The Malcontent On: Mumsnet


Personally, I blame Gordon Brown. During his first live web chat, the embattled PM fielded a question burning on the lips of every Briton, an important psychological insight into the man, and a matter of clear national importance. What, we were all dying to know, is Gordon Brown’s favorite biscuit? But when he failed to respond this obviously politically relevant inquiry, a section of the internet threw down its Cath Kidston oven gloves and pulled the buns out of the Aga. ‘Biscuit-gate’ boiled online and in the press, until Brown was forced into a humiliating confectionary climb-down, admitting he’d munch “anything with a bit of chocolate.” The scene of his crime? Mumsnet, Britain’s “most popular meeting point for parents” (The Times). Brown had inadvertently unleashed outrage behind thousands of MacBooks, and the internet mothership hasn’t piped down since. Mumsnetter’s subsequent targets have included Gina Ford, Eastenders, and lads mags.

Who are Mumsnetters? Let’s be clear, this is a middle class phenomenon. The average Mumsnetter has a degree and an income slightly higher than average. Her children whine for a McDonalds, she sends them to ‘the snug’ to meditate on the true meaning of ‘Happy Meal’, and books them riding lessons instead. Probably me in 15 years.

The Matriarch, Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts, was on Question Time the other day. Representing civilians, she sported a blow-dry and a Bodenesque Breton top, and was quite sensible. Disappointingly reasonable in fact. Ideally you want QT Team Normal to be either funny or crazed, otherwise the show’s a bit dull. My own mother is definitely both. Roberts isn’t. Hers wasn’t the hysterical, casserole dish-slamming voice of a collective that once savaged an unsuspecting PM with a cookie. Nor was it, from anecdotal experience, that of your average mother. So what is she?

Mrs. Roberts is a slick operator. Since ‘Biscuit-gate’, she’s turned Mumsnet into an institution. This October alone there are five entries with quotes from Mumsnet on BBC News. Want to sum up middle class opinion? Get a comment from Mumsnet. Roberts’ husband, Ian Katz, is deputy editor of The Guardian. Coincidence or connection? Now, rather than actually representing mothers, Mumsnet is starting to speak to the media on their behalf. This seems odd, because Mumsnet is supposedly a forum. A glance at its message boards shows discussion and debate, not much shared opinion (not to mention unsavory discussions about how little is too much to pay your nanny…). What gives Roberts the right to speak on behalf of thousands of women with their own hummus to fling? I don’t like it. Gordon, what have you done?

Chloe Cornish