Britain’s press regulator on Monday said it had received a slew of complaints over a newspaper article likening a leading woman opposition MP to the femme fatale character in “Basic Instinct”.
The Mail on Sunday alleged Angela Rayner deliberately tried to distract Prime Minister Boris Johnson during debates in parliament by crossing and uncrossing her legs.
It quoted an unnamed MP from Johnson’s Conservative party comparing the Labour deputy leader to Sharon Stone’s character in the 1992 film.
In one scene, Stone, who is not wearing underwear, crosses and uncrosses her legs to flummox detectives during an interrogation over a murder.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation said it had received 5,500 complaints about the article, which triggered complaints of sexism and misogyny from all parties.
IPSO said it was exploring possible breaches of the Editors’ Code of Practice relating to accuracy, harassment and discrimination.
“We are dealing with these under our normal procedures,” it added.
Rayner called it “gutter journalism” while Johnson quickly tweeted that he respected her as a parliamentarian, despite their political differences.
On Monday, Johnson — facing questions about his own future after being fined for attending a lockdown-breaking birthday party — said it was “the most appalling load of sexist, misogynist tripe.
“I immediately got in touch with Angela and we had a very friendly exchange.
“If we ever find who is responsible for it, I don’t know what we will do, but they will be the terrors of the earth,” he said, quoting “King Lear”, a Shakespeare play about the loss of power.
House of Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle said he would meet the editor of the Mail on Sunday to discuss the “misogynistic and offensive” article.
It is “demeaning, offensive to women in parliament and can only deter women who might be considering standing for election to the detriment of us all,” Hoyle told the House of Commons on Monday.
– Complete opposite –
Tory MP Caroline Nokes said she had contacted Hoyle to ask if the author of the report should have his parliamentary pass withdrawn.
The Mail article described Rayner, 41, as “a socialist grandmother who left school at 16 while pregnant and with no qualifications before becoming a care worker”.
She is in many respects the opposite of Johnson, 57, who was educated at the expensive Eton school and Oxford University and is perceived by many as being a member of the privileged elite.
As deputy leader of the opposition Labour party, Rayner regularly clashes with Johnson in parliament.
The Mail on Sunday article quoted an unnamed MP as saying that Rayner “knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks”.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the article “shines a spotlight on the sort of rubbish that female MPs… have to put up with on a daily basis”.
Rayner “doesn’t need to use her sex to win an argument or put the prime minister off,” she said.
“She does it by the strength of her argument, and to suggest otherwise, it’s just disgusting and it doesn’t do justice to the brilliant women we have in parliament from all sides,” Reeves told the BBC.
The Sunday Times reported that three cabinet ministers and two of their opposition counterparts are currently facing sexual misconduct claims.
They were among 56 MPs referred to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, which was set up in the wake of the “MeToo” scandal.
The weekly said about 70 separate complaints had been made, including making sexually inappropriate comments and more serious wrongdoing.