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It’s crazy for UK ministers to deny Tony Abbott’s homophobia and misogyny if they want him to take on key trade role

Chris Sweeney
Chris Sweeney

Chris Sweeney is an author and columnist who has written for newspapers such as The Times, Daily Express, The Sun and Daily Record, along with several international-selling magazines. Follow him on Twitter @Writes_Sweeney

Chris Sweeney is an author and columnist who has written for newspapers such as The Times, Daily Express, The Sun and Daily Record, along with several international-selling magazines. Follow him on Twitter @Writes_Sweeney

It’s crazy for UK ministers to deny Tony Abbott’s homophobia and misogyny if they want him to take on key trade role
The controversial former leader of Australia is being lined up to take on a trade role representing Britain. He has a history of making offensive comments, so why is the UK government pretending otherwise?

Rarely do firebrand politicians leave their own nation and pop up in a significant role in another. Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is bucking that trend, as he’s set to be appointed a senior figure in the UK’s board of trade.

Abbott is actually British by birth, born in London before heading to Sydney as a child, via the Assisted Passage Migration Scheme. He was back later in life as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University before returning to Australia to become a priest.

That was interrupted by his desire to run for Parliament, but to do so, he had to renounce his British citizenship – and did so in 1993. Until last year, he was the MP for Warringah, so he is undeniably an experienced pair of hands.

The pinnacle of his career was as leader of Australia’s centre-right Liberal Party, when he had a two-year spell as PM. But to make a comparison with the country’s famous export Marmite, Abbott is either loved or hated.

To followers, he’s passionate and strong-willed. To others he’s a narrow-minded hate monger; one Australian was jailed for head-butting him after spotting Abbott walking on the street.

Abbott is often derided as being a misogynist and a homophobe, and the claims are hard to deny. Previous comments regarding women attributed to Abbott include, “What the housewives of Australia need to understand as they do the ironing is that if they get it done commercially, it’s going to go up in price” and a pitch to vote for him, “because I’m the guy with the not bad looking daughters.”

He also admitted that homosexuality made him “probably feel a bit threatened… as most people do” and voiced the backwards claim “there is no doubt that [homosexuality] challenges, if you like, orthodox notions of the right order of things.”

Another of his gaffes included him offending the Irish diaspora by comparing supporters of his political rivals as “a bit like the Irishman who lost 10 pounds betting on the Grand National and then lost 20 pounds on the action replay.”

He even managed to shock parents by revealing that he told his daughters that their virginity was “the greatest gift you can give someone.”

Other cornerstones of his career have been mitigating the effects of climate change, opposing same sex marriage and trying to prevent abortion. All that aside, he clearly has charisma; he introduced a $430 million project to assist mental health sufferers find jobs and managed to sign high-profile trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea.

Abbott says of himself: “Inevitably if you have convictions, you’ll draw criticism but if you want to get things done, you need people with convictions.”

That's precisely the dilemma Britain’s political voices are debating. The meek Health Secretary Matt Hancock was skewered live on Sky News; when asked about Abbott’s personal beliefs, he mumbled along, avoiding the issue before stating: “He is also an expert on trade.”

Trade Minister Greg Hands echoed that, saying, “I welcome the fact that a former prime minister of Australia is willing to help this country out.” But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer countered: “I have real concerns about Tony Abbott, I don't think he’s the right person for the job. If I was prime minister, I wouldn’t appoint him.”

And Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon barrelled in calling him “a misogynist, he’s a sexist, he’s a climate change denier. Trade, in many respects, should reflect our values – there should be ethics attached to any country’s trading profile.”

Even members of Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party are against it. MP Caroline Nokes blasted: “He’s a misogynist, he has very poor views on LGBTQ rights and I just don’t think this is a man who should be anywhere near our Board of Trade.”

This is the jam. Could Britain be losing a sharp operator because of his personal views?

After all, Abbott is the man who ate an onion (skin and all) on TV which led to such a boom in sales that Onions Australia admitted its phones were ringing off the hook.

Also, he is not standing for election; he will be employed as a hired hand. Many senior staff across the civil service, large corporations and government departments hold questionable views.

There is no dubiety about Abbott’s thoughts. He’s made them clear. So why is the government dancing around the issue? Ministers should be upfront and respond that they are aware Abbott has expressed homophobic and misogynistic views. But that they are willing to put them aside and hire him for his experience and ability.

The idea of airbrushing them away makes Downing Street look like some kind of Tinpot Republic. Copies of speeches and clips of him saying offensive things are readily available.

Hate speech or discrimination should not be tolerated in any environment. But the genie is out of the bottle here. If it wants to employ Abbott, the British government needs to grow up, stand behind who he is and embrace him, warts and all.

Don’t insult everyone else by trying to pretend you don’t know what or who he is. He may well help deliver outstandingly favourable trade deals for Britain around the globe, and if he does, he’ll do that as a homophobe and a misogynist. Why can’t they just admit it?

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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