Flashback: Did any MP colleagues attack Jeremy B when he talked about veils?

Jeremy Browne photo by Policy ExchangeYesterday, my colleague Caron Lindsay wrote about Jo Swinson’s remarks about gender stereotyping and toys, followed by Jeremy Browne’s tweets on the matter: Jo Swinson slams gender stereo-typing and is attacked by Jeremy Browne. A Liberal Democrat minister makes remarks, and a Liberal Democrat MP replies on Twitter, rumbling on about state interference in parents’ business:

That seems something of a “straw man” argument, since it is obvious from the mild, non-prescriptive tone of Jo’s remarks that the answer to Jeremy’s question was “you can indeed decide what to buy your daughter for Christmas without having to pay heed to the State’s official position”.

It may be instructive to climb aboard, if you will, the Liberal Democrat Voice time machine. There’s nothing like a bit of time travel on Christmas Eve. Let us take you back to September 15th 2013. Jeremy Browne was a Home Office minister. In an interview with the Telegraph headlined “Britain needs ‘national debate’ about banning Muslim girls from wearing veils in public“, he said:

I am instinctively uneasy about restricting the freedom of individuals to observe the religion of their choice. That would apply to Christian minorities in the Middle East just as much as religious minorities here in Britain.

But there is genuine debate about whether girls should feel a compulsion to wear a veil when society deems children to be unable to express personal choices about other areas like buying alcohol, smoking or getting married.

It seems reasonable to ask: Did any of Jeremy’s Lib Dem MP colleagues tweet against him when he made those remarks? (Remarks which were, interestingly, on a spookily similar theme to Jeremy’s tweets yesterday – whether the state should interfere with behaviour related to girls.)

I don’t remember that happening, but I stand to be corrected. I am not necessarily suggesting any sort of equivalence between the two sets of remarks – from Jo yesterday and from Jeremy in 2013. I merely highlight the potential contrast in ripostes, or lack of them, from colleagues on Twitter.

Photo of Jeremy Browne by Policy Exchange

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist and member of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • In one case you have childrens toy retailers laying out stores into sections for different age groups and sexes, which some adults find wrong and others find helpful. On the other hand you have teenaged girls forced or pressured into wearing veils. I wonder what the LibDems should be getting involved in first? Never though I would agree with Jeremy Browne – I must be drinking too much Christmas Spirit.

  • @Malc – do you mean that MPs should support only one policy at any time? How extremely odd.

  • Malc: since you’re being so even handed regarding the debate on labeling areas in stores, don’t you think it might be sensible to be equally even handed about veil-wearing? Ie. “On the other hand you have teenage girls, some of whom feel forced or pressured into wearing veils, while others find it empowering and an important part of their faith/heritage.”

  • Stephen Donnelly 24th Dec '14 - 3:56pm

    Really, can we not leave off the vilification of Jeremy Brown over the christmas period.

  • So Andy Hinton the only way to stop those who might feel forced from being forced is to outlaw it for all teenaged girlls. I

  • First, my understanding is that the veil is a cultural rather than religious issue. Secondly, there is ample evidence to show that there us stereotyping of girls – and boys – from a very early age and that includes toys, clothing and so on.
    Should the state take action? After all as Lib Dems we say that we want every individual to reach her full potential. If confined and restricted by cultural attitudes then it is right that the state should act to redress the balance. Hence the view that the veil should not be worn in court is correct .
    Objectivisation of girls us a well known phenomenon. Just look at the adult clothing that girls as young as five are encouraged to wear!
    Is this important? Yes. Look at the lack of girls taking Physics at A level and the appalling gap between girls and boys/ men and women in STEM areas to see the importance of tackling gender stereotypes.
    Jeremy Brown is wrong in his assertions. Real freedom comes with the ability to make choices. If cultural mores prevent that happening then they have to be tackled . Same sex marriage comes to mind!

  • All these things are debates that Liberals should have. I see nothing wrong with Jeremy Browne or anyone else entering the fray. There will always be conflicting ideas about definitions of liberalism. We should always have that debate. Jeremy has a huge contribution to make to the liberal debate and I hope he continues to do that long after he’s left parliament

  • Tsar Nicolas 25th Dec '14 - 7:45pm

    Flo Clucas

    If it is bad that fewer girls than boys take physics , then maybe everyone should take physics to A level. That would be the logical outcome of your post.

  • Tsar Nicolas 25th Dec '14 - 11:43pm

    George Potter

    Your assumption is that a 50/50 split is the ideal, but your assumption is not based on anything other than mere prejudice.

    You say that the fact that there isn’t a 50/50 split shows there is something wrong, but it could equally well show that girls are making the right decision for them. To say otherwise is to say that you George Potter, or you, Flo Clucas, know better, that you could make a wiser choice than them which sounds really patronising and condescending.

    I think that you could make a case for what you were arguing but first you would have to demonstrate that either (a) physics is a subject that is of such paramount importance that it requires more girls study it, or (b) you would have to demonstrate that in terms of earnings, physics graduates earn so much more than anyone else that justice requires that girls be allowed to study it in greater numbers to “catch up” with boys. If (a) is true, then as I have said, why stop at 50% – why not go for 100% and make it compulsory? As for (b) a glimpse through the job adverts in the New scientist should convince you that the money isn’t there.

    Like many feminist arguments, what you and Flo Clucas say has a sort of surface plausibility but when you examine the proposition you can see that apart from being based on absurd assumptions, it is in fact rather totalitarian (you know better than tens of thousands of girls who choose not to take A-level physics).

  • Tsar Nicolas accuses other people of being “patronising and condescending” while seeking to justify sex-based inequities on the grounds that “girls” are “making the right decision for them.” This is a rationale which, at any point in history, could have been used, and was used, to justify the exclusion of women from the military, from politics, from higher education. It is being used even now to justify the underrepresentation of women in certain parties — notably the Liberal Democrats. The really patronising thing is to look at these figures and say it’s all about “choice.” Yes, women make choices — often to avoid being sexually harassed and discriminated against by defensive male-dominated hierarchies — but they have no choice to make about which institutions maintain those hierarchies in the first place. Experience has shown that male domination of professions and fields can be broken down, and once the barriers to women’s entry are ended, women are as apt to enter those fields and succeed as anyone. But the barriers have to be eliminated in the first place, and that often takes strong, repeated, and unrelenting affirmative action.

  • Tsar Nicolas 26th Dec '14 - 7:41am


    What are these barriers to entry into “the physics profession? Is there even such a thing as “the physics profession?” All I can see is low pay.

    The majority of law graduates are female. The majority of medical students are now female. I can understand professional privileges and barriers to entry in these fields, but low paid jobs such as those advertised for physics students? Come on ! Come up with some reasons, not an assumption that every gender inequity is down to the patriarchy.

  • Tsar Nicolas 26th Dec '14 - 7:43am


    “Unrelenting affirmative action.”

    You mean prejudice against boys?

  • Meral Hussein-Ece 27th Dec '14 - 8:22pm

    @Paul, I don’t know if any MP responded to Jeremy Browne’s comments, while Home Office Minister about womens right to dress as they wish, but I certainly did. I was asked by Sky News whether I agreed with Jeremy that we ‘needed a debate on wearing the veil’ My response is we talk of little else, and men like Jeremy seem obsessed with what women wear. I was pleased that Nick Clegg responded that we most certainly should not impose bans on womens ( or men’s) clothes. Thank you for pointing out the irony here.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 27th Dec '14 - 9:56pm

    Yes, Meral, I think I might have had a few words to say on the subject too, even though I’m not even a parliamentarian. I have a real problem with men who tell women what to wear, wherever they may be found.

  • Meral Hussein-Ece/Caron Lindsey

    I don’t think posters – men or women – were trying to tell women what they could or couldn’t wear. They were just questioning whether it was right that female children of a certain age feel the compulsion to wear veils. I’m not trying to belittle peoples religious beliefs, but I doubt it would be tolerated on any other grounds.

  • Tony Dawson 28th Dec '14 - 9:32am

    As a low-paid Physics graduate, I am very happy that my daughter has just acquired a first class law degree. Perhaps, if/when I retire, she might be able to keep me in the style to which I have never become accustomed? 😉

  • Max Wilkinson 28th Dec '14 - 10:56am

    I’m confused.

    If we’re concerned about marketing reinforcing cultural pressures for girls to play with dolls houses, shouldn’t we be equally concerned about any cultural pressures on the way somebody is expected to dress?

    If we’re concerned about one but not the other, our position would seem hopelessly inconsistent.

  • Jayne Mansfield 28th Dec '14 - 8:41pm

    I can’t see anything to object to in what jeremy Browne said. Just because the extreme right has taken a stance on the wearing of veils, I don’t see why liberals should respond by suggesting a debate is off-limits.

    I am of the opinion, that young people have the right to make their own ( lawful) choices, to develop their individuality and not be pressured to conform to cultural norms, so yes, like Max Wilkinson, I am confused.

  • Jayne Mansfield 29th Dec '14 - 10:43am

    @ Tony Dawson,
    It depends on which area of law she enters, so don’t build your hopes up!

    The males in my family studied the humanities and are poor as church mice (or physics graduates), but feel happy and fulfilled and wouldn’t have changed their choices had they known what that that entailed financially.

    As far as toys are concerned, I actually believe that choices are limited by parents not toy manufacturers.

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