Comment: Claims about Angela Rayner were sexist nonsense – but don’t let that distract from the failing PM
A male MP lewdly commenting on Angela Rayner’s legs to a male lobby journalist comes as no surprise. You can only imagine the scene: a couple of pints on the table in front of them, laughing raucously as the MP tells the journalist: “She has other skills which he lacks.” Nudge nudge, wink wink.
My initial instinct to seeing that “exclusive” was to sigh, roll my eyes and move on, so prevalent is this type of sexist behaviour in everyday, and political, life. In fact, I might even go as far to venture that the story made it into the Sunday paper precisely because it would get a reaction and in which case, is it better to ignore it altogether?
But it was Rayner’s response that is worth repeating.
“I won’t be letting their vile lies deter me,” she wrote on Twitter. “Their attempts to harass and intimidate me will fail. I’ve been open about how I’ve had to struggle to get where I am today. I’m proud of my background, I’m proud of who I am and where I’m from – but it’s taken time.
“I hope this experience doesn’t put off a single person like me, with a background like mine, from aspiring to participate in public life. That would break my heart. We need more people in politics with backgrounds like mine – and fewer as a hobby to help their mates.”
Rayner is right. Democracy functions better when there is an array of experience being represented on the debating floor. Without diversity, how can we expect parliament to tackle the issues that matter most to us?
Remarks about a woman attempting to put the Prime Minister “off his stride” by crossing and uncrossing her legs are not only crass, but they are the tip of the iceberg. The fact an MP was happy to make such a statement – and that a journalist and editor was willing to publish it – speaks volumes about how far there is still to go in making politics more accessible to all.
These casual comments are also an indicator of how society still does not have a handle on violence against women. A poll conducted by Holyrood last year found almost half of female MSPs have received a death threat and nearly three in ten have received a threat of sexual violence. It’s impossible to decouple sexist comments from threats to personal safety.
But Rayner also highlighted the story was a blatant attempt to protect Boris Johnson. “They know exactly what they are doing,” she said.
Because enough people will dismiss the obviously sexist comments as banter and that Johnson is “just one of the lads” for getting flustered by a woman.
At the same time, it also allows Johnson to take a stance against sexism. “As much as I disagree with Angela Rayner on almost every political issue, I respect her as a parliamentarian and deplore the misogyny directed at her anonymously today,” he said.
Any moment not spent talking about partygate is a win for the Prime Minister right now. This latest report feeds right into the laddish, chancer persona that got him to the top job in the first place, while also allowing him to take the more statesman-like position of opposing the culture he has benefited from.
We should of course stand against any and all instances of misogyny and sexism. But let’s not pretend Sunday’s report is anything other than an attempt to distract from the failing PM.