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Catherine Deveney: Stop pretending Angela Rayner’s treatment is a rarity

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner (Photo: James McCauley/Shutterstock)
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner (Photo: James McCauley/Shutterstock)

How unobservant I have been!

I always thought Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, was a no-nonsense, bolshy kind of dame whose idea of coochy-coo endearments to her Tory opponents was calling them “racist, misogynistic scum”.

Who knew that she was actually a political sex siren, crossing and uncrossing her legs in imitation of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct to distract Boris Johnson from his important man work?

Easy done, mind. Bet she licked her lips, too. Probably curled her hair round her fingers while she pouted. Devious creatures, women.

I really loved that Boris, whose feminist credentials were secured when he once promised the public that voting Tory would make their wives’ breasts bigger, came to Rayner’s defence. He was apparently appalled by the claims.

They were made by “an anonymous Tory MP”, who claimed in the Mail on Sunday that dimwit comprehensive girl, Rayner, knew she couldn’t “compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training”.

Seriously? He learned that: “Uhm… ahhh… ooh, I’ve lost my notes… Anyone been to Peppa Pig World?” at Oxford? That counts as incisive debating amongst posh boys?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo: PA)

There were even claims that, should the unknown culprit be exposed, the party would “discipline” him. Well! That’s a toughie. You’d need Hercule Poirot. How else would you find out, in the gossip-ridden Palace of Westminster?

And, anyway, if all the misogynists in politics were censured, how many MPs would be left?

56 MPs reported for bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct

The furore over Angela Rayner might lead you to think that misogyny in politics – and society generally – is shockingly unusual. Yet, last week, reports emerged that 56 MPs, including three cabinet ministers and two shadow cabinet ministers, have been reported to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, a parliamentary watchdog set up in the wake of the Me Too movement.

In 2016, over half of Labour’s female MPs signed a letter protesting at the lack of action over sexism and the obstacles it presented to their participation in politics

This didn’t attract the same amount of attention as the Mail on Sunday story but, then, it didn’t mention Sharon Stone, or tired old stereotypes about women’s power residing in their pins, or men’s brains being located in their trousers.

In 2016, I went to Liverpool to interview MP Luciana Berger, then a member of the Labour Party. She was the victim of a vicious, international social media hate campaign, which managed to be equally offensive about gender and race. Following the murder of MP Jo Cox, there was concern that women in politics were experiencing alarming levels of abuse.

Back then, over half of Labour’s female MPs signed a letter protesting at the lack of action over sexism and the obstacles it presented to their participation in politics. What’s changed?

Faux outrage conceals indifference to misogyny

The fact is that the faux outrage over the Rayner story – like it’s some surprising, abhorrent aberration – conceals the true picture of indifference about, and tolerance of, this issue.

The juggernaut of misogyny trundles on, updates on the Rayner story appearing without any irony – or even awareness – alongside other news stories that illustrate society’s gender imbalance, from Highland Council failing to take a zero tolerance approach to sex entertainment venues, to an ex-American president shouting about Meghan Markle henpecking her husband.

Prince Harry is “bossed around” by his wife, according to Donald Trump (Photo: AP)

Now, I get that since it was impossible to take Trump seriously when he was the president of one of the most powerful nations on earth, it’s hardly worth listening to his delusional views now, despite the entertainment value of his insistence that he and the Queen are besties. “She liked me and I liked her and she let it be known,” he insisted. Aye, Donald, so she did.

But it was his views on Prince Harry that were really objectionable. Harry was being “led around by the nose”, according to Trump. The prince is “an embarrassment”, and the Donald wants to know what is going to happen when Harry’s “had enough of being bossed around”.

Not having been party to any conversation between Harry and Meghan Markle, I wouldn’t care to judge, unlike Trump who can apparently see through walls and lip read through windows. But I know toxic masculinity when I hear it. Listen to women and you’re a woose.

We need meaningful cultural change

Rob Roberts, David Warburton, Charlie Elphicke… The roll call of political dishonour goes on.

When gender issues unite such political opposites, you know something is wrong

Labour’s Jess Philips says the scale of the number facing investigation is “harrowing” and that there is a “serious power imbalance” at Westminster. Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, who chairs the women and equalities committee, says there is “a pervasive culture of misogyny, harassment and unacceptable sexual behaviour”. When gender issues unite such political opposites, you know something is wrong.

We need cultural change that is more meaningful than faux outrage about the ramblings of some sexually repressed toff who thinks any woman who crosses her legs is Mata Hari, and the comic that is daft enough to print it.

Catherine Deveney is an award-winning investigative journalist, novelist and television presenter

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