Mary Ann Sieghart socks it to Quentin Letts for his “witheringly misogynistic” assault on Lynne Featherstone

I try as hard as possible not to link to the Daily Mail — it’s my small and admittedly token gesture not to encourage them. And Quentin Letts is the Mail at its most unpleasantly execrable, slavering to stick his pen-knife into anyone he cares to disdain, especially if they’re female or have a funny accent or some other personal tic to pick on.

Last week, he laid into Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone. It was classic play-the-woman-I’ve-got-no-balls Letts:

Though aged 60 (and counting), she teeters up to the Despatch Box in high heels, grinning girlishly at the Opposition benches before hesitantly lisping a few opening apologies for losing her place or some such calamity. Think of Ulrika Jonsson corpsing during one of her weather forecasts in the Eighties. Quite often Mrs Featherstone giggles, says she did not quite catch the drift of the question or pushes her long fringe out of her smouldering eyes and gives a hapless shrug of her shoulders. She invariably pulls at the bottom of her skimpy designer top, the better to accentuate her slinky torso. Shades of a Wonderbra advert — from the Minister for Women!

Sometimes she manages to read her Whitehall brief without stumbling. When it comes to producing extempore justifications for Government policy, however, her little card house collapses. She is by some distance the Coalition Government’s weakest link. Television quiz show piranha Anne Robinson would make very, very short work of her.

It may, therefore, be regarded as a misfortune for the Government that this gum-brained specimen, this most palpable parliamentary dingbat, is the officer in charge of two hot political controversies (gay marriage and the right of Christians to wear a cross at work), which has put her at loggerheads with the Anglican and Catholic Churches.

In this confrontation, she resembles a nocturnal nudist caught in the headlights of a speeding lorry — part-comical, part agonising, likely to end in a squeal of brakes and nasty bruises.

And so it continues ad nauseum. Especially nauseum.

The Independent’s Mary Ann Sieghart fires a few well-aimed arrows at Quentin Letts in her column today (they’ll be easily deflected by his Mail-stuffed wallet, of course):

In a witheringly misogynistic article about the Liberal Democrat minister Lynne Featherstone last week, Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail wrote: “Though aged 60 (and counting), she teeters up to the despatch box in high heels, grinning girlishly.” Having gratuitously mentioned that she is “of Jewish stock”, he then admitted she looked good for her age, but only because of “whatever seaweed-yoghurty unguent the intensely fashion-conscious Lynne slaps on her pelt of an evening”.

Her appearance has nothing to do with her ability as a minister. Yet, we’re told, at 60, she’s too old for heels and too old to smile. She’s also, according to Letts, an “ageing vamp”. And she’s covered in animal fur. Nice.

There’s a worrying tendency these days for successful women to be derided as either too old or too young, with not much in between. This is reflected in a tricky new career structure which peaks at exactly the age when working mothers are forced to tread water because of their children.

None of these words will change the Daily Mail’s outlook, of course. It knows its audience far better than its target market wants to know itself: it plays on that nasty piece of schadenfreude inside us to which we are all prey but most of us with a little effort can overcome. After all, why bother to improve yourself when it’s much easier to make someone else feel worse instead? And so much more fun when you can join in with lots of others in pointing and laughing at them, too.

Such is the Mail’s philosophy. It’s why it hires cheap hacks like Quentin Letts. It’s why it revels in castigating the flaws in others. And the worst thing is that the Mail is simply holding up a mirror, reflecting and only occasionally distorting what its readers want.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Richard Dean 9th Apr '12 - 2:33pm

    Lynn’s performance is actually very effective – which is probably what riles poor Quentin.

  • Letts himself is like an overgrown prep school boy. I sat next to him during Tim’s wonder-speech in Birmingham, and glared at him during a joke about the Daily Mail. He laughed out loud once only (at an Ed Milliband joke). He wrote “Farron” on his notepad, and nothing else, but still produced a vile report:

    For the record, the ” cavernous hall with scores of walking sticks” was actually packed with young activists, and no I don’t have a “Bobby Charlton hairdo” or “polyester trousers shiny-stained by inadequacy”, and I didn’t see anyone else there who did.

    If you try hard enough, it’s actually not impossible to dislike Quentin Letts.

  • Letts a ‘cheap’ hack?

    I doubt it!

  • Suprised to read that Lynn featherston is 60,hope I age that well.letts is a idiot.

  • Paul Walter Paul Walter 9th Apr '12 - 7:42pm

    There is some irony here. The Mail was purporting to stand up for Christianity on the subject of crosses at work. And yet, alongside their article on that subject they published the most unChristian article from Letts (as described above).

  • David Pollard 9th Apr '12 - 10:22pm

    I presume Letts is a public schoolboy who is frightened of women cause he never met any until he was 17. However, women have to learn to shrug off this sort of stuff and treat it with the contempt it deserves.

  • Spirit of 56 10th Apr '12 - 10:36am

    Letts is best ignored or lightly lampooned. I suspect that David Pollard is right in that he is an ex public school boy who didn’t meet women other than nanny until he was 18 and feels threatened by them. We need more women in parliament and far fewer rich ex public school boys in order to be representative. All the mistakes this Government is making and previous ones made are because our political class is drawn from a very narrow group of Public School educated white males. Why else would we have the “Free schools” policies and the continued attack on ther poor and female employment.

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Apr '12 - 11:04am

    The other irony here is that Lynne Featherstone has not been averse to making offensive comments about other women (e.g. various highly derogatory things she has said about thin women), but her supporters seem to think she should be immune from having insulting comments directed at her.

    That’s not to defend Letts, who is of course odious. I’m just making the general point that he is far from unique in showing a lack of respect for the people he writes about, in fact in the world of politics it’s a virtually universal trait. Though obviously he takes it much further than most.

  • Stuart Mitchell 10th Apr '12 - 4:53pm

    @Andy Hinton

    See the comments, starting at the sixth one down (by Jennifer).

  • Nigel Quinton 11th Apr '12 - 1:42pm

    @Stuart Mitchell

    I think you need to go and read Lynne’s blog again. She is saying there should be no ideal shape for women, stick-insect or super curvy. Just because someone commenting on her blog has misinterpreted her, or taken offence where none was intended does not suddenly make Lynne guilty of “making offensive comments about other women”

  • Malcolm Todd 11th Apr '12 - 2:41pm

    @Nigel Quinton
    If I recall correctly, where Lynne’s blog entry reads “it is great to see a curvy woman rather than an ultra thin one” she had originally written “it is great to see a curvy woman rather than a stick insect” — in response to the various comments she edited the sentence. Which at least shows a willingness to take criticism and act on it.

  • Ruth Bright 11th Apr '12 - 2:42pm

    But Nigel she did say that certain body shapes are “unobtainably thin”. I now revel in the joys of middle-aged spread but in my twenties I was a size 6 and weighed about seven stone (no diets, no starvation – just a mixture of luck and lots of FOCUS delivery!). It is really sad that some think that they can bring about “body confidence” by hinting that anyone who is naturally slender must have some dark bulimic secret because their body shape would otherwise be “unobtainable”.

  • Stuart Mitchell 11th Apr '12 - 6:52pm

    @Nigel Quinton

    The point is that “curvy” is generally used as a complement, whereas “stick insect” is an insult. That’s why a number of women – some thin, some not thin – took Lynne to task on her blog. My inamorata is a size 6/8 and she would definitely *not* be flattered if somebody likened her to a stick insect.

    As Malcolm points out, Lynne did edit the piece when this was pointed out to her, and I do give her credit for that. However I still dislike the article in its edited form. because it is still (arguably – it could just be clumsily written) suggesting that one body type is more attractive than another, and that seems to me an odd thing for the Minister for Women and figurehead of the Body Confidence campaign to be doing.

    @Ruth – I share your concern. I have long felt uneasy with some of the language used by the “body confidence” movement, as there is definitely an element in there of seeking to make one body type feel better by having a go at another. It doesn’t have to be like that. Caryn Franklin’s “All Walks Beyond the Catwalk” initiative gets it spot on; they don’t pick on certain body types, and they make it clear that when they talk about “real women” they just mean ALL women. I’m sure Lynne F means well, but I much prefer the way Frankin communicates her message.

  • But regrettably, Quentin Letts is a far better and more amusing writer than you, Miss Sieghart. Sour grapes?

  • Malcolm Todd 11th Apr '12 - 10:26pm

    Ah, the old “humourless feminazi can’t take a joke” defence. I knew there was something missing from this thread!

  • Your words, not mine!

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