I don’t usually go in for seeing bigotry in every passing comment, but Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson’s complaint that “six white men stuck in the past” are “conspiring to wreck our future” is bigoted, and worth criticising.
Those six men are the Conservatives Boris Johnson, Mark Spencer and Dominic Cummings*, and Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, Nick Brown and Seumas Milne, reported by the Times hack Francis Elliott as meeting today to discuss the timetable for Brexit. (Other reports gave a slightly different cast.)
This meeting is what prompted Swinson to complain that white men are pulling the strings again. Notwithstanding her own pasty complexion, there is an unfortunate tang to remarks like these, as is made obvious by swapping the skin colour and sex and writing the same tweet.
I’m sceptical the demography of the actors is what’s key for Swinson here. The Lib Dem leader would not have backed Labour and Conservative policy on the EU if the meeting had been entirely between black disabled lesbians, because her party is stacked with remoaners who are committed to revoking Article 50 and cancelling Brexit if they win a general election.
That noted, the obvious question is what Swinson’s aim was in drawing attention to the characteristics of those six men. Were the comments designed to promote social solidarity and harmony between different groups? Or was the intention to use the sex and race of the six as a weapon, stoking animosity towards them beyond that generated by the policies they are pursuing?
As per Betteridge’s law of headlines, I don’t think Swinson is inherently hostile towards men or white people. But progressive politicians who fairly criticise others for encouraging hatred between groups should not do the same just because the target is perceived as privileged.
*Cummings has previously stated he has never joined the Conservative party, but as he’s serving in their government the distinction means little in this context.