Meet Princess Liz: Sexism row misses the point of the Mail’s Liz Kendall interview

We all know the paper is sexist. More salient is the Mail's portrayal of Liz Kendall

 

At first glance, the significance of the Mail on Sunday’s interview with Labour’s Liz Kendall appears to be two things:

1. The sexism of the newspaper’s approach to female politicians (and women generally).

2. The moxy displayed by Kendall in telling the reporter to ‘fuck off’ when asked about her weight.

What is being missed is the political context of these elements of the interview. 

For example, many write-ups have noted how the Mail referred to Kendall’s ‘elegant hand’, into which the figurative torch of Blairism was supposedly passed.

People have correctly questioned rhetorically whether the elegance of any male politician has been remarked upon by a national newspaper.

But a more salient (and non-rhetorical question) would be: why is the Mail calling a Labour politician elegant in the first place?

Elegant is, after all, a compliment.

The question about Kendall’s weight itself, and her four-letter response, which has been the main focus of the write-ups, appears in the following context:

“She is wearing emerald green suede high heels from L.K. Bennett. […] Her jacket, navy blue ‘vest’ and trousers are from Reiss.

L.K. Bennett and Reiss are two of the Duchess of Cambridge’s favourite fashion brands – and slinky brunette Liz, or Elizabeth Louise, to give her full Royal-sounding Christian names, looks as good in them as slinky brunette Kate.

In fact she looks the same weight as the Duchess – about 8st – though when I ask she slaps me down with a raucous ‘fuck off!’, adding quickly: ‘Don’t print that.’”

Again, one needs to look past the sexism to see what is happening.

The Mail is explicitly likening ‘slinky brunette’ Kendall to its beloved ‘slinky brunette’ Princess, Kate Middleton, and even highlights Kendall’s ‘Royal-sounding Christian names’.

In the Mail’s universe, no higher compliment could be paid.

So why is the Mail on Sunday praising so highly a Labour politician? 

The answer is not hard to find. The piece begins with Kendall trashing ‘ridiculous lefty’ Jeremy Corbyn and denying him a place in her prospective cabinet.

It goes on to provide an amazingly flattering profile of its subject, noting that:

No-nonsense Kendall, born in Abbots Langley, near Watford, comes from precisely the kind of aspirational Middle England family successfully wooed by Tony Blair and foolishly spurned by Red Ed.”

The piece goes on to summarise Kendall’s policies:

“She backs a role for the private sector in health, says Labour must focus on ‘creating wealth as well as spending it’, wants more money for the armed forces, backs welfare cuts, and has defended free schools.”

Sounds like a programme the Mail can get behind, does it not?

Essentially, this interview is the Mail on Sunday nailing its colours to the mast. For national newspapers which use their power to influence general elections and government policy, it is only natural that they should look to do the same in the Labour party leadership election.

Thus, despite the shabby sexism of its form, the content of the piece provides Liz Kendall with less to complain about than today’s press coverage would suggest.

The Labour leadership hopeful has just been crowned Princess Liz by the second most-read newspaper in the country.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

Read more: 

Daily Mail condemns unions for ‘Nazi’ jibe, then says reforms are ‘a battle for Britain’

Daily Mail swallows Osborne’s myth about women ‘winning’ in his budget

Sign up for our weekly email by clicking here.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.