Over it’s long history, the House of Commons chamber has seen many great speeches and memorable turns of phrase. But for every handsome phrase, there has often been a nasty one.
Yesterday Iain Duncan Smith – a former party leader and a Secretary of State, directed one such nasty comment towards the Labour front bench. He said: “I know Christmas is over but I think one of the pantomimes left a pantomime dame on the front bench” a comment seemingly directed at Chris Bryant MP, a shadow DWP minister who as it happens is also an openly gay MP (and one of LGBT Labour's Patrons).
This isn’t the first time Chris Bryant has been taunted as such; in 2010 the Chancellor did exactly the same thing.
This isn’t just about Chris Bryant, but about the responsibility that Members of Parliament should feel about using discriminatory language in the House of Commons chamber.
In 2011 the Prime Minister told another member of the Labour frontbench, Angela Eagle to ‘calm down dear’ at Prime Minister’s Question. For many people this is their only glimpse of Parliament Parliament. The list of condescending language used by this government front bench goes on.
Many may say ‘well, what does it matter?’ and ‘lighten up’, ‘stop being so PC’; but the honest truth is, language really does matter.
Stonewall only recently launched a campaign to stamp out the negative use of the word ‘gay’ in schools and Diversity Role Models have been working over the last few years to confront children’s perceptions of LGBT people head on. This doesn’t even mention the continuing culture of misogyny in public life.
Now, of course no Minister would be foolish enough to call someone ‘gay’ or worse in public. But that doesn’t mean that cheap gags don’t undermine the work of organisations like Stonewall to change the way people refer to gay people.
Every time a minister uses even a slightly misogynistic or homophobic phrase or panders to sexist or homophobic stereotypes, it gives credence to homophobes and sexists.
Members of Parliament have a duty to demonstrate that we are a society of equality that does not accept discrimination in word or deed.
The House of Commons will always be a place of hyperbole but this is no excuse for the use of discriminatory language.
We call on Iain Duncan Smith to apologise to Chris Bryant, and for the Tory front bench to pledge to leave homophobic stereotypes out of Parliamentary debate.
Times have changed; this kind of language is no longer acceptable and Cameron and the Tories have to prove they get it. Otherwise it seems that the Nasty Party is alive and well.