You’d almost think that the Tories knew right from wrong. Foreign Office minister Mark Field attacks, sorry restrains female Greenpeace protester Janet Barker, and says he was acting “instinctively”, that she may have been carrying a weapon. He regrets it of course and immediately refers himself to the Cabinet Office for an investigation. Meanwhile Theresa May, PM in-waiting of refuse collection day, finds the whole sordid thing “very concerning”.
More concerning than she ever found the question of Northern Ireland and Brexit in fact, and Field is duly suspended. Field, The Sun tell us, “was filmed grabbing a rabbit-loving eco-protester by her neck” as the group “stormed” the black-tie dinner.
Ah, he was filmed. No scope for crying foul over interpretation of the assault. Maybe that explains the concern and regret. Never mind, I’m sure the damage can be limited somehow in advance of the Tory leadership crisis. Did I say crisis? I meant contest. Maybe I was thinking about the Police gate- crashing Boris Johnson’s private party with girlfriend Carrie Symonds.
Really, there’s nothing to see here. Nothing at all. Whether the overheard “Get Off…” referred to the laptop, or something altogether more sinister, we can probably expect an unambiguous get out of jail free card for Johnson, and maybe an autobiography one day from the hitherto largely unknown Mark Field.
Business as usual for the Teflon Tories. Having been caught red handed, and with the help of their friends in the media, they make further efforts to weasel their way out of criticism, turning it into a security breach situation. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is Mark Field’s boss, initially responded with a text saying “sorry can’t talk now”, and later recognised an “over-reaction” on Field’s part.
While few, like Johnny Mercer and Peter Bottomley, are openly defending Field; “He did nothing wrong”, there are many outside of the party, who are more eager to support and condemn. “I support equality for women” said one contributor to Radio Scotland’s “Call Kaye” slot, while asserting that the woman in question had as much right to a sound thrashing as any man.
Much condemnation too. Condemnation for climate change activists, like the man who claimed that “…climate change terrorists are scum. Save us all, kill a climate change terrorist today”. Following an overwhelmingly male outpouring of ridicule, resentment and rejection of teenager Greta Thunberg and her impact on the climate change debate, it is not difficult to conflate climate change denial and trivialisation with misogyny. As Kirstie Strickland writes in her National column, the reaction to the shocking video was
“…most visceral among women. Not because we were surprised by a man being aggressive towards a woman, but because we weren’t.”
Nevertheless, the footage showing the brutality of the chest jabbing, neck grabbing eviction inspired a “He should be sacked!” response from Kirsty Wark as Newsnight aired the damning evidence.
Field’s response was certainly instinctive. It bore all the hallmarks of the domestic abuser, puffed and primed for immediate resistance against any woman, or possibly child, that dared to stand in his way. He may have been afraid, but the weapon in question was the audacity and power of the female activist.
Following the attack, Janet Barker said Field had pushed her so hard as they reached the door that she had almost fallen. She said he should take anger management classes. “I want him to think about what he did, why he did it and address his behaviour.” Field clearly lost it, but the film and images from the scene also show onlookers, arms crossed, possibly in resignation or approval at the horrific display of dominance unfolding before them.
Even if some witnesses were appalled at Field’s action, nobody intervened. It is difficult to imagine that anyone in that room, let alone Field, is ready to take on the adult responsibility of examining the absolute and appalling wrongness of his action.
The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women defines such violence as;
“any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
The very same Mark Field MP stated that;
“The UK remains committed to helping women all over the world to feel safe and protected in the work they do, so they can speak freely and be part of the change we all want..”
As the hypocrisy is strengthened by Field’s attack on Ms Barker, the funding for women’s refuges and voluntary bodies supporting women in the UK and overseas is diminishing. In spite of the high profile of the Meetoo, and ongoing campaigns, which have empowered many, particularly western women, to speak, and reach out about their experiences at the hands of abusers, Amnesty UK conclude that one in three women will experience violence in her lifetime. Her experience will deprive her of human rights, put her at risk of mental and physical health problems, and potentially trap her in poverty.
As we have come to expect the undermining of anyone perceived to threaten the power base of the ruling class, in 2019, the backlash within our communities against the progress of women in any way should shock us to the core. In the forty eight hours or so, at the time of writing, since this attack occurred, it would be impossible to collate the times and the ways in which Mark Field has been openly supported. “I’m not a Tory, but..”.
But the expressed values and core beliefs, and the fears that the improved rights of one section of the population can only be made at the cost of another, gives the lie to any real progress in the fight against violence, and for equality for women.
I wish Janet barker all the best in the world for a recovery from a hideous assault, that arose from a brave act of direct action against an enormously important issue. Let’s hope that the defensiveness of the Tories and the barbarity of some of the comments in support of Mark Field’s action will not distract from the real issue at hand.
By Val Waldron