After his ill-advised attempt to kiss Labour MP Diane Abbott in the Commons’ Strangers Bar last Wednesday, Brexit minister David Davis has faced an increasing amount of adverse comment, much of it from his political opponents, but some now coming from his own side of the House. Allied to this is the push-back against the hacks who framed the story as Ms Abbott’s fault because she told Davis to f*** off.
The chorus of disapproval has only intensified after the Mail on Sunday’s political editor Simon Walters got hold of some text messages which made the Tory MP look yet worse, not least because they have been splashed all over the MoS’ front page, accompanied by the shrieking headline “REVEALED: Brexit Minister’s sexist texts about Shadow Home Secretary after Commons clash … GIVE DIANE ABBOTT A HUG? I’M NOT BLIND”.
Walters’s follow-up tells “BREXIT Secretary David Davis has been plunged into a damaging sexism row after saying he wouldn’t kiss Labour’s Diane Abbott as ‘I am not blind’”. When the Mail decides you may have done something wrong, you should start to get worried - especially given the paper’s right leaning stance.
And belatedly having a spokesman admit “The Secretary of State is very sorry for any offence caused to Miss Abbott, someone he has known and respected for many years” may not be enough to quell the row. Quite apart from many Labour figures who might not be expected to be big fans of Ms Abbott - Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna and Jess Phillips have all lined up to pass severely adverse comment on Davis’ actions - the silence from his own side of the aisle does not augur well.
Meanwhile, Shami Chakrabarti appeared before the host’s inquisition on ITV’s Peston On Sunday to observe “Diane is not someone who would have her hand patted by Donald Trump or David Davis or anybody else [mild understatement there] … It's really disappointing. [The text message is] sexist, it's patronising. It's disrespectful … Diane Abbott and David Davis were once on the same side on some really important civil liberties issues in this country … He should show her more respect”.
The only Sunday political show intervention from the Conservative establishment came in an ill-advised intervention from Laura Perrins (who she?) on The Andy Marr Show (tm) paper review, who attempted to spin Davis’ bad behaviour by telling that the Brexit Minister had been brought up by a single mother, had attended a state school, and had done well there, so that made everything all right, then. Or rather it didn’t.
When your most fervent defender is reduced to avoiding the point at issue and instead loudly telling everyone in the studio and at home that they should “look over there”, you should realise that the game is probably up. David Davis has indeed behaved very badly, he needs to personally ‘fess up and apologise, and the press and spin merchants need to realise that pretending it’s OK because Ms Abbott is a black Labour MP won’t work.
The world in 2017 cannot be spun backwards in time. And that’s a fact.