The British tabloid accuses the legislator of a move based on basic instinct

LONDON – An anonymous report by one of the UK’s tabloid newspapers has ignited a debate on both tabloid journalistic ethics and sexism in Parliament, leading some to question whether the institution is capable of losing its bad reputation and becoming a workplace. inclusive.

Over the weekend, the tabloid, The Mail on Sunday, reported an anonymous claim by a conservative lawmaker that Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labor Party, had tried to distract Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Parliament by crossing and stretching her legs. , comparing her to Sharon Stone’s character in the movie “Basic Instinct”.

Ms. Rayner said the article left her “crestfallen”. It was dismissed by Mr Johnson as “sexist, misogynist, tripe” and caused more than 5,500 complaints, according to the independent regulator of most British newspapers and magazines. House of Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle summoned the newspaper’s editor, David Dillon, and his political editor, Glen Owen, to a meeting on Wednesday.

“The story is that there is misogyny alive and well and it haunts the corridors of the House of Commons,” said Harriet Harman, the longest-serving female congresswoman and longtime advocate of women’s rights. It was her, she told LBC Radio, symptomatic of the “backlash you always have when women make progress”, adding that “there are some men who feel they need to put them back”.

There are 454 women and 963 men in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Before the last general elections of 2019, a number of women politicians said that harassment and abuse drove some away from politics; many human rights groups fear that the culture in parliament has dissuaded others from coming forward to stand for election.

Repeated phone calls and emails to The Mail on Sunday went unanswered.

Jemima Olchawski, chief officer of the Fawcett Society, a major British charity that advocates for gender equality and women’s rights, said: “This behavior cannot be tolerated, as a nation we cannot and must not accept it.” She noted that her organization has long campaigned for “systemic changes to fix Parliament’s culture and make it a more inclusive and diverse workplace.”

Aside from the sexist tone and content, the article also contrasted Ms. Rayner’s early life with Mr. Johnson’s elite education and her honored public speaking skills at the Oxford Union, the famous university debate society. Born into the working class, she was a young single mother who has become one of the most important jobs in British politics.

Ms. Rayner also gained praise for her style of debate by attending several sessions of the Prime Minister’s questions, the weekly verbal duel between party leaders in Parliament.

In a televised interview on Tuesday, Ms. Rayner described how, when contacted by The Mail on Sunday, she told the paper that the claim was not true, asked them not to publish it, and was “impressed” by the statement. impact it could have on your teenage children.

The article was steeped in class bias, she told ITV, focusing on “where I came from and how I grew up” and suggesting that, due to her standard school education, she was “stupid.”

“They talk about my past because I had a child when I was little as if to say I’m promiscuous – that was the insinuation, which I found rather offensive,” added Ms. Rayner.

Following the publication of the article, several lawmakers expressed support for Ms Rayner and expressed fears of reputational damage to a Parliament that has faced several scandals in recent years. The same day The Mail on Sunday wrote about Mrs. Rayner, the Sunday Times in London reported that three cabinet ministers and two senior Labor politicians were among 56 lawmakers facing allegations of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct.

Jane Merrick, political editor at the I newspaper – who was among those named Person of the Year by Time magazine in 2017 for speaking out publicly about sexual abuse and harassment in Parliament – she criticized the article, noting that Ms Rayner has often surpassed Mr. Johnson in the debate. “To reduce this to what she wears and how she behaves, I think is ridiculous, but also completely immersed in misogyny,” she said.

Ms. Merrick added that workplace culture has improved in Parliament since she started working there more than two decades ago, but that it was depressing that more still needed to be done.

“I think there was a kind of surge of optimism when it happened to me that we were going to suddenly change people’s behavior and, of course, it never happened,” he said.

Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, a feminist political party, said the story raised wider issues.

“This wouldn’t be a story at all if Westminster and the broader political system in the UK weren’t riddled with misogyny,” he said in a statement. She also stressed “the misogyny of the media, which at the same time dissuades women from involvement and misrepresents and sells out their achievements when they engage.”

Many have long criticized a culture in Parliament in which the number of female MPs still does not reflect the communities they represent.

Speaking Monday, Mr. Johnson said he offered Ms. Rayner his support and promised that if the source of the article was discovered, the “terrors of the earth” would be unleashed on them.

That person, he said, was not giving an authorized briefing.

James Heappey, a young defense minister, told the BBC on Tuesday he was concerned about the reputation damage of a Parliament that was “in a bad position at the moment” and described the incident as “offensive and ridiculous”.

As for his anonymous conservative lawmaker colleague who inspired the report, Mr. Heappey described them as “an idiot fellow.”