A perennially unfortunate consequence of International Women’s Day is that broadcasters use it to remind us all of the existence of the nation’s most irrelevant campaign group, Justice For Men and Boys, the self-styled “only anti-feminist party in the English-speaking world”.
Its head, Mike Buchanan (a former Conservative Party consultant) is, every year, only too happy to do the rounds on the news channels, riding on the coat-tails of the exploitation of women to gain a bit of cheap publicity for his own weird cause.
Only this year, for the first time, he found himself outdone by Priti Patel and the “Women For Britain” campaign, which was launched yesterday morning.
There are still three-and-a-half months to go until the referendum itself, and we can but hope that a bunch of Tory and Ukip women evoking the spirit of the Suffragettes to agitate for Brexit might prove to be the high-water mark in rank stupidity terms. But obviously I doubt it.
It began with an iPhone video plea from a 16-year-old girl now widely known as “Lexie Brexit”, after an impassioned intervention from the audience on the BBC’s Question Time last week. “I just want to thank you all for standing up to an increasingly undemocratic EU,” she said, in scenes more commonly experienced at North Korea’s May Day Games.
Then we were on to a second video, made by Ukip’s Suzanne Evans, lovingly shot around the base of the Emmeline Pankhurst statue in Westminster. Sadly it was filmed before Sunday, when Dr Helen Pankhurst, Emmeline’s great-granddaughter, went on a women’s march and demanded an apology from anti-EU campaigners for exploiting her family name. “For Britain to move out of the European Union would have appalled her and her Suffragette daughters,” she said. “Numbering Emmeline among the prominent supporters of the Vote Leave campaign is outrageous.”
Still, anyone who saw Ms Patel’s advocacy for the death penalty on Question Time, even as Ian Hislop patiently explained that wherever it is practised, innocent people are executed, will realise that she is not the most capable when it comes to thinking on her feet, so two full days’ notice was never going to be long enough for her to come up with some alternative arguments.
“Everyone should remember that iconic figure, Emmeline Pankhurst,” she began. “In many ways, Women For Britain are fighting for exactly the same cause.” (No they’re not.)
Emmeline Pankhurst was not the only hero in town. “Boudicca, who stood up to the Roman invaders,” also came in for special praise. “Elizabeth I, who defended Britain from the Spanish Armada.” Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, all these women’s legacies are apparently under threat from the “faceless bureaucrats of the European Union”.
An unfortunate technical glitch meant that the soaring plateaus of the Patel oratory had a tendency to be interrupted by the sudden appearance of Lexie Brexit’s paused face set in what looked to be a pained grimace. It’s possible she understood the absurdity of Ms Patel’s promise that “we could build a brand new hospital every week” if we left the EU. Where would we find the Bulgarians to do the work?
Arguably though, the star of the show was on the undercard. Businesswoman Emma Pullen, of the British Hovercraft Company, received a standing ovation for her reason for wanting out of Europe: “We’ve done pretty well on our own since the Romans went home.” Justice For Men and Boys will be back next year. It can’t come soon enough.
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