach me like I’m their brother,” McIndoe said, “like I’m part of their team. They will start spouting hateful rhetoric and racist ideas, because they feel as if I’m safe.” 

It sounds like that’s evolving, though. Now “they think Birds Aren’t Real is a CIA psy-op. They think that we are the CIA, we’re put out there as a weapon against conspiracy theorists.”

For the people who do get the joke, though, “It is a collective role-playing experiment. There is true community found through this, it breaks down political barriers. We have taken pictures of a car park at a Birds Aren’t Real rally. There are people who will show up with a US flag on their car, Republican, patriotic, and a car right next to them with Bernie Sanders stickers. I was a Bernie guy myself. You see these people marching together, unified.”

I wouldn’t count on it to heal the fractured country, but it might offer us a short vacation from focusing on the conflict.

 

And unrelated to any of that

I just discovered that Yahoo, in its wisdom, has been dumping several categories of WordPress notifications into my spam folder, which I haven’t checked since our older dog was a kitten. I thought it had gotten quiet out there, but I’ve been stretched thin enough that I didn’t give it much thought. On top of that, WordPress itself has indulged in a badly judged fit of self-improvement and most of its notifications no longer let me drop in on the blogs of the people who send them, which I enjoyed doing before WP tripped over its own feet and made that somewhere between difficult and impossible. So if you’ve noticed my absence (I wouldn’t have, so I’m not expecting you to be moping over it), we have two entities to blame–and neither of them are me.

48 thoughts on “Sexism and tractor porn in British politics

  1. I seem to think there was a book, perhaps a movie? along those lines of “we are not alone” which turned out to be a student joke.
    Come to think of it…maybe students are running the country. Any country. All countries, as a joke.

    I wish I could see the joke and ‘ave a laugh…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve read that one of the oddities about writing humor is that it’s absolutely not universal. What one person thinks is funny leaves another one cold. When the movie The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming showed in the US and USSR, both cultures found it funny but they laughed at different things. All of which is to say that no, I’m not getting the joke either. I’m gonna be that old lady who marches in, switches on the light, and yells, “This is not funny!”

      Setting off waves of hysteria among those who think it is.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Do you know the movie? It came out in the sixties, and you sort of have to surgically delete some sexism that was less visible at the time, but Russians thought it was hysterical to have a submarine captain, at the high point of a cirisis that could set off World War III, ask a writer, “What do you write?” It didn’t tickle the US sense of humor at all. And Americans laughed when a cop tried to write the submarine a parking ticket. Russians? Nope.

          Like

          • This may draw some flack from some Americans (younger than I), but I walked out of this movie. It was such tripe!
            At the time, quite a few were cross about the Vietnam war.
            As I recall, “Zorba the Greek” was showing at another cinema and I went to see that!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Ah, well, it all goes to prove that they’re right about humor: You can’t make ’em all laugh. You’ll have to settle for getting a giggle from just a few. Now Zorba on the other hand: I like the movie, although I didn’t love it, but the music!

              Liked by 1 person

  2. What I found absurd about the whole ‘he was googling a specific tractor and a porn site popped up’ line is that Deborah Meaden tried that & posted the results on Twitter. Himself did likewise and the results – for six long pages – were all about that specific tractor. Because – quelle surprise – neither Deborah nor Himself had taught the great god Google that they’d be interested in porn, so it didn’t personalise their results to include any. Whereas Neil Parish presumably had form – and Google knew it. One has to wonder if those MPs who repeated the story in his support as if they’d also experienced the same results, realised what this said about them when they parroted that particular line?

    Finally, in a post chock full of goodness, may I thank you for including the magnificent being that is Jack Monroe. Their take down of Rees-Mogg at Easter was also a thing to behold.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Just in case that doesn’t work, in reply to R-Mogg’s Christ is Risen, Alleluia, her response was:

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oops, overexcited. Jack Monroe’s response was: Jesus would have flipped a table and driven you out of the temple FYI x

          “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” – Titus 1:16.

          Liked by 1 person

            • Nope. I am hoping her legal take down of the MP who suggested that she earns more than the PM, and that she became rich off the back of the poor, is a resounding success. It’s hard not to wish that he ends up with a life where he has to demonstrate how to live off 30p meals and not be ground down by the experience. But I am low on the milk of human kindness to his ilk.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Ellen, I am always amazed at your ability to put a humorous spin on political stories- really any story. I envy that. Personally I find it easier to hang my head and sob at the absurdity of it all.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As a fellow blogger (oops!), I have to thank you for the chuckles today. And, oh, if only that one incident of Sarah Palin back in 2008 could have been the sole low moment of American politics in recent times. The mind boggles at how we could merely laugh at it today. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. You had me at tractor porn! I was laughing uproariously until you mentioned Sarah Palin, then I banged my head on the desk, knowing there was even worse to come! I love your posts! and I’d vote for Santa Claus.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well, the Taliban have lately announced that all women must be fully covered. As the US regresses in the area of women’s rights, dare we think the UK will do likewise?
    (“Clustertf*ck” is a good word too.)
    Tractor porn ? A Brit might spell it “John Dear” I suppose.but that seems pretty mild.
    To “Snake’s” point – Barry Goldwater would seem relatively non-threatening today. Not so Palin, however.
    During the WWJD movement (What Would Jesus Do?) when many wore bracelets with those initials, a friend of mine made up several with “JWTTSAOOTT” on them. (“Jesus Would Throw Their Sorry Asses Out of the Temple.”)

    “Keep the baby, Faith !”

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Ellen…I’d heard tractor porn was a thing, but I’d been too timid to ask any of my rural North Carolina neighbors to confirm it. Thanks for clearing that up! And, ditto on the WP complaints. I find the current editor really glitchy. Maybe the brighter ones are still toying with the platform, or maybe I just need a new computer (and facilitator). Happy weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m relieved that you didn’t ask your neighbors. You’d never talk your way out of that. Some images, once you plant them in your neighbors’ heads, simply will not leave.

      Some readers helped me find a way around the new WP editor, which I hated too. I wish I could pass on their wisdom to you, but I have only the vaguest idea how they got me there. What I do know is that I start out in Gutenberg, save it, reopen it in Classic, and have a lot less grief. It’s not your computer. It’s WP’s goddamn improvements.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It’s a little like a vortex – the weirder politics get, the harder it is to attract people who can improve things. I’m not sure the people are any worse overall, but we certainly don’t seem to be improving either

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I actually work with a guy who believes that birds aren’t real. He also thinks the earth is flat and that airplane vapour trails are the government spraying poison into the air that will brainwash us. He’s a treat. Almost as much a treat as a guy who watches tractor porn.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Angela was an MP
    Who rode upon a tractor
    When she came back from the ride
    The PM jumped out of the cake…
    (Never wrote a Limerick before, no idea about the rules…) 😬
    (Are Limericks still legal though? I wouldn’t make a Faux-pas)
    I don’t know whether to thank you for your post or cry…
    At any rate they are very good.
    Take care my dear.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As limericks go, that was as roughly successful as our friend the MP’s explanations of how he ended up watching porn. Plus it not only broke the all-important rules of limerickosity (which I recognize but can’t cite), it was unconvincing, incoherent, and–um, now that you mention it, you’re right, that does make it appropriate, doesn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

        • Limericks do tend to be inappropriate–something I lean toward myself except that so many of them are from a time when sexism passed itself off as fun. Kind of like today, only without a clue that it might not be fun for everyone. I like to pick and choose my inappropriateness. But anyway…

          I can’t remember exactly when I was last in New York–the date, that is, not the being there. Ten years, maybe. Or five. Or–well, before the pandemic, by quite a stretch.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Agreed about the sexism. It was another time. I thought Limericks because I inherited a limericks book form my father. I find it kind of “historical”. So were things then…
            5-10 years? That is a long time. Don’t you miss it? (I go back to Paris every year, except for 2020.
            Cheers Ellen.

            Liked by 2 people

              • No-one can cross the same river twice… Having said that, it might depend which parts of the city you feel more tied to. Even if you have little or no relations or friends left there, it still is the same place.
                I go back to Paris every year or so. My sister and parents are gone, only two brothers left with whom I don’t necessarily coincide, but it’s all right. The magic of the Seine. (Or the Hudson river…)😉

                Liked by 2 people

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