During the Conservative Party Conference this weekend, I started to ponder what the biggest issue is that plagues our fair country at this turbulent time. Brexit, deep divisions within the Tory Party, an ineffective opposition, the fact that Liz Truss is to yet again take the stage to discuss how everything is a “disgrace” – these are all, admittedly, worth a passing thought. But the subject matter which really got my attention? The specific merits of the recipe that Theresa May uses to make her scones.
Apparently this is an issue that has gripped the nation; Piers Morgan described it this morning on GMB as “exploding a huge argument over the weekend” with a “debate raging” over the use of butter or margarine. Forget the fact that our Prime Minister revealed on Andrew Marr that she intended to trigger Article 50 by March 2017 on Sunday – the baked goods were the key to need-to-know information for the British public.
Obviously I’m being tongue-in-cheek – I don’t care what Theresa May uses in her scones, and I don’t think many people do either. What I care about is what our government intends to do in relation to Brexit, what Theresa May’s plan is specifically for improving the country. But no, the pressing issue of the day for Piers Morgan was her scone recipe, and the country’s obsession with her shoes. The Tories are pulling us back to the 1950s with their policy proposals, and apparently our media is more than happy to go back in time with them.
I can’t blame Piers Morgan in particular, or accuse him of being an intentional sexist – he’s merely continuing a pattern that’s been set across media outlets ever since May became Prime Minister. Just last week, The New Statesman published a front page showing May skewering the three Brexiteers with her stiletto heel. I find it hard to imagine a similar image adoring a magazine’s front page if Boris Johnson had become the Prime Minister, with him stomping on his opponents with a Church’s brogue.
Many newspapers have run stories on May’s shoes, and deconstructed her outfits – the same, of course, is happening to Hillary Clinton over the pond. Clinton’s choice to wear red on debate night was “telling”, while Donald Trump just put on a suit, didn’t brush his hair – and no one cared.
The header underneath May on GMB this morning read “Theresa May is the first female Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher” – just in case we had forgotten. Other papers have either struggled to come to terms with her tough, direct policies or just redrawn her in cartoons as the literal Iron Lady (see: the front page of The Spectator this week). We get it: she’s a woman, and so was Margaret Thatcher. And she’s a cold, hard-nosed, strategic woman with unforgiving policies as well – so she must be Margaret Thatcher reincarnate.
The simple fact that we can’t seem to get our heads around is that women can enact brutal politics too, without having an emotional breakdown over a mixing bowl of flour and margarine (or was that butter?) If we stop trying to impose stereotypical feminine qualities on May, we can start asking the real questions. As it stands, she’s getting a free pass to impose a new pro-austerity regime, however much she, ahem, sugar-coats it. Newspapers and political outlets need to put down their scone recipes, leave behind their prejudices and go back to the drawing board. The “Opposition” aren’t challenging our new Prime Minister, after all, so someone has to.