It was uncomfortable viewing – that now infamous clip of Mark Field MP aggressively grabbing a female Greenpeace protester and frog-marching her out of a black tie banquet. No matter how anyone tried to justify it online afterwards – "she shouldn’t have been there", "she could have been armed", "when you protest this is what you run the risk of" – it made your stomach lurch to watch an older man slam the younger activist up against a wall while suited and seated guests looked on.
Theresa May knew it wasn’t okay, that’s why she said she "found it concerning", suspended him from his ministerial position at the Foreign Office and launched a civil service investigation. Theresa May, for all her flaws, knew about violence against women. Throughout her career, she championed legislation to protect victims and survivors and such behaviour wasn’t going to wash with her.
Not so with our new Prime Minister Boris Johnson, though. He feels that there is no need for a further investigation into Field’s behaviour that night at the chancellor’s Mansion House dinner and has dropped it.
This is how boys' clubs work. One man says to another with a wink and a nudge that "it happens to the best of us" and, quietly, a problem is dealt with. The rules that apply to the rest of us are swept aside. Just. Like. That.
This is how boys' clubs work – with a wink and a nudge that says 'it happens to the best of us' and, quietly, the problem is dealt with.
Boris knows how this works all too well. As prime minister he sets the tone for our country and what did he do when a disturbance (neighbours telephoned the police when they heard shouting and screaming) was reported at his own address while he had a fight with his 31-year-old girlfriend? He said nothing, even when right-wing commentators and politicians rebuked his neighbours for calling the police.
We could but look on as crime minister Victoria Atkins tried to remain deadpan when she was asked on the Victoria Derbyshire show whether people should call the police if they hear banging and shouting in a neighbour’s home.
?️ If someone hears shouting, as someone did at Boris Johnson’s flat, should they call police if worried over safety?— Victoria Derbyshire (@VictoriaLIVE) July 16, 2019
?️ I can’t comment on individual case, but of course if you’re worried do call police.
- Victims minister Victoria Atkinshttps://t.co/xrRrLXMHrV pic.twitter.com/1R8iBam78B
Is this how we do things now? Are we moving forward or going backwards? Right now, in Britain, it’s difficult to tell but these scenes certainly seem to belong to another era.
Boris Johnson’s first speech as prime minister felt like one long, giant throwback. It was all Blitz spirit, can-do attitude and dad jokes, with the word 'dude' inexplicably used more than once. Experts warn against no-deal Brexit. Boris says it will be fine. Experts say we should be very worried about what this means for Northern Ireland. Boris says we shouldn’t worry. Experts say it is near-impossible to negotiate a new agreement with the EU in 90 days. Boris says it’s all good.
Our prime minister remains implacable while the pound falls to a two-year low against the dollar. Perhaps he thinks he can positive-think his way out of the parliamentary deadlock that ultimately finished off his predecessor as we "rise and ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity".
We often think of progress as linear. Things are bad, then they get better and better. Every generation will be wealthier, live longer and be happier than the last. The only way is up.
The truth is that this kind of thinking is a trap. It lulls us into a false sense of security and encourages us to see progress simply when, as so much philosophy has tried to tell us, it rarely follows a straightforward path from past to future. Humans have got it wrong many times before, civilisations have risen and fallen, economies have crashed and people who make bad decisions have been voted into power.
We know what violence against women looks like. We know what a cover-up culture looks like. To me, it looks like the prime minister is giving us the message "It’s not a big deal, case closed" and expecting us all to move on. Don’t listen to experts, just believe in yourself. Don’t moan. Buck up. Stop making a fuss.
Boris is setting the tone for Britain and after years of what felt like progress on reporting violence against women and, finally, beginning to take it seriously, it’s a very retrograde one.