Sexism row erupts in UK Parliament over 'Basic Instinct' article

An article aimed at a Labour MP has been roundly criticized as misogynistic.

April 27, 2022, 10:15 AM

LONDON -- The editor of the Mail on Sunday refused a request to meet with the U.K. House of Commons' speaker over an article widely derided as misogynistic and sexist that accused the deputy leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, Angela Rayner, of using "Basic Instinct" tactics to "distract" Prime Minister Boris Johnson during his weekly audience with lawmakers.

The speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, had summoned David Dillon, the newspaper's editor, in response to the article, roundly criticized as "misogynistic," but the Mail on Sunday have refused the request, citing free press concerns and evidence that Rayner may have joked about the comparison.

Rayner, one of the leading figures in the Labour Party, told ITV News that the article was "disgusting," untrue and had left her "crestfallen," saying that she felt compelled to wear trousers for her first TV appearance to discuss the story on Tuesday.

"I didn't want people at home thinking, 'Let's have a look to see what her legs are like and how short her skirt is or not,'" she said. "Because I feel like I'm being judged for what I wear, rather than what I'm saying to you and how I come across."

The article, which appeared in the Mail on Sunday last week, reported that anonymous lawmakers from Johnson's ruling Conservative Party had claimed that Rayner put the prime minister "off his stride" by crossing and uncrossing her legs during prime minister's questions, the weekly half-hour sessions in the House of Commons when the government are held to account.

The article was accompanied by a picture of Rayner in the House of Commons and a picture of actress Sharon Stone from the 1992 movie "Basic Instinct," a reference to the infamous scene where she crosses and uncrosses her legs during a police interrogation. Despite widespread criticism, the original article on the newspaper's Twitter account has not been deleted.

PHOTO: Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner delivers a speech to journalists and an online audience at the Institute for Government, Nov. 29, 2021, in London.
Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner delivers a speech to journalists and an online audience at the Institute for Government, Nov. 29, 2021, in London.
Leon Neal/Getty Images

Rayner said she was "fearful" of the story coming out and asked the Mail on Sunday not to run with it.

"I was with my teenage sons ... trying to prepare my children for seeing things online," she told ITV. "They don't want to see their mum portrayed that way and I felt really down about that."

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker of the House of Commons, who presides over debates in the legislature, summoned the newspaper's editor for a meeting about the article, which is due to take place on Wednesday. Hoyle described the article as "misogynistic and offensive."

Both the Mail on Sunday and the Conservative Party have come under a barrage of criticism for the "misogynistic article." The Mail on Sunday's publisher, Associated Newspapers, has not commented on the article.

A representative for the Mail on Sunday said there were no further statements beyond what was published in Wednesday's Daily Mail, refusing Hoyle's request for a meeting.

Johnson and a number of other MPs condemned the "misogyny directed anonymously" at Rayner. Though Rayner thanked the prime minister for his comments, she had earlier said that Johnson was "dragging the Conservative Party into the sewer."

The scandal is the latest in a string of controversies that have dogged the prime minister, who was recently fined for breaking his own lockdown laws.

The leader of the opposition Labour Party, Sir Keir Starmer, said that the briefing to the Mail on Sunday was "a disgraceful new low from a party mired in scandal and chaos."

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