From sport to politics, male assertiveness is getting out of hand

PMQs was never intended to be the bear pit it has become

Share

I’m not a big football fan. Quite the reverse. Maybe because I’m Welsh, I can’t abide it. But I did catch the pictures of Hugo Lloris, the Spurs goalkeeper, accidentally colliding head-on with the boot of an Everton striker last Sunday. It was a nasty clash. Lloris was clearly dazed. Yet the Spurs medical team allowed him back on, a decision that has been described as irresponsible by the campaigning charity Headway. To be fair, he looked pretty determined and it might have been difficult to stop him. So, manfully, as they say, on he played.

Lloris was OK, but Ben Robinson was not so fortunate. Aged 14 he died after a rugby match in Northern Ireland in 2011 when he continued playing despite being checked for concussion three times. His father Peter says that if he had been removed after that first concussion, “he’d be here with us today”. There’s little doubt that he is not the only one. The former Ireland rugby international Brian O’Driscoll is certain that “players are being sent back on with brain damage”, and in the US the National Football League has just forked out $765m to former players for hiding the long-term risks of brain damage.

It’s not a simple issue. With the adrenalin pumping and the crowd screaming, many a player will do anything they can to stay on the pitch. After all, the player will have been desperate to get selected. He’ll worry that it will mean he won’t play next week, or that he’ll lose out financially. But the biggest problem is the Mr Manly Syndrome that is still endemic. In sport it’s all about “Man up and play the game”. Blokes aspire to an almost unnaturally muscled, roided look, and a macho attitude to go with it.

It’s infected politics as well. That diffident soul Harold Macmillan never intended Prime Minister’s Questions to be the bear pit it has now become when he introduced the then twice-weekly sessions. But now the political class judges the protagonists by their ability to take lumps out of each other, and in recent weeks it has got far worse. The decibel count has risen. The scorn quotient is virtually off the scale. It has become little more than a room full of bullies seeking to outdo one another. No wonder everyone laughed this week when the Speaker vainly suggested that the PM might try to remember the original question when answering.

Select committees have become infected too. Members bark their questions at witnesses. They treat them with utter disdain, posturing for the media and trying to outdo each other in landing the killer punch. It’s as if every MP really wants to be Jeremy Paxman or John Humphrys – and they in turn seek to dismantle any politician they come across with the aggressive sardonic sneer of the playground bully. (Incidentally, Paxman has voted. In 1997, he admitted that he had voted for me in High Wycombe.)

I should say I’m no better. Last week, the Telegraph ran a nasty little piece about my schooldays at Cheltenham College. Some unnamed numbskull had crawled out from under a stone to maintain that I was a “weedy day boy” who never played any sport and spent most of my time playing women’s parts in plays. The chap’s malice and inaccuracy were revealed by the fact that he also claimed I was the Labour candidate in the school mock election in 1979. Sadly, I confess, dear reader, that I was quite definitely a Tory at the time.

But the real sadness is that I actually felt affronted at the implications of unmanliness. I wanted to say I was captain of swimming then, that I have often played in the parliamentary rugby team, and that I never played a woman’s part. See how butch I am!

But actually it’s time politics shed its macho macho manliness. Yes, some parliamentary witnesses can be evasive and even duplicitous, but there was something truly unseemly about MPs badgering the HR director of the BBC – the only woman on the panel – a few weeks ago. And when the Plebgate police were back this week, it was bad enough that MPs seemed more affronted by another MP being traduced than any other issue facing Britain today, but I also thought the sneering was just rude. Select committees should learn some manners. Forceful, assertive, resolute, forensic, yes – but just a tad less high-handed. And I’ll be proud of my less than manly side.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Wages are on the rise (so long as you skew the figures)

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
 

It’s two decades since ‘education, education, education’, but still Britain’s primary school admissions are a farce

Jane Merrick
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal