Sunday 24 April 2022

Angela Rayner Vs Institutional Sexism

During the Brexit wars, the Mail on Sunday was held up as the less frothing counterpart to its week day sibling. In the years since, it's much harder to maintain that distinction. Where the Daily Mail goes low, it seems the Sunday edition is determined to go lower. The latest evidence is this exhibit which, in all seriousness, accuses Angela Rayner of a "Basic Instinct" ploy to distract Boris Johnson at Prime Minister's Questions. The evidence? That she, like dozens of other women MPs, wears skirts to work.

According to an unnamed Tory MP, Rayner deliberately crosses and uncrosses her legs to throw Johnson off his stride because "she can't compete with Boris Johnson's Oxford Union debating skills." Would these be the same "skills" that sees him refusing to answer questions, and relying on clumsy stratagems to get himself out of a tight spot? Would these also be the superlative abilities that, on the occasions he's faced Rayner across the dispatch box, have seen him come off worse more often than not? Reading the article is to immerse yourself in the snobbery rife among the Tories and their friendly press stenographers. No Mail article (nor, for that matter, anything printed in the right wing papers) can fail to mention her leaving school at 16, being a teenaged mum and a grandmother, and having worked in care. They cannot hide their distaste that someone from the lower orders has made it without the advantages their backgrounds gave them. She provokes a realisation among the well-heeled that they mainly owe their position to their position, not skill, grit, or talent.

The attack on Rayner has a context: the culture of sexism that remains rife on the parliamentary estate. Reporting in today's papers, five senior politicians - three Tory, two Labour - face allegations of sexual harassment out of 56 MPs reported to parliament's Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme. This follows the conviction of sex offender MP Imran Ahmed Khan (who still hasn't resigned) and fellow Tory David Warburton who, among other things, faces sexual misconduct allegations. Whether its MPs and politicos supplying info to the lecherous "Tottywatch" feature on Guido Fawkes (updated as recently as two days ago) to the harassment of support staff to the way parliamentarians reinforce sexist perceptions of female politicians, there is an obvious problem.

The Mail on Sunday are reactionary, but it's not stupid. They knew the story would raise the heckles. If that was the intention, it certainly helped generate a few more hits for the website. But if it was done with a view to taking the heat off Johnson's difficulties, it hasn't. While the story has excited Twitter it did not make the Sunday politics shows - but it might rebound on the MoS access to Westminster, and Johnson himself has been forced to issue a condemnation "deploring the misogyny" the paper directed at Rayner. Even he can see the suggestion of "being distracted" by a pair of legs reflects poorly on him. A reminder, in case it is needed, that establishment politics is not a seamless whole with masterminds scurrying around and covering every angle. Gambits can backfire, and this is definitely one of them.

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Anonymous said...

The whole thing sounds like something our anonymous Tory saw in a dream rather than reality.

David Lindsay said...

"The terrors of the earth"? Boris Johnson was Learing after all, then. I'm here all week. But how does either he or Keir Starmer know that this story about Angela Rayner was misogynistic when neither of them can define a woman?

Perhaps all of the SNP and Alba MPs should turn up to this week's Prime Minister's Questions in kilts, and spend the whole time crossing and uncrossing their legs? Then again, I know that that tactic does not work. No matter how many times I crossed and uncrossed my legs at Richard Holden, he still beat me.