A former Ukip councillor has been jailed for murdering his wife – but according to his mates it’s him we should feel sorry for

The polarisation of political discourse has made misogyny not just more visible, but an acceptable expression of the rage of the self-styled common man

Stowmarket man calls police after murdering his wife

Former Ukip councillor Stephen Searle strangled his wife Anne to death. According to the forensic pathologist who worked on the case, the victim “would have lost consciousness after about eight to 15 seconds of pressure”, with death requiring “further sustained pressure for a period of minutes”.

It is a long time to be holding someone down, waiting for them to die. Then again, as Searle’s friend Bill Mountford, former leader of Ukip at Suffolk County Council, puts it, “these things happen”.

They happen quite a lot, at least if you are a woman trying to leave a man. Two women are killed each week by a former or current partner in England and Wales and the most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship is when she is trying to leave.

Days before her death Anne Searle left a message on Facebook saying: “I hope I will still be here in 2018.” She wasn’t. Her husband had already killed her the day before New Year’s Eve.

According to reports on the case, Anne Searle had found out her husband was having an affair with her son’s partner. This, in the eyes of some, makes everything far more comprehensible. Searle wasn’t an evil abuser (it seems men who kill their wives rarely are). He was merely responding to Anne’s own anger at him.

Mountford describes his friend as “fundamentally a decent man who has found himself in circumstances beyond his control”. He goes on to note that “domestic disputes can get out of hand”, which makes him feel “equally sorry for both Steve and his now deceased wife”.

This is often the way with women killed by their partners. The so-called “crime of passion” defence is, supposedly, a thing of the past. Nonetheless, while we may have progressed from a time when a man such as Joseph McGrail could literally walk free having slaughtered a wife who, in the words of the judge, “would have tried the patience of a saint”, the belief that men who kill women are essentially good people, driven to their crimes by circumstance, is all around us. Whether it’s a wife’s affair, or a wife’s response to an affair, there’s always something that she’s done which drove him to it.

Last month the Daily Record described Peter Clark, who stabbed his wife Melanie to death, as the “‘penis-jibe’ husband who murdered wife in boozy bust-up over lesbian affair”. Clark was, we are told, “in a prosecco-fuelled rage when [Melanie] called time on their marriage after taunting the size of his penis”. That murder is not a proportionate response to any sort of jibe, and that wives should be free to leave whenever they choose to, would appear to be an alien concept.

Men who murder women are routinely described as “good blokes” who are driven to do it by “jealousy” or the experience of being “jilted”. The ordinary family man becomes a tragic Shakespearean hero the moment his wife or girlfriend challenges him or is perceived to have transgressed the bounds of their relationship. He can’t help it; what’s an “enraged boyfriend” to do when his “cheating partner” is right there in front of him? How can he stop himself?

These headlines are not just an insult to the memories of women who are no longer around to defend themselves. They send a message to every man out there resenting his female partner, projecting his own guilt onto her or fearing that she’ll leave him. They tell him “we get you”. They tell him not to feel ashamed of any violent urges he may be having. They tell him such urges make him a real man.

Such attitudes are always dangerous, but they strike me as particularly so right now, when we find ourselves in the midst of a vicious backlash to feminism. The polarisation of political discourse has made misogyny not just more visible, but an acceptable expression of the rage of the self-styled common man.

That sympathy for someone such as Searle can be associated with Ukip and the hard right doesn’t strike me as accidental. It’s part of a culture in which racism and sexism are recast as meaningful outlets for the truly oppressed, and in which victimhood is recast as aggression. No one is more pitied – and more filled with self-pity – than the angry white man baring his fists. He opens the paper and reads about men like him – good blokes, honest men “driven to it” by uncomprehending wives – and his entitlement grows and grows.

“I’ve been a very naughty boy” are the words Searle used when contacting the police. Self-infantilisation meets a bid for all-boys-together, you-know-how-it-is male bonding. But Searle is not a boy. He’s a grown man who held his hands around his wife’s throat for several minutes after she had already lost consciousness. What he did should not be comprehensible; we should find it unimaginable.

That we don’t tells us just how far we have to go in ensuring the safety of women. Husbands do not own their wives; there is nothing understandable about a murderous rage; the female body does not exist to pacify the male ego. These are truths so basic, so important, that they should not need restating. Nonetheless, for the Anne Searles and Melanie Clarks of the future, state them we must, again and again.

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