Henry Newman

What is the naked Brexit academic trying to achieve?

What is the naked Brexit academic trying to achieve?
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Earlier this morning, I pitched up at Good Morning Britain’s studios for what was billed as a Brexit debate with Dr Victoria Bateman A.K.A. the naked academic. I’d been warned in advance that she would be naked. And when I was shown into the studio, she was – totally.

We hadn’t met backstage in the green room, as Dr Bateman was in her own dressing room. Presumably she was busy writing her slogan across her torso (she kindly offered later to allow ITV to film this process). So, we were only introduced under the studio lights. We had a brief chat during the commercial break, as Dr Bateman handed her shoes to one of the crew. She seemed a perfectly nice person – just naked.

I debated Brexit (sort of) on @GMB with @vnbateman

I resisted the temptation to strip off (it was only 7:30am) and tried to stay focused 🙈

Still wondering if anyone, who wasn't already a hardcore remainer, sees a stunt like this, changes their mind, & thinks "Yes - Remain" pic.twitter.com/N4KrjPZNMI

— Henry Newman (@HenryNewman) February 12, 2019

Richard Madeley and Kate Garraway then kicked off a surreal debate about women’s bodies, feminism and nudity with a little bit of Brexit mixed in. I use the term debate loosely as, understandably, I don’t think I was exactly the star of the show. Richard did ask me if I wanted to unbutton a few more of my shirt buttons. This was kind but I thought it was still a little early for that sort of thing.

Although she insisted she had a serious message, it felt like Dr Bateman was pulling off little more than a publicity stunt. I could have also whipped off my clothes and then we would have had a long discussion about my nudity. (That probably would have caused a TV crisis as I’m not sure the camera crew would have been ready to blur out the image).

Dr Bateman had said earlier that as an economist she was used to using “words and equations” to make an argument. She suggested that she now wanted to “go beyond words” and use the “power of the visual”. OK. Pictures tell a thousand words and all that. Profound. But ultimately her slogan was just - “Brexit leaves Britain naked”. In terms of an artistic message it was about as sophisticated as Barbara Kruger’s “I shop therefore I am” graphics.

Kate Garraway pointed out it was rather “distracting” that Dr Bateman was naked, especially when “women had fought for a long time for their words to be heard”. Exactly. I couldn’t help but think of New York’s Guerrilla Girl artists with their ape masks and their sarcastic “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?” posters. 

Anyway, it’s not as if pro-Remain pundits – male or female – are under-represented on TV or radio. Turn on a news or politics programme on Sky, ITV, Channel 4 or the BBC at almost any time of the day and you’re bound to find endless processions of (clothed) people talking Brexit from a hostile view point.

Dr Bateman argued that we need to challenge the idea that women who revealed their bodies were trashy and stupid. But nobody was making that argument. Instead we spent most of the time discussing her nudity and her naked body, and not the substance of anything she had to say on Brexit

In terms of that substance, Dr Bateman didn’t seem to have an original position – beyond the fact of her saying it while naked. It was the same jejune stuff about whether Brexit would actually address Britain’s economic issues. Fine. But as a country, we spent about half a year discussing the economic effects of Brexit and relatively little else back in 2016. We have, since then, had the same debate over and over again, with greater feelings, and now – today at least – with fewer clothes.

As I left the studio I couldn’t help wonder whether anyone watching the show would put down their cornflakes or their cup of tea and think: “Gosh. I used to want Brexit but now I’ve seen the ‘Brexit leaves Britain naked’ message the penny has finally dropped”. I don’t think so. I think it’s rather like the guy screaming ‘stop Brexit’ at the TV crews filming outside Parliament. Very few people watching the news will hear that and change their minds. But what they might wonder is why Brexit has led to quite so many of us losing all sense of perspective.