I first came across Anna Soubry MP on an edition of BBC Question Time four or five years ago. Until this auspicious moment I confess I had never heard of the Conservative Member of Parliament for Broxtowe, a condition that would be more than remedied in the ensuing years as the former newsreader became a permanent fixture on our television screens.
Her performance that evening stuck in the mind, but not I hasten to add for the right reasons. Such was the overbearing arrogance on display I made a mental note: whatever Anna Soubry MP believes, whatever she espouses, however she behaves, be sure to do the precise opposite. Seldom had I witnessed condescension on the scale it was being displayed on the BBC panel show.
There was something quite chilling about this woman, the disdainful manner in which she expressed her always trenchant opinions left no doubt: Anna Soubry is right, everybody else is therefore by definition wrong. Indeed, she conducted herself throughout the programme with a level of pomposity that seemed absurd, but the true extent of her disdain only emerged when she locked horns with fellow panellist, the historian David Starkey.
A question posed which referred to a recent case where a (female) pupil had ‘groomed’ a (male) teacher had Soubry bristling with indignation as the historian gave his thoughts on the matter. Was a sixteen year old girl capable of seducing an older man? Mr Starkey thought so. Soubry however vehemently disagreed, and proceeded to roll her eyes, tut, sigh and generally do whatever she could to sabotage Starkey’s meditations.
Her fellow panellist daring to have a different opinion, Soubry lurched from annoyance to petulance. The MP would simply not brook any form of dissent. It was an astonishing example of intolerance.
When the case in question had come to court Mrs Justice Greenberg, the presiding judge, had heard the full facts of the case and had ruled accordingly. The sixteen-year old pupil had been described by friends as ‘intelligent and manipulative.’ Moreover, the judge had also heard testimony that the student had ‘stalked’ the man in question, a forty-four year old Religious Studies teacher. A sexual relationship had thereafter developed.
The point to note is that Mrs Justice Greenberg had heard witness and expert testimony pertaining to the case. Anna Soubry had not. Nonetheless, with an evangelical gleam in her eye the MP for Broxtowe declared unequivocally that no, a sixteen year old girl could not possibly seduce an older man. It was simply impossible. Thus, the guilty party in Soubry’s opinion must have been the male party, and only he. End of story.
But David Starkey did not see things this way; nor in fact had the judge. Justice Greenberg had also noted that the teacher had ‘in no way encouraged the pupil.’ As difficult as it appeared for some to accept, the court ruled that the teenager had not only been a willing partner, but had clearly played a major role in initiating the liaison.
While Starkey attempted to articulate the point that sexually precocious teenage girls are more than capable of seducing older men, Anna Soubry huffed and puffed. Starkey was wrong. The judge had also been wrong. The witnesses must also have been wrong, the experts too. Thanks to the MP’s sustained histrionics the historian eventually gave up. There was no reasoning with this woman. Starkey sought refuge in a glass of water.
It had been a remarkable encounter. Soubry had prevailed not through dint of superior argument or evidence, but through what is often termed passive aggressive bullying. She had played to the crowd. The MP had simply railroaded her opponent into submission. Facts had not mattered. Miss Soubry’s instinct had proved more than adequate, her display of moral outrage ensuring that Starkey dared not raise his head above the parapet again on this particular topic.
That fixed eye, strident voice and authoritative mannerism has since been deployed in the Brexit affair to equally good effect. When Anna Soubry resurfaced as a cheerleader for the Remain side of the debate, recalling her strident appearance on the Question Time panel that night, the triumph of emotion over reason, I instantly became not just a Leave supporter but a hardcore Eurosceptic to boot.
Why? Simply because I know Anna Soubry is always wrong. Don’t ask me why, I just know it.
© David Sedgwick 2019
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