Simon Danczuk MP is rightly getting it in the neck from the public and his party over the revelation that he engaged in sexually explicit texting with a 17 year old girl who approached him to ask him for a job in his constituency office. He has apologised; it has been established that he has not broken the law; he has not met the young woman in person; he is being investigated by his party for his conduct.
However, I’m very concerned about the use of language he has deployed in his apology tweet, to wit:
“My behaviour was inappropriate & I apologise unreservedly to everyone I’ve let down. I was stupid & there’s no fool like an old fool”
It’s the phrase ‘there’s no fool like an old fool’ that really got my goat. (Step – away – from the goat.) It implies that he is an old fellow who has been taken in by the wiles of a pretty young temptress who has made a conscious attempt to cozen him. The last use of it in the public arena of politics was by Vince Cable, who let all sorts of stupid things come out of his mouth when confronted with a good-looking young journalist who was indeed specifically aiming to catch him out. In that case, it was justified. However, in this instance, it’s quite wrong.
Sophena Houlihan was allegedly told by Danczuk that he was “horny” and asked her if she wanted “spanking”. Leaving aside the utter and colossal stupidity of an anti-child-abuse campaigner communicating like this with a young unknown female, texting this kind of thing to ANY unknown female of ANY age is absolutely blithering. But there is a further issue, connected with power and privilege.
The following is quoted from today’s Guardian article:
‘Houlihan told the Sun: “When I first got in touch I never expected the messages to get so graphic. At the time I played along with it, but now I feel like he duped me. I was keen for a career in politics and he is a very high-profile MP and I was in awe of him.”‘ [my emphasis]
In other words, Houlihan was no sultry temptress, no deceiving journalist using her female charms to seduce a suggestible old letch for her own purposes. She was a potential employee seeking a chance to get on in life, who was awed by Danczuk’s status and unable to deal with his overtures. Some people might castigate her for ‘playing along with it’ – but I certainly won’t condemn her, not least because I remember similar things happening to me when I was a young thing, and simply having no idea how to handle it. When a person of great social and professional standing treats you like this, your first response is that this must be normal, and you should follow their lead. After a certain point, it is incredibly hard to draw back.
People in positions of power and influence need to know that young people generally, but particularly young women, are susceptible and vulnerable because they are immature, and because they do not have the experience or the sheer social technique to counter this kind of approach. This knowledge needs not only to be learnt, but to be consciously put into practice, but people on both sides of this unequal divide.
In short, the use of the phrase ‘there’s no fool like an old fool’ is an excuse that Danczuk does not have, and he is not entitled to hide behind it.