OPINION - Rayner furore distracts from Westminster’s real power problem

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Boris Johnson has written to Angela Rayner to insist ‘misogynistic’ claims reportedly made about her by an unidentified Tory MP were not in his name (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Archive)
Boris Johnson has written to Angela Rayner to insist ‘misogynistic’ claims reportedly made about her by an unidentified Tory MP were not in his name (Gareth Fuller/PA) (PA Archive)

Oh, get a grip, people. The row about Angela Rayner is getting out of hand. There’s been uniform, cross-party outrage at a Mail on Sunday report suggesting the deputy leader of the Labour Party likes to put the PM off his stride by crossing and uncrossing her legs. Or, as the article by the paper’s political editor Glen Owen had it: “Tory MPs have mischievously suggested that Ms Rayner likes to distract the PM when he is at the dispatch box by deploying a fully-clothed Parliamentary equivalent of Sharon Stone’s infamous scene in the 1992 film Basic Instinct.”

Don’t you love that “mischievously”? As a way of suggesting that the whole thing is terrifically light-hearted and it didn’t quite work out. And the suggestion that MPs quoted were paraphrasing joke remarks by Rayner herself, something she’s vigorously denied.

The Tory chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, Caroline Nokes, has suggested the Speaker withdraw a parliamentary pass from Glen Owen. Obvs, there’s been outrage on Twitter. Tory whips are looking to see “whether they know” who the offending MPs might be. A witch hunt to find out which MPs might have had lunch with a journalist? Really?

The piece itself was silly and patronising. But that’s about it. The PM has written to Angela Rayner to deplore the article. That should be that. Rayner is a tough nut, well able to look after herself.

Where there should be more concern is about another aspect of sexism in parliament, namely, complaints of sexual harassment against no fewer than 56 MPs, including three Cabinet ministers and two shadow Cabinet ministers. Most are inappropriate remarks, and I’d like to know what they are before sounding off about them, but a small number are allegations of serious misconduct, including one where an MP allegedly tried to bribe an aide for sex.

That suggests there’s a power problem in parliament whereby MPs, who are almost by definition vain and power-loving, abuse their position in relation to employees who are usually younger than they. It doesn’t mean that MPs should be barred from employing their own staff but it should mean that the allegations are dealt with fairly.

That, I’d say, is worth more concern than the issue of whether the PM has a wandering gaze.

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