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UK Tabloid accuses legislator of ‘Basic Instinct’ Move

LONDON – An anonymously obtained report from one of Britain’s free-running tabloid newspapers has sparked a debate on both tabloid journalistic ethics and sexism in Parliament, prompting some to question whether the institution is capable of giving up its cheated reputation and become an inclusive workplace.

Over the weekend, the tabloid, The Mail on Sunday, reported an anonymous claim by a Conservative lawmaker that Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labor Party, had tried to distract Prime Minister Boris Johnson in parliament by crossing and removing her legs and comparing her to Sharon Stones character in the movie “Basic Instinct.”

Mrs. Rayner said the article had left her “fallen.” It was dismissed by Mr Johnson as “sexist, misogynistic, kalun”, triggering more than 5,500 complaints, according to the independent regulator of most of Britain’s newspapers and magazines. House Speaker Lindsay Hoyle summoned the paper’s editor, David Dillon, and its political editor, Glen Owen, to a meeting on Wednesday.

“The story is that there is misogyny at best and pursues the corridors of the House of Commons,” said Harriet Harman, the longest-serving female lawmaker and a lifelong advocate for women’s rights. It was, she told LBC Radio, symptomatic of “the setback you always get when women make progress,” adding that “there are some men who feel they have to put them back.”

There are 454 women and 963 men in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Before the last general election in 2019, a number of female politicians said that harassment and abuse had driven some out of politics; many rights groups are concerned that the culture of parliament has deterred others from standing up at all to stand up.

Repeated phone calls and emails to The Mail on Sunday remained unanswered.

Jemima Olchawski, head of the Fawcett Society, a leading British charity that supports gender equality and women’s rights, said in a statement: “This behavior cannot be tolerated – as a nation we can and should not accept this.” She noted that her organization had long fought for “systemic change to redress Parliament’s culture and make it a more inclusive and diverse workplace.”

Aside from its sexist tone and content, the article also contrasted Mrs Rayner’s start in life with Mr Johnson’s elite education and his ability to speak publicly honed at Oxford Union, the university’s famous debate community. She was born into the working class and was a young single mother who has risen to one of the most prominent jobs in British politics.

Ms. Rayner has also won praise for her style of debate while attending several sessions on the Prime Minister’s issue, the weekly verbal duel between party leaders in parliament.

In a television interview on Tuesday, Ms. Rayner described how, when contacted by The Mail on Sunday, she told the newspaper that the allegation was untrue, asked them not to publish it and was “amazed” at the impact it could have. have on her teenage sons.

The article was riddled with class prejudices, she told ITV, focusing on “where I come from and how I grew up”, suggesting that she was “stupid” because of her regular public schooling.

“They talk about my background because I had a child when I was young, as if to say I’m promiscuous – it was the insinuation that I felt was quite offensive,” Mrs Rayner added.

Following the publication of the article, several lawmakers expressed support for Ms. Rayner, expressing fears of damaging the reputation of a parliament that has faced several scandals in recent years. The same day that The Mail on Sunday wrote about Mrs. Rayner, the Sunday Times in London reported that three cabinet ministers and two senior Labor politicians were among 56 lawmakers facing charges of bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct.

Jane Merrick, police editor at the newspaper in – who was among those named Person of the Year by Time magazine in 2017 for speaking publicly about sexual abuse and harassment in parliament – criticized the article, pointing out that Mrs Rayner often surpassed Mr Johnson and debate. “To reduce this to what she’s wearing and how she’s behaving, I think is ridiculous, but also completely imbued with misogyny,” she said.

Merrick added that the workplace culture had improved in Parliament since she started working there more than two decades ago, but that it was depressing that more needed to be done.

“I think there was a kind of optimism when Me Too happened that we would suddenly change people’s behavior, and of course that never happened,” she said.

Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, a feminist political party, said the story raised broader issues.

“This would not be a story at all if Westminster and the wider political system in Britain were not filled with misogyny,” she said in a statement. She also pointed to “media misogyny, which both discourages women from getting involved and misrepresents and undersells their results when engaging.”

Many have long criticized a culture in parliament where the number of female legislators does not yet reflect the communities they represent.

In a speech Monday, Mr Johnson said he had offered Mrs Rayner his support and had promised that if the source of the article was revealed, then “the horrors of the earth” would be unleashed upon them.

This person, he said, did not give an authorized briefing.

James Heappey, a junior defense minister, told the BBC on Tuesday that he was concerned about the damage to the reputation of a parliament that was “in a bad place right now”, describing the incident as “offensive and ridiculous.”

As for his anonymous Conservative legislator who inspired the report, Mr. Heappey them as an “idiot of a colleague.”

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