Public Affairs

‘Oh God, he did exactly the same to me’

The ICTU’s John O’Farrell argues that personality is defining politics more so than the traditional pillars of ideology or economics.

The election will be long over by the time this column is read, but it will be instructive to see the gender breakdown among voters for the party leaders. During the 2016 referendum, for which the 2019 General Election is presented as a sequel, while there was a slight overall majority of women voting ‘remain’, in contrast to the overall male preference to ‘leave’: “The biggest gender differences were among the AB social class and among those aged 35 to 54, among both of whom women were 11 points more likely to vote to remain than men,” according to IPSOS.

In summary, class, education and age trumped gender then. One year later, the pattern repeated itself with the overall male vote being slightly to the right and the overall female vote being slightly to the left.

Membership and activism are different matters. Labour’s membership comprises 47 per cent women, but its huge size means that there are more women members in that party (259,000 in 2018) than the total membership of the Tories and Lib Dems combined. The stark difference is on the right. The blokes make up 71 per cent of Conservative members and 75 per cent of UKIP – most of whom have regenerated in Farage’s Private Company, ‘The Brexit Party Ltd’.

But we are not in normal times anymore, and the issue of ‘personality’ is no longer limited to those ‘humanising’ hobbies and pastimes designed to make workaholic technocratic party managers seem ‘just like us’.

Personality matters because we are in an era when politics is defined less by ideology or even economics, but what a wise and exiled German thinker, Theodor Adorno, described as ‘The Authoritarian Personality’: “The personality type Adorno and his co-authors identified can be defined by traits that were believed to cluster together as the result of childhood experiences. These traits include conventionalism, authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, anti-intellectualism, superstition, power and ‘toughness’, destructiveness and cynicism, projectivity, and exaggerated concerns over sex.”

Adorno was writing in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, and his book has a very dated reliance on Freudianism, but as an analysis of power it remains both bleak and compelling, not least given the hyper-macho pronouncements and memes of our global brotherhood of populists. From Putin’s shirtless beefcake vacation snaps to the vulgarity of Trump’s open misogyny and that downright weird photoshop of his head on the 40-years-past torso of Rocky Balboa, to the general populist whining about ‘political correctness’ (ie ‘good manners’), there is a widespread loathing of equality for women, almost as much as the general disparagement of Muslims and universities.

Which is why it will be interesting to see what difference the theories and practices of Alexander ‘Boris’ Johnson will make to the gender vote. In a recent poll, “47 per cent of female voters in Britain think Johnson is ‘dislikeable’, up seven points since the end of August (and five points higher than among men). More than half (51 per cent) of women said Johnson was incompetent – up nine points since August – and just 19 per cent of women believed him to be honest, compared to a quarter of men. Women were also much less likely than men to think Johnson was the best person to lead the country: just 35 per cent of female voters considered him their top choice for Prime Minister, compared to 44 per cent of men.”

And that was before ‘The Sunday Times’ published a column by Charlotte Edwardes in which the journalist accused Johnson of groping her thigh at a private lunch in 1999:

“The personality type Adorno and his co-authors identified can be defined by traits that were believed to cluster together as the result of childhood experiences.”

Theodor Adorno

“I’m seated on Johnson’s right; on his left is a young woman I know… Under the table I feel Johnson’s hand on my thigh,” Edwardes wrote. “He gives it a squeeze. His hand is high up my leg and he has enough inner flesh beneath his fingers to make me sit suddenly upright.” She said she confided in the other woman after the lunch, who replied: “Oh God, he did exactly the same to me.”

Last month, the ICTU published the findings of an extensive survey in both jurisdictions with experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the workplace. Of the Northern Ireland respondents, three out of four (75 per cent) did not report the sexual harassment to their employer. Of those who did report, 62 per cent felt that it was not dealt with satisfactorily and in some instances reported that they had been treated less favourably as a result of reporting sexual harassment. More than a third experienced unwanted touching, such as a hand on the knee or lower back.

Johnson and his apologists, from compliant cabinet ministers to his wretched battalion of Twitter trolls, try and minimise this long pattern of sleazy behaviour as ‘just Boris being Boris’, or seek some hostile ‘motivation’ from his accusers and victimise them further. The point is that this pattern was established long ago, and his harassment should have been curtailed rather than rewarded for reasons which remain unfathomably creepy. So, if you are responsible for any workplace, if you see it happening, stop it.

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