Angela Rayner has once again been trending on Google. Not for speaking out on discrimination in politics or addressing the cost of living in the UK but because she was accused of distracting Boris Johnson by crossing and uncrossing her legs in a 'Basic Instinct' style ploy during debates in the Commons. Obviously, this stinks of misogyny.
And, just like when Rayner was seen leaving for work with her fellow Labour MP Sam Tarry while he was holding a toothbrush a few months ago, ‘Is Angela Rayner married,’ and ‘Is Angela Rayner single’ are now breakout search terms for the politician on Google Trends thanks to the sexist suggestion she's been using her body rather than her brain to challenge the Tory party.
This week, headlines screamed: 'Stone the crows! Tories accuse Rayner of Basic Instinct plot to distract Boris.' In weeks past, they hollered: ‘Keir Starmer’s number 2 Angela Rayner, 41, spotted leaving her London home early in the morning with the married MP Sam Tarry, 39, with tell-tale toothbrush sticking out of his pocket.’
Salacious affair claims and unfounded objectification have followed Rayner around Westminster since she demanded Matt Hancock’s resignation for his relationship with Gina Coladangelo. Keir Starmer’s parliamentary aide MP Carolyn Harris even resigned after allegations that she had spread ‘baseless rumours’ about Rayner’s private life.
And there are gendered undertones to this obsession with Rayner’s sexuality and personal life: ‘Boris Johnson gets celebrated by the fact that nobody knows how many kids he’s got,’ Rayner told The Times. ‘I’ve not done anything wrong. I’m living my life like everybody else is. It’s not relevant to what I do. But somehow Boris Johnson, it makes him a lad,’ she said.
And the misogynistic language isn't a new takedown tactic. When Rayner covered for Starmer at Prime Ministers Questions while he was isolating at the start of 2022, the language used to describe her takedown of Johnson was similarly inappropriate. ‘Look out, Carrie! Boris Johnson flirts with Angela Rayner over her leadership ambitions…during a VERY jovial PMQs,’ suggestive coverage read.
To repeatedly objectify Rayner and paint her as a flirty hair-twirling woman or vixen archetype while she holds authority to account is to undermine her power and belittle her achievements. This is not the type of language that should be used to describe female politicians as they debate in the House of Commons.
Until Angela Rayner’s private life demonstrates that’s she’s an inappropriate civil servant then she should be treated in the same way as male politicians are by the public and the press. Suggestive and salacious language does little to encourage women to enter government and is, arguably, a less direct insinuation that women’s sexuality is shameful.
‘My personal life is my personal life,’ Rayner maintained to The Times. ‘It’s not good for any of us if we start putting ourselves in that gutter arena. It’s gutter politics,’ she said.