“Oh my god,” I said, out loud, as a screengrab of a Mail on Sunday story flashed across my phone on Saturday night.
“Stone the crowds! Tories accuse Rayner of Basic Instinct ploy to distract Boris,” screamed the headline, accompanied by a picture of the deputy Labor leader sitting cross-legged on the This Morning sofa.
“It must be a parody account,” I thought, hopefully. Never get your hopes up where politics are concerned.
READ MORE: Angela Rayner hits back at ‘vile lies’ that she uses ‘ploy’ to distract Boris Johnson during PMQs
The page 5 story by MoS political editor Glen Owen quotes an anonymous Conservative MP claiming that Angela Rayner tries to distract the Prime Minister by crossing and uncrossing her legs in the Commons.
“Tory MPs have mischievously suggested that Ms Rayner likes to distract the PM when he is in the dispatch box by deploying a fully-clothed Parliamentary equivalent of Sharon Stone’s infamous scene in the 1992 film Basic Instinct,” the article reads.
The Basic Instinct line refers to the moment Stone’s character uncrosses her legs to reveal she is not wearing underpants. It was a shot the actress says she knew nothing about until she was shown a cut of the movie among a room full of strangers.
The Mail article continues that Ms Rayner “knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks.” At least one line in this grotty story can give us all a laugh. We’ve all seen the reality when they’ve gone head to head at the dispatch box, after all.
Aside from the obviously grotesque sexual undertones of the accusation against Ms Rayner, I can’t fathom what possessed these creepy, unnamed MPs to approach Mr Owens referring to a 30-year-old film. It’s almost as if they’re…out of touch.
And did they really think they were doing the Prime Minister a favor by suggesting that he can’t do his job properly if he sees a pair of women’s legs? Mr Johnson, to his credit, responded by condemning the claims. “As much as I disagree with Angela Rayner on almost every political issue I respect her as a parliamentarian and deplore the misogyny she directed at her anonymously today,” he tweeted.
It was a sentiment Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries agreed with so ardently that she tweeted the exact same thing, word for word, 16 minutes later. Nothing says moral outrage like the copy and paste function.
The article also includes a potted history of the Ashton-under-Lyne MP – who is described as “a grandmother who left school at 16 while pregnant and with no qualifications before becoming a care worker”. Ms Rayner, unflinching in her response to her, dismissed the story as a ‘perverted smear’.
“Boris Johnson’s cheerleaders have resorted to spreading desperate, perverted smears in their doomed attempts to save his skin. They know exactly what they are doing. The lies they are telling,” she tweeted.
“It is the PM who is dragging the Conservative Party into the sewer – and the anonymous Tory MPs doing his bidding are complicit. He and his cheerleaders clearly have a big problem with women in public life. They should be ashamed of themselves. I won ‘t be letting their vile lies stop me.”
This is not the first failed attempt to demean Angela Rayner and it won’t be the last. She has been criticized for her accent, her appearance and her experiences of her on numerous occasions.
But in her, the Labor Party has a secret weapon. A senior MP who understands what it’s like to be on benefits, to parent alone, to care for a family member with mental health problems, to take a difficult job for a low wage. Ms Rayner can relate to voters in a way many MPs can only dream of. Perhaps they’re scared.
Any young woman aspiring to a life in politics may well look at today’s grim commentary and flinch – how could they not? But Ms Rayner says she hopes the experience ‘doesn’t put off a single person like me, with a background like mine from aspiring to participate in public life’.
She is right to hope. After all this attempt to undermine a powerful, working class woman has failed. They’ll try it again of course. Next time, let’s see if they’re brave enough to be named.