“Women – Watch Your Tone.”

Kelly Grehan

Rosena Allin-Khan is highly qualified to talk about the impact of the Covid Crisis on hospitals – as well as being MP for Tooting she has worked in A and E at St George’s Hospital throughout the crisis. This experience, coupled with her master’s degree in public health, would – you might think – mean that when she speaks about her NHS experience the Secretary of State for Health would show some respect.

Today, in the House of Commons, having just been thanked by Speaker Lindsay Hoyle for her NHS service Dr Allin-Khan addressed Matt Hancock, saying

‘’Frontline workers like me have had to watch families break into pieces as we deliver the very worst of news to them, that the ones they love most in this world have died. The testing strategy has been nonexistent. Community testing was scrapped, mass testing was slow to roll out and testing figures are now being manipulated. Many frontline workers feel that the government’s lack of testing has cost lives and is responsible for many families being unnecessarily torn apart in grief. Does the Secretary of State commit to a minimum of 100,000 tests each day going forward? And does the Secretary of State acknowledge that many frontline workers feel that the government’s lack of testing has cost lives?”

Mr. Hancock responded by saying:

“I welcome the honorable lady to her post as part of the shadow health team. I think she might do well to take a leaf out of the shadow secretary of state’s book in terms of tone.’’

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is an A&E Doctor, as well as MP for Tooting.

I find this unacceptable on so many levels. 

Firstly, if we want to talk about the use of unacceptable tones I instantly think of the occasion in 2017 when Mr. Hancock and his colleagues cheered as they blocked a pay raise for nurses and other public servants and the evening last year when MP Paula Sheriff begged the Prime Minister to moderate his inflammatory language and think of the death threats she and fellow MPs received often quoted his language. He replied with the word ‘humbug.’ Oddly – Mr. Hancock did not seem concerned with tone then.

Perhaps Mr. Hancock believes that we should adopt a tone of ignorance and not draw attention to the fact that we now have the second highest death toll in Europe. A few months ago, I remember a tone of shock and horror accompanying news reports from hospitals in Italy. I do not recall criticism of the Italian government’s approach being discouraged. 

Or maybe, as we see time and time again – there is a backlash against strong, clever women making strong, important, irreputable points. Women, whatever their credentials are discredited and dismissed. When Anneliese Dodds was appointed Shadow Chancellor a few weeks ago I saw people online saying Keir Starmer had ‘appointed a woman to keep the feminists happy’ rather than appoint ‘someone qualified’. I think her 1st class Oxford degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, her master’s degree in Social Policy and her PhD in Government might suggest Anneliese Dodds is more than qualified.

Rather than take on the points they make – we often see questions by women given a reply emphasizing or questioning their demeanor – we all recall David Cameron telling Angela Eagles to ‘calm down dear’ when she questioned planned NHS reforms in 2011. I struggle to believe that he would have addressed a man like that, and I struggle to believe Matt Hancock would have spoken to a practicing male doctor as he did to Rosena Allin-Khan today. 

David Cameron telling Angela Eagles to “calm down dear.”

This is at best sexism, and at worse misogyny and it should not go unchallenged. 

As a woman in politics I am sick of being patronised, mansplained to and dismissed by people with less experience or less knowledge than me and I know most women in politics have had the same experiences. When you complain those perpetuating this behaviour see it as vindication that they were right and women are too hysterical and not tough enough for politics.

But we also see time and time again, the value women bring to politics, the experiences we bring are of value and I suggest Mr. Hancock and his fellow belittlers think about why they resort to responses like his today rather than respond with answers and debate. 

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