This was the moment the mask finally slipped. The self-styled cuddly Communist uncle revered by starry-eyed millennials revealed himself to be what he really is: a peevish, petulant old man who cannot bear the notion of being bested by a woman.
The look said it all. Incandescent fury coupled with indignation.
Theresa May had just pointed out, with remarkable flourish for a woman who can’t have had much more than three hours sleep in the course of the last month, the ineptitude of the Labour leader’s cack-handed attempts to unseat her.
Jeremy Corbyn’s mask finally slipped during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons today, writes Sarah Vine
With the taunts echoing around the chamber, humiliation rising in his gorge, he let his guard down.
Tell the truth and shame the Devil, they say. And this devil has finally been unmasked as a visceral sexist, in public and in front of the entire House of Commons.
It’s a situation that women up and down the nation will be all too familiar with. The moment when a man, backed into a corner by a female colleague, makes his true feelings known.
When he lashes out almost unconsciously and proves that, for all the fine words about equality and respect, at the end of the day not a lot has changed since the days when women were considered too weak-brained to have the vote.
Sadly, this wasn’t the first time Corbyn has exposed – if not exactly his dislike of women in his profession – his clear disregard for their intellectual value and opinion.
When he first put together his Shadow Cabinet, it was noted that, despite the Labour Party having more female MPs than the Conservatives (119 to 67), there was a glaring paucity of women on his front bench.
Theresa May (pictured during PMQs today) had just pointed out the ineptitude of the Labour leader’s cack-handed attempts to unseat her
Panicked by the impression this gave, his team scrambled to rectify the situation, hurriedly appointing Angela Eagle to the dual role of Shadow First Secretary of State and Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.
She didn’t last long, but since then he has learnt the importance of populating his front bench with visible women, from Emily Thornberry (Shadow Foreign Secretary) to Dawn Butler (Women and Equalities).
But the fact remains that Corbyn’s inner circle – where the power really lies – is resolutely white and male.
Not only that, they are men of a particular kind: old-school, jobs-for-the-boys union hounds such as Andrew Murray (a veteran of Unite), Ken Livingstone (who resigned earlier this year over allegations of anti-Semitism) and champagne Communist Seamus Milne, director of communication and strategy.
I have no doubt that under normal circumstances Corbyn is no more anti-women than the next quasi-septuagenarian male baby-boomer.
But like many of his generation, who grew up with the cultural stereotypes of the Fifties and Sixties, there is a fundamental fault line that, when subject to extreme pressure, cracks.
And that is what we saw in the raw yesterday. May’s taunts had pushed all his buttons – and he reverted to factory settings. Not so much Cuddly Corbyn as Sid the Sexist.
Of course, it wouldn’t matter so much if he’d have the courage to admit his mistake and apologise. Everyone slips up from time to time, and politics is a high-pressure environment, testing for even the most level-headed of souls.
But Corbyn’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge offence, coupled by his team’s frenzied attempts to diminish the incident, only served to add insult to injury.
But perhaps worse was the way his supporters, clearly in denial about the reality of their hero, tried to justify the slur.
Jeremy Corbyn flatly denied saying the words ‘stupid woman’ when he was summoned back to the chamber this evening
Mrs May had said Mr Corbyn’s position as descending into ‘pantomime’, and said his own party was not behind him
May found herself in the curious position of being victim-shamed online by Corbynistas keen to point out that while what he said was, indeed, unacceptable, in this case it was justified because she’s a Tory. In other words, she asked for it.
Ah, that appalling age-old wife-beater’s argument, in many ways so typical of Corbyn’s Labour Party. Don’t condemn the crime, shame the victim.
Thus, in the same way that Labour tolerates anti-Semitism because of its pro-Palestinian stance against Israel, May’s role as Tory leader makes her fundamentally untermensch – intrinsically inferior – and therefore not subject to the normal rules of civil engagement.
Put simply, Corbyn can get away with calling her a stupid woman because she’s not really human.
So armoured are his acolytes by their self-righteousness that they believe themselves immune to all criticisms. Occupying, as they do, the moral high ground, they see everything though the filter of their world view.
And it is this, fundamentally, that makes Corbyn’s Labour Party such a sinister prospect as a government in waiting.
Barely concealed prejudice against certain groups and sectors of society which, were it to manifest itself anywhere else in public life, would rightly be denounced but which, within a cabal of men who believe themselves morally and ideologically superior, goes unchallenged.
This, I’m afraid, is why he’ll keep his core support base – who, though, as young people of impeccably ‘woke’ credentials (having sensibilities in line with politically correct ways of thinking) – ought to be outraged by his behaviour.
Indeed, if anything, he will, according to their twisted logic, only rise in their estimation, be seen as even more of a hero for socking it to an evil Tory.
That is why yesterday’s incident was so fundamentally shocking. Not so much because of the insult itself but because it’s stark proof of the reality of politics in modern Britain.
Increasingly, it’s no longer a forum for open debate and sensible, pragmatic government but a no-holds-barred gladiatorial arena in which ideological opposites attack each other with extreme prejudice.