The Labour MP Clive Lewis has apologised for using a misogynist phrase at a Labour party conference fringe event last month after being criticised by several prominent female colleagues.
Video from the Momentum event in Brighton surfaced on Friday in which Lewis, the MP for Norwich, told the actor Sam Swann to “get on your knees bitch”. The language attracted widespread condemnation from politicians on all sides. But Swann later described the situation as “jovial”.
Harriet Harman wrote: “Inexplicable. Inexcusable. Dismayed,” while Stella Creasy said: “It’s not OK. Even if it’s meant as a joke, reinforces menace that men have the physical power to force compliance.”
Jess Phillips suggested bringing teenage girls to work in order to teach male colleagues about gender inequality.
On Friday afternoon, Lewis tweeted: “I apologise unreservedly for the language I used at an event in Brighton last month. It was offensive and unacceptable.”
A Labour spokesperson said the party “condemns the language used by Clive Lewis. It was completely unacceptable and falls far short of the standard expected of Labour MPs.”
Swann later told the Guardian: “It is clearly jovial and nothing vicious. He later told me to fuck off after he downed his can of Red Stripe and I offered him mine to down too and that was also clearly a joke.
“The whole event was so brilliant for seeing MPs letting their hair down and fucking around with people who support them. I think Clive Lewis is an absolute legend.”
Other panelists at the event, hosted by Novara media during the final night of The World Transformed, the Momentum-backed fringe festival, said the video was taken out of context.
Aaron Bastani, the co-founder of Novara, posted a full video of the moment, and said: “Of course I don’t think a parliamentarian should use the B-word. But my God, you really understand why public thinks political class has lost it.”
The Guardian columnist Dawn Foster tweeted: “For context, I’m stood next to Clive in this video – he said it to a male audience member in jest, not me.”
Novara’s Ash Sarkar, who was compering the event, said: “I asked the audience for a volunteer to keep score in a gameshow section we were doing. The guy who came up is well-known to us, he’s doing a podcast with us. I gave him the notebook to keep score, and asked him to kneel down so the audience and cameras could see the stage. He made a little face, and then Clive jokingly said ‘on your knees, bitch’, to him.
“The joke was delivered in a spirit of campy humour. It certainly wasn’t this kind of macho expression of sexual domination. It got forgotten as the gameshow went on.”
Sarkar said there was “a rich tradition of leftist, subversive counter-culture, which often has relied on treading lines between the politically correct, the puerile, the extravagant, flamboyant energy that comes with causing a bit of a stir, while also at the same time being inclusive, loving and affectionate”.
Lewis’s comment, she added, “was an expression of a boozy, raucous, party celebration, which was something which at the time made people feel quite close to the people who were on stage, that they weren’t these distant political or commentariat-type figures.
“It was part of an endearing, informal vibe. Had it been used in a way that had made either our audience members, or the volunteer in question, or anyone else on the stage uncomfortable, then I’d be like yeah, let’s have a conversation about its appropriateness. But we can’t mistake puritanism for meaningful action on oppression.
“There’s a certain irony in Guido Fawkes pushing this, when they’ve been one of the chief orchestrators of harassment against Diane Abbott, the most prominent black female politician in the UK.”
The row comes after the Labour party launched an investigation into sexual harassment and assault, asking female activists and members to anonymously share their experiences with men in the party who had acted inappropriately or illegally.
The website of the Labour Too campaign states: “We know that despite everything the Labour party stands for, women are not believed, told they are lying, or in some cases their potential careers within the party are threatened.
“Your stories will be used to convince those who run our party to take these issues more seriously and create a consensus to change policy and cultural norms within our organisation.”
This article was written by Nadia Khomami, for theguardian.com on Friday 20th October 2017 15.35 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010