Babygate, Claridge’s

Mediapart, the French online opinion journal, ran an article by Jean-Louis Legalery this week, about the polemic that has risen up in the UK over Lou Burns’ experience of being asking to cover up whilst breast feeding her three month old daughter in Claridge’s. (
The title of the article was ‘Tartuffe s’invite au Claridge’s’, which could be translated along the lines of Tartuffe comes to Claridge’s. Tartuffe is a comedic play by Molière in which the protagonist is a puffed up man who exaggeratedly feigns virtue, but actually has a long history of criminality, thereby revealing himself to be nothing more than a hypocrite.
This title humorously tells us all we need to know about the author’s opinion of Claridge’s. It comes across as a stuffy, hypocritical hotel, with over hyped puritanical values that seem ridiculous. The author goes on to note the contribution of Nigel Farage, leader of the far-right party UKIP, to this debate. He quotes his comments that women who need to breastfeed their child should ‘perhaps sit in the corner’. Legalery also gives his opinion that Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP, responded in the best way to this, by saying that Farage himself should go and sit in a corner.
Legalery cynically notes that David Cameron, who was initially reluctant to get involved in the debate, had to eventually weigh in, and support the official viewpoint of the NHS (which is that it would be unacceptable to make a woman feel uncomfortable for breastfeeding in public) so as not let Farage dominate the media coverage over the case. This was perhaps not motivated by genuine feelings of support towards the situation in which Lou Burns found herself.
Legalery notes that both Farage and Claridge’s attitudes were ‘restrictive’ and ‘macho’, and wholly ‘regressive’, and compares them to Pétain’s theme of the ‘femme au foyer’ which he describes as an obvious hindrance to equality. Due to his military prowess in the first world war, Maréchal Pétain was a national hero in France before 1945. However, during the second world war, he collaborated with Hitler, and created the authoritarian Vichy Regime, which lasted until the liberation of Paris in 1944. During his time in power, Pétain changed the republican motto from ‘Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité’ (Freedom, Equality, Fraternity) to ‘Travail, Famille, Patrie’ (Work, Family, Fatherland), and instigated a rather Mao like campaign of rejecting the liberalist, secular traditions of the third republic, and instead promoting catholic, paternalist and agrarian values. He aimed to do away with the work of recent progressive figure heads such as Leon Blum, who, whilst Prime Minister, had managed to introduce measures such as the 40 hour week and paid holiday for workers. Pétain wanted a new France, that would be ‘a social hierarchy…rejecting the false ideal of the natural equality of men’.
The warnings bells ring out when women are told to cover themselves up whilst feeding their child. That is why I personally appreciate articles like this, which show a fresh perspective on British society, reminding us that institutions like Claridge’s are faintly ridiculous, whilst a pleasure to go to, are in some ways very backwards.


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