The misogyny that many women working in parliament experience on a regular basis reared its ugly head over the weekend. Senior Conservative MPs briefed the Mail on Sunday to accuse Angela Rayner of distracting Boris Johnson during Prime Minister’s Questions by crossing and uncrossing her legs (yes, you really did read that correctly). Anonymous Tory MPs are quoted as saying that Rayner deploys a “fully-clothed parliamentary equivalent of Sharon Stone’s infamous scene in the 1992 film Basic Instinct“. Just as appalling as the film reference is the dog-whistle description of the deputy Labour leader offered in the paper: a “socialist grandmother who left school at 16 while pregnant and with no qualifications before becoming a care worker” who engages in “flirty” exchanges with Johnson.
As Rayner tweeted yesterday, “the implication is clear”. This is a sexist smear, drawing on all the prejudice that can be levelled at a single mum from a working-class background who enters politics. Rachel Reeves said this morning: “I’m just not surprised because this sort of sexism and misogyny, it is frankly the sort of rubbish that female MPs but also female staffers in the House of Commons have to put up with every single day.” The Shadow Chancellor added: “When I hear a minister just now say I haven’t heard this sort of thing before – talk to your female colleagues.” And readers do not have to go far to find further evidence of the misogynistic culture rampant in politics – The Times reported on Saturday that three cabinet ministers are facing allegations of sexual misconduct after being reported to the parliamentary watchdog in the wake of the #MeToo scandal.
After a pretty weak and dismissive response to the story on the Sunday morning politics shows, senior Conservatives have since come out with stronger condemnation of the report in the wake of the backlash. Johnson tweeted later in the day to say that he deplores the attack. The outrage from Rayner’s Conservative parliamentary colleagues seems somewhat farcical, however, not least because Nadine Dorries put out an identical tweet just 15 minutes later. Why might Johnson and his allies not be sorry to see this vicious story from the loyal Tory rag published at this moment? Rayner provided an answer that I find pretty compelling: “Boris Johnson’s cheerleaders have resorted to spreading desperate, perverted smears in their doomed attempts to save his skin.”Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.