Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign-secretary and shadow Brexit secretary accused sky news presenter Murnaghan of sexism on Sunday when challenged to name both the French foreign secretary and South Korean Prime Minister repeatedly. Thornberry accused Murnaghan of spending the interview time pub quizzing her rather than discussing the more 'serious' issues at hand such as Syria and North Korea.
By pulling the sexism card without providing an answer, Thornberry ruined her argument in an instance. Whilst there is absolute credibility to the argument that it is sexist to ask a female politician such questions if the same are not being asked to male politicians, she should have played this card as her trump card rather than her core argument. Thornberry as a senior labour politician holding two posts in the shadow cabinet should have snapped back with the answers and then demanded the conversation move to other topics. By refusing to answer she opened Pandora 's Box. Not only coming across as incompetent in her current positions but also incapable of handling the heat that politicians must expect from both journalists and the electorate.
Thornberry is not the only politician male or female, to have been put on the spot by an interviewer or by Murnaghan. In 2011, Murnaghan asked then shadow chancellor Alan Jonhson to quote the current rate of employer's national insurance contributions, something he could not do and is speculated to have resigned over that just ten days later. She is also not the only female politician to have been put on the spot. In January this year former education secretary Nicky Morgan refused to answer what seven times eight was whilst appearing on ITV's Good Morning Britain when announcing a new maths test for 11 year olds. Thornberry had an opportunity to assert herself, question why her integrity was under scrutiny and challenge whether this was due to sexism but she failed miserably.
Sexism, racism and homophobia are all rife within British politics and Thornberry was right to call it out, but ultimately her timing was wrong and it is likely to have damaged her image further and the notion of calling our sexism. Thornberry floundered a very useful argument either because she could not answer the questions posed to her or because she was naïve enough to believe that refusing to answer them would strengthen her position. Neither strategy would have been effective and a senior labour politician who cannot name the French foreign secretary under pressure has to rethink their position, regardless of their gender. If you cannot answer A + B under fire, no one is going to believe you are capable of algebra later down the line. It damages not only your credibility but also the parties.