If you’re anything like me, Have I Got News For You is a staple of your TV diet. For over 17 years it has been providing the right level of political commentary and social satire, representing the UK’s own-brand of wit-drenched comedy.
Having consistently given platforms to people from all genders, ethnic backgrounds and political persuasions, it’s very much of the non-partisan bastion of BBC entertainment. Though it hasn’t been without its own controversies throughout the years, with previous host Angus Deayton embroiled in several scandals, and one of the show’s staples, Paul Merton, claiming that Deayton made his life a nightmare.
And now, an all-male panel has once more courted controversy.
In the current climate, sexual harassment has been at the forefront of most minds, and the subject of many considered (and unconsidered) conversations.
On last Friday’s show the panel, which included Ian Hislop, Merton, comedian Miles Jupp and journalist Quentin Letts appeared to downplay claims of sexual harassment that have emerged from Westminster in the last week.
Responding to a news story that a Conservative MP had taken his personal trainer to the cinema, Mr. Hislop stated, “Some of this is not high-level crime, is it, compared to Putin or Trump.”
Much to the chagrin of audience members, viewers and, importantly, the show’s host Jo Brand, who rebuked the claims by affirmatively stating, “If I can just say – as the only representative of the female gender here today – I know it’s not high-level, but it doesn’t have to be high-level for women to feel under siege in somewhere like the House of Commons.
“Actually, women, if you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up and that wears you down.”
Comically adding “Sorry, I thought I was on Question Time for a minute.”
A statement that stunned the panel and received rapturous applause from the live studio audience.
Somewhat flummoxed by Brand’s words, Hislop replied, “No, and as you point out, with four blokes sitting around you, we’re hardly in a position to say, ‘That’s rubbish’.”
Brand’s stern address was also echoed at another point in the show when Quentin Letts called columnist and broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer a “big strong girl”. To which the host replied, “She’s a woman, Quentin, she’s not a girl.”
The response from the Twittersphere was resoundingly in favour of Brand, with comments of support and admiration flooding in.
Sophie Walker, leader of the UK Women’s Equality Party tweeted, “Tonight’s #HIGNFY presents one woman explaining sexual harassment to four white men who still think it’s bantz. Thank you @iamjobrand”. Meanwhile the outspoken Times columnist Caitlin Moran said, “YES YES YES YES. Enjoy: faces of men learning something.”
This comes on the back of revelations from within the Tory party that a wide range of allegations of sexual harassment by MPs have been swept under the rug. MP Charlie Elphicke has already been suspended after, “serious allegations had been referred to the police”. And Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has resigned after other allegations set against him.
Though it’s not just the Tories. Labour are launching their own investigation into MP Clive Lewis after an alleged “groping” incident at a party conference in September. Additionally, MP Kelvin Hopkins has been suspended after allegations of sexual misconduct were fired at him.
Thankfully both the Labour and Conservative parties have announced new policies to deal with sexaul harassment in all its forms. And whilst this is a positive to take away from the terrible news, I can’t help by repeat the phrase, Why now? What were you doing for all these years?
These revelations, and the flagrant way in which harassment is still being discussed on national television, are yet more examples of the pernicious and unspoken harassment and derogation that women face even at the pinnacles of such high visibility sectors as media and politics.
It will not stand. Not anymore.