Angela Rayner: ‘Basic Instinct’ slur was not only sexist but classist

Labour deputy leader tells Lorraine Kelly she was ‘really down’ at having to warn her children about article

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 26 April 2022 14:48
Comments
Angela Rayner says ‘sexist’ and ‘classist’ article implied she was ‘thick’

Angela Rayner has said that “disgusting” claims from Tory MPs about her using her body to distract Boris Johnson at the despatch box were “steeped in classism”.

The Labour deputy leader said that the comments, reported in theMail on Sunday, betrayed “offensive” views on the part of the anonymous MPs about women from working-class backgrounds.

Ms Rayner said she was “crestfallen” about the newspaper’s decision to publish the allegations despite firm assurances that they were untrue.

And she said that she had had to speak to her children to prepare them for the inevitable furore around their publication.

Speaking to ITV’s Lorraine, the Ashton-under-Lyne MP said it was clear that the MP’s comments were informed not only by sexism but also by class prejudice.

The article included a quote from one MP, saying Ms Rayner “knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks”.

Ms Rayner was accused of crossing and uncrossing her legs like actress Sharon Stone in the raunchy thriller Basic Instinct to distract the prime minister as he spoke.

“All I worry about when I’m at the despatch box is doing a good job and being able to do justice to my constituents and the work I’m doing, so I was just really crestfallen that somebody had said that to a paper and a paper was reporting that,” she said.

“It wasn’t just about me as a woman, saying I was using the fact I’m a woman against the prime minister – which I think is quite condescending to the prime minister and shows you what his MPs think about his behaviour – but it was steeped in classism as well,” she added.

She also said the comments suggested the Tory MPs believed she must be “thick” because she went to a comprehensive school and was “promiscuous” because she had a child when she was 16.

“I felt it was quite offensive to people from my background,” she said.

Ms Rayner said she had been “overwhelmed” and “really down” as a result of the story’s publication on Sunday.

“When I heard the story was coming out, we rebutted it instantly,” she said. “Like ‘This is disgusting, it’s completely untrue, please don’t run a story like that’.”

Ms Rayner said she chose to wear a trouser suit for her TV appearance on Tuesday morning because she did not want to be “judged for what I wear”.

“I wanted to be defiant as well because I don’t think that women should be told how to dress,” she told host Lorraine Kelly. “But I didn’t want to distract from the fact that, actually, it’s not about my legs.

“Because I feel like I’m being judged for what I wear, rather than what I’m saying to you and how I come across.”

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has summoned the Mail on Sunday’s editor to a meeting on Wednesday morning, while Mr Johnson has said he will unleash “the terrors of Earth” on any MPs identified as the source of the comments.

Mother of the House Dame Harriet Harman has called for changes to the MPs’ code of conduct to make misogynistic, racist or homophobic comments a breach punishable by anything from an apology on the floor of the Commons to suspension from Westminster.

Ms Rayner said a wider cultural shift was needed.

“We have got to teach our sons to be respectful of women and we’ve got to teach our women to be confident about themselves as well,” she said.

Cabinet minister Mark Spencer said anonymous Tory MPs who spoke to Mail On Sunday about Ms Rayner acted in an “inappropriate” way, but he did not think they broke any Commons rules.

The Leader of the House told the Commons Committee on Standards that he believed those speaking to the newspaper breached “lots” of the principles of public life, including “leadership” and “integrity”.

But asked what rule they had broken, Mr Spencer said: “I don’t suppose they’ve broken any rule in the House or committed a crime that could be charged in general society. You know, I think they just acted frankly in an inappropriate way. And that should be roundly condemned.”

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