Megan Markle, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, Sarah Everard. Between them they’ve dominated the headlines, symbols of three different but not unrelated forms of oppression of one half of the world’s population by the other. As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, Boris Johnson’s so-called woman problem is also looming large.
‘Bozo Gets The Clap.’ The never knowingly understated Daily Star’s headline marking the ironic slow-mo applause for his one per cent pay offer to nurses.
Most of whom happen to be female.
Cue the latest in an interminable line of U-turns by the Prime Minister, who dropped a profoundly unsubtle hint in the commons on Wednesday.
‘Of course, we will look at what the independent pay review body has to say, exceptionally, about the nursing profession, whom we particularly value.’
Doubtless this will go a long way to spiking the guns of an opposition gearing up to weaponize the issue.
But the damage to the Tory brand is already done. As one senior MP put it: ‘The public just hear one per cent and think how mean we are.
‘This is a needless wrist-slashing moment when, handled better, it could have been very different.’
Or, put another way, durrr.
Johnson also goofed horribly in 2017, suggesting British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists when she was arrested on trumped up spying charges.
It made it easier for the Tehran authorities to use her as a pawn in their dispute with Britain over a four-hundred million pound debt, outstanding since the Shah was deposed back in 1979.
He’d paid upfront for a huge consignment of Chieftain tanks and armoured vehicles, which we failed to deliver after the revolution.
Britain admits we owe the Iranians money, but are still arguing about exactly how much.
Meantime, Nazanin has been subjected to what’s officially classified as torture while in jail.
At the time of writing the Tehran authorities were still trying to find ways of prolonging the misery meted out to her and her loved ones.
And the misery experienced by the family of Sarah Everard, the young woman who lost her life while walking home in south-west London is unimaginable.
Exacerbated by news that the man arrested for the alleged murder is a police officer from one of the Met’s most prestigious units.
Not only that, PC Wayne Couzens, of the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, is also accused of exposing himself at a restaurant three days before Ms Everard’s disappearance.
Did that not ring his colleagues’ alarm bells? The Independent Office for Police Conduct is trying to find out.
But Sarah Everard is just the latest in a long and dispiriting list of female victims.
In the commons last week Jess Phillips, Labour’s spokesperson on domestic violence, read out the names of a hundred-and-eighteen women killed by men last year.
Just so no one could be in any doubt, she said, of: ‘The scale of male violence against women.’
And it seems even the royal family isn’t above what one might loosely term unkindness to the gentler gender. Notably Meghan Markle.
That’s if we’re prepared to disagree with Piers Morgan, late of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, who told viewers he didn’t believe a word she said.
Fleet Street was divided on his take, though once again we had the Daily Star to set us all straight.
Piers Off! Its headline gently murmured.
But on the Duchess’s complaints, that the royals might be racist and are rubbish about mental health, it’s hard to know which is worse.
Though it’s worth considering the scantness of the evidence about the former.
During her explosive TV interview, Ms Markle spoke of conversations with an unnamed royal about her baby’s prospects.
Oprah Winfrey asked her to speculate that the subject was raised because of concerns: ‘That if he were too brown that would be a problem.’
And the reply? ‘I wasn’t able to follow up with why, but I think that feels like a pretty safe [assumption] . . .’
It could be the unnamed person did indeed take issue with the idea of Ms Markle’s ancestors being victims of a crime against humanity.
After all, the only reason for the existence of large numbers of African Americans is the slave trade.
But it’s also possible that same person was hoping the child would be darker, to demonstrate the royal family’s serious about diversity.
The Queen does after all make much of the familial ties that bind the commonwealth.
Prince William insists the Windsors aren’t racist. Or, as her Madge put it in her characteristically tactful way: ‘Recollections may vary.’
Devotees of the Netflix series The Crown can almost hear the divine Olivia Colman uttering that line.
Prefaced, of course, with the word ‘air’. Which, we now learn, is how our sovereign says ‘oh’.
Spare a thought for the mental health of Royal Correspondents. Having to fill hours of air time with a one-line press release. Not easy.
But regarding the mental wellbeing or otherwise of their own, the royal family does have form.
A close relative spent his last four years hidden away because he was epileptic. Had he lived to adulthood he’d have been the Queen’s uncle.
And her cousins Nerissa and Katherine were shut away in the Royal Earlswood Asylum for Mental Defectives, because of learning difficulties.
On top of that, on the basis of royal misinformation, they were airbrushed out of existence by Burke’s peerage decades before they actually died.
The Windsors can close ranks decisively and cruelly, if they choose.
When the Queen and Princess Margaret’s devoted nannie Crawfie took up their mother’s idea of writing about them she paid a terrible price.
Her discreetly adoring memoir, The Little Princesses, so enraged the royals they wouldn’t let her near the children she’d brought up.
She went so far as to buy a house on the route they always took for their trips to Balmoral. But they never stopped.
In one of her two suicide attempts she left a note that read: ‘I cannot bear those I love to pass me by on the road.’
As for what the British public makes of the current spat, it seems very much an age thing.
A Sky/YouGov poll showed almost half of late teen to twenty-somethings back Megs and Harry, while that fell back to one in ten among retirees.
The monarchy unquestionably acts as a constitutional buttress against absolute power by any Prime Minister.
Probably a far more powerful argument in its favour than the tourism it generates, or anything else.
Yet one of the more telling aspects of the Winfrey interview is Prince Harry’s assertion that his brother and his father are ‘trapped’
Because, he said, the entire family’s scared of the British tabloid press and its ‘invisible contract’, which the monarchy depends on to survive.
If true, rather a depressing thought. That if the Daily Star says ‘Orff With Their Heads!’ they’ll end up on pikes lining London Bridge.
Then again they could always follow the example of the sacoglossan sea slug.
Researchers have discovered these wonderful creatures can cut orff their own heads then just stay cool for a month or so.
After that, hey presto, they find they’ve grown a new body, complete with heart and internal organs.
Heads you win, tails you still win? Maybe yet Prince Charles will rewrite the words of a well-known song.
God save our gracious Slug! Long live our noble Slug! God save the Slug!
Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.
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