The honour system has long irked me – I remember having a blazing argument with a friend of mine, a former communist and quite pure when it comes to her politics, when she accepted an OBE, which I dubbed “Other Buggers’ Efforts”. I remember laughing with my late father-in-law, who was made a CBE in the 1970s for getting Britain into Europe. But today I am just angry. Geoffrey Boycott, who punched his girlfriend 20 times, leaving her black and blue, in France in 1996, has just been awarded a knighthood by our former Prime Minister, Theresa May. May had always claimed that tackling the epidemic of domestic violence in the UK was very close to her heart, and many of us believed her. But giving a man a knighthood who was convicted of beating up a woman, and who has never once apologised for it or shown any remorse, is outrageous.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Boycott was asked by Martha Kearney about his domestic violence conviction, to which he replied: “I don’t give a toss.” The biggest domestic abuse charity in the country, Women’s Aid, had released a statement, criticising Theresa May for knighting boycott, but his response was: “It was 25 years ago, love, in a French court. She tried to blackmail me for £1m.”
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There are photographs of his victim’s injuries but Boycott claims that he was totally innocent, and that the complainant was only after his money. This is nothing unusual, but what is unusual is that a Prime Minister who was supposed to give a damn about violence against women would do something so deeply insulting to every victim of domestic abuse.
It’s very common for violent men to minimise or deny their actions. As Boycott said this morning on the radio:
“Most people in England don’t believe it. I didn’t do it. Move on. It’s a cross I have to bear, right or wrong, good or bad, I have to live with it. And I do, because I’m clear in my mind and I think most people in England are that it’s not true.”
I think back to 1996, when the England footballer Paul Gasgoine, who had been reported to the police by his then wife Sheryl for domestic violence, was selected to play for England by the manager, Glenn Hoddle. There was an outcry. Feminists argued that playing for England was an ambassadorial role, and that a man who physically assaults women was not any type of role model. Gascoigne didn’t deny his violent outbursts, and said during a debate on the radio with me that he understood “why the feminists are really angry with me”. It was bad enough that he got to represent his country while she nursed her wounds, but it appears that we have learned nothing from the lessons of more than 20 years ago.
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There will be those reading this who tell themselves that it is unfair to punish a person for a crime he committed (not that Boycott admits it) 25 years ago, and I certainly believe in redemption. But Boycott has done nothing to redeem himself. His disgraceful remarks show that he considers himself above criticism, and that he minimises the effects of male violence towards women. What on earth was May thinking, bestowing such a high honour on a man like that? I wonder how his victim is feeling now – having already been called a gold-digger, an opportunist, and probably even worse – reading about how the man who violently assaulted has been made a knight. Chivalry is supposedly one of the key characteristics of a knight, and it doesn’t seem very chivalrous to beat up a woman and then call her a liar when she reports it.
It is no wonder that feminists such as me do not trust politicians when they speak warm words about ending violence against women. May, who introduced a landmark domestic abuse bill to parliament earlier this cannot ever say again that she is serious about preventing such violence. We live in a country where one woman is killed every three days by a current or former male partner. Domestic violence costs lives and giving a knighthood to a man who refuses to take responsibility is nothing short of an abhorrence.