The shadow foreign secretary has accused a TV presenter of sexism after he repeatedly quizzed her on the names of foreign politicians.
Emily Thornberry was appearing on Sky News’ Murnaghan show on Sunday morning to discuss plans to visit France and Germany for post-Brexit talks. The show’s presenter, Dermot Murnaghan, challenged her to name the French foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault.
“Don’t start pub-quizzing me, Dermot,” responded Thornberry.
It was the beginning of a heated exchange in which Murnaghan also asked Thornberry to give the name and gender of Park Geun-hye, the president of South Korea, and Thornberry alleged that Murnaghan routinely asks her “pub quiz” questions when she appears on his show – a habit he apparently does not perform with her male political counterparts.
“Do you know what, what really upsets me about your attitude to me is that you do this with me. I don’t remember you doing it to anybody else, you know,” she said.
“Have you done it to [Brexit secretary] David Davis? Do Sky journalists have a go at [foreign secretary] Boris Johnson on this basis? How about [international trade secretary] Liam Fox? Do you do pub quizzes with them?”
Later in the show, when Murnaghan asked her about allegations of antisemitism and sexism in the Labour party, Thornberry responded: “There is always more to be done… there is certainly a lot more to be done by the Tories, and I certainly think sometimes, when it comes to sexism, some Sky presenters need to look at themselves, too.
“I really do. It really upsets me that every time I come on here you do another pub quiz with me because you do not do it with anyone else and I do think that is patronising.”
Murnaghan insisted that he had asked male politicians similar questions in the past, citing a 2011 interview where he asked the then shadow chancellor Alan Johnson to give the current rate of employers’ national insurance contributions. Johnson was unable to answer and resigned 10 days later for “personal reasons”.
Murnaghan went on to say that he has asked Thornberry such questions because she is the shadow foreign secretary and the shadow minister in charge of Brexit. At this point, a clearly angry Thornberry asked for their conversation to be taken off the air.
The shadow foreign secretary later told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour that she had “a bit of history” with Murnaghan.
“When I was first made shadow defence [secretary] I remember getting loads of questions about ‘what do you know about defence? You know nothing about defence’… It was as if I was needing to get permission to be heard.”
Thornberry added: “I'm sure I should know the names of the foreign secretaries of all 192 countries but I don't.”
Opinion was split on Twitter as to whether the shadow foreign secretary had been fair in accusing Murnaghan of sexism.
Isabel Hardman, assistant editor of conservative magazine The Spectator – who sparked a minor political controversy in April after revealing she’d reported a male MP who called her “totty” – tweeted: “Hum. Never realised I could just use ‘sexism’ as a cover-all excuse for not doing my homework.”
Seriously, though, sexism is still so rife and serious. This kind of thing trivialises it and makes it harder to fight.— Isabel Hardman (@IsabelHardman) September 11, 2016
Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, tweeted that Thornberry was “debasing” the term.
Plenty of genuine sexism & misogyny in politics. Don't need prominent women debasing the term to cover their own poor performance. Jeez.— Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonMSP) September 11, 2016
However, Labour MP Paul Flynn defended Thornberry, tweeting that “Murnaghan’s cheap smart-aleck pub-quiz question” were distracting from the important issues that Thornberry had been there to discuss – including the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British woman recently jailed in Iran on "secret charges".
Murnaghan repeats cheap trick to grab a headline for himself and his failing show by diverting attention from issue of mega-importance.— Paul Flynn (@PaulFlynnMP) September 11, 2016
Emily Thornberry's bid to highlight nightmare of woman jailed in Iran is eclipsed by Murnaghan's cheap stunt to steal headlines from Marr.— Paul Flynn (@PaulFlynnMP) September 11, 2016
Image: Rex Features