Forget Andrew Tate – what about the host of misogynists in Labour’s ranks? | Catherine Bennett

The transgender debate seems to offer many proudly progressive men a licence to insult women who disagree with them

The continued detention of the professional misogynist Andrew Tate deprives fans of a treasured role model. Even if Tate is soon free to resume his life’s work – essentially, telling women to “shut up, bitch” – it could be a while before Romanian police return the luxury cars that validate his alpha male status. At least the incarceration gives Tate a bit longer to improve on “how dare you?!” - his initial response to humiliation by Greta Thunberg. His provocative boasts about these vehicles had put her in mind of “small dick energy”.

Where, meanwhile, should his acolytes turn for inspiration? Jeremy Clarkson, the fellow car person, wealthy loudmouth, dedicated Thunberg- and Meghan-phobe? But Clarkson has now twice apologised for his disturbingly sexualised hatred of the Duchess of Sussex: a betrayal rendering him, in circles where Meghan-hating is a sacred rite, her apostate bitch. As for trusted hater Piers Morgan: he lets his wife work.

In what is increasingly acknowledged to be a golden era for misogyny, it’s still unusual to find anything approaching Tate’s strutting self-regard, his bragging, his contempt for women, especially mouthy or older ones. “I don’t even talk to old hoes,” he offers, in one video. As for working women who aspire, to Tate’s disgust, to “thoughts and opinions and a job”: “Sit at home,” he tells them, “be quiet, make coffee.” Rule one for “chicks” (which must be tricky to enforce from prison) goes: “No. You stay in the house, you don’t go nowhere. No restaurants, no clubs, nothing.”

Or as the Labour party’s director of communications, Matthew Doyle, was heard saying last week, after a woman MP started playing up, spend more time in your constituency rather than “hanging out with JK Rowling”. He was referring to the MP for Canterbury, Rosie Duffield, once a darling of the party, now feeling, as she written, “ostracised”, but in refusing to shut up, becoming the sort of problem Tate never faced. “In a healthy relationship,” Tate says, “the man will say x, the woman will say yeah I agree with that, OK I won’t do it.” But what happens when an impressive woman – and Duffield is not the only offender here, the SNP struggles with Joanna Cherry KC – just won’t stop talking about sex-based rights? Even after they have been energetically discouraged by online threats and insults – some originating from colleagues – and by the sort of violence-inciting banners that have become so familiar at demonstrations that some SNP MPs easily missed one reading “Decapitate Terfs” (trans-exclusionary radical feminists, now a catch-all term for recalcitrant women).

If Labour’s responses to its woman problem (as Duffield rightly calls it) can never compete with Tate’s videos, its progressive approach to misogyny is arguably more instructive for men who would like to shut women up but cannot afford a Romania-based chick compound. Men who study, for instance, the conduct of Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle may even conclude that the manosphere could have done more to nurture, as he does, male belief that bullying and insulting women is indicative of moral superiority. For Russell-Moyle, when he brought himself to apologise for insulting and intimidating Miriam Cates MP (having previously barracked Duffield in the debate about the government’s section 35 order blocking Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill), the aggression only confirmed the purity of his sentiments. His “tone”, he conceded, was a mistake, but he stood by his words: “Our job as MPs is to channel passion and anger into considered debate to win our arguments.” That said, Russell-Moyle, an MP since 2017, seems to have restrained himself until that particular debate from similar acting out and abuse. In the same session, Ben Bradshaw was also compelled by his passion to shout “absolute rubbish” while his colleague Duffield was speaking, her offence being to disagree with Mr Bradshaw on the Scottish bill. Like many others, including a UN rapporteur, she thinks the reform deficient in protections against bad actors.

The above episode will not have surprised women familiar with the way any sex-based concerns have become, for some proudly progressive men, a licence to insult and mansplain, much as Meghan-hating exempts practitioners at GBNews or TalkTV from acceptable discourse. But it was still alarming to see the Labour leadership effectively endorsing such an extreme example. By not condemning his own MPs’ substitution of intimidation for debate, Keir Starmer, though he blithered about “respect and tolerance”, has only invited more of the opposite. The shadow attorney general, Emily Thornberry, somehow missed the barracking. You can’t fault her on consistency: some of us also recall her defending the bully John Bercow, reasoning: “My own personal experience is different.”

Since shouting down women’s concerns is not completely foolproof, given the risk that they may turn out to have some foundation, more cautious progressives may prefer to emulate, instead, the Blairite approach to shutting up bitches: simply ignore them. Neither Alastair Campbell nor Charles Falconer could resist the opportunity created by the section 35 debate to remind women that, years since they were ridiculed and objectified in Campbell’s diaries, their concerns still signify as much to the stars of that era as those of old hoes do to Tate.

While Falconer, seemingly new to the debate, improvised a legal opinion categorising the issue as a “minor skirmish”, Campbell, who had previously instructed everyone not to “get your knickers in a twist” about self-identification, complained that Laura Kuenssberg, interviewing Starmer, spent “too much time” on the subject. (This, to be fair to Campbell, was before the arrival of a double rapist in a Scottish women’s prison, which might conceivably have caught his attention.)

For the bereft Tate fan, Campbell could be, in fact, about the best locum sexist on offer. True, he favours “bird” over Tate’s “chick” and fails miserably on super-cars. But long before “decapitate Terfs” he was joking to Tony Blair about shooting Clare Short for “rabbiting on”. The pioneer of progressive misogyny has yet – even with Russell-Moyle on manoeuvres – to be surpassed.

• Catherine Bennett is an Observer columnist

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