The Commons Speaker was facing a backlash last night after The Mail on Sunday rejected his bid to summon its editor.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle had announced he would call in the paper’s editor and political editor over claims that Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner had used her legs to distract Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions.
But his move sparked a freedom of speech row and warnings that a Speaker should never be involved in deciding what the Press was allowed to print. David Dillon, who edits The Mail on Sunday, rejected the demand for a meeting, saying journalists should ‘not take instruction from officials of the House of Commons, however august they may be’.
A row erupted on Sunday after Conservative sources told The Mail on Sunday that Mrs Rayner (pictured) tried to put Mr Johnson ‘off his stride’ at PMQs by crossing and uncrossing her legs
Responding to Sir Lindsay, he wrote: ‘The Mail on Sunday deplores sexism and misogyny in all its forms. However journalists must be free to report what they are told by MPs about conversations which take place in the House of Commons, however unpalatable some may find them.’
Former Labour minister Kate Hoey was among those to criticise the Speaker yesterday, saying his intervention risked creating a ‘worrying’ precedent. She added: ‘Who is going to decide what should be reported on or not?
‘I am very critical of a lot of the media but I genuinely believe in a free Press.’
Former Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick is also understood to have told the Speaker that it was ‘quite wrong to interfere in journalistic freedom and summon a newspaper to his office … which is not the role of Parliament’.
Three more MPs came forward to privately back up The Mail on Sunday’s report that Mrs Rayner had been the original source of claims that she had uncrossed her legs in the Commons to distract the PM.
In addition to the original Conservative MP who spoke to the newspaper, three other MPs alleged that it was Mrs Rayner herself who joked about her ‘tactic’ during a night on the Commons terrace. The Mail on Sunday has spoken to four MPs, who all gave the same account of what she said, including the use of a startling slang colloquialism.
In other developments yesterday:
- Audio from a political podcast back in January revealed that Mrs Rayner herself had joked about being compared to Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, while saying it was ‘mortifying’;
- In the recording of a light-hearted question and answer session with comedian Matt Forde, she volunteered the fact that her appearance at PMQs that month had drawn comparisons with the infamous Sharon Stone character in the 1992 thriller;
- In a statement last night, Sir Lindsay appeared to back away from suggestions he could ban The Mail on Sunday’s political editor from the Commons;
- Speaking to ITV’s Lorraine show yesterday, Mrs Rayner addressed the row directly, saying she had been left ‘crestfallen’ by the claims but she had been heartened by the public reaction;
- The 42-year-old donned a trouser suit for the interview, saying she did not want to be ‘judged for what I wear’.
The row erupted on Sunday after Conservative sources told The Mail on Sunday that Mrs Rayner tried to put Mr Johnson ‘off his stride’ at PMQs by crossing and uncrossing her legs.
Mrs Rayner condemned the claims as ‘desperate, perverted smears’, while the PM tried to distance his party from the allegations, describing them as ‘misogynistic tripe’. He later threatened to unleash the ‘terrors of the Earth’ if the anonymous Tory MP behind the original story was identified.
On Monday Sir Lindsay intervened, saying the comments were ‘demeaning’ and ‘offensive to women in Parliament’ and could ‘only deter women who might be considering standing for election to the detriment of us all’.
Earlier he had summoned Mr Dillon, and political editor Glen Owen, to a meeting to ‘discuss this issue affecting our parliamentary community’. But responding to the Speaker’s summons last night, Mr Dillon said that while The Mail on Sunday had ‘the greatest possible respect both for your Office and for Parliament [which] along with a free Press they are the foundation stones of British democracy’, the invitation would be declined.
Miss Hoey branded the Speaker’s intervention ‘ridiculous’, while The Daily Telegraph described the reaction of MPs and the Speaker as ‘extraordinary’.
In a leading article the newspaper asked: ‘Are newspapers now expected to tailor their reportage to the whims of what MPs consider appropriate?’
Downing Street said on Monday that the decision to call in the senior journalists was ‘a matter for the Speaker’ but said Sir Lindsay had ‘talked about respecting media freedom, which is something the Prime Minister is very passionate about’.
A government source described Sir Lindsay’s decision as ‘madness’, adding: ‘No good can come from MPs trying to get involved in deciding what does and doesn’t get written in newspapers.’
In a statement last night Sir Lindsay appeared to back away from suggestions he could ban The Mail on Sunday’s political editor from the Commons in response to a request from Caroline Nokes, chairman of the women and equalities committee.
Sir Lindsay insisted he was a ‘staunch believer and protector of Press freedom’, saying he had refused a request from a Labour MP last week to ban The Times’s sketch writer for making allegedly ‘sexist’ observations.
He added: ‘I firmly believe in the duty of reporters to cover Parliament, but I would also make a plea – nothing more – for the feelings of all MPs and their families to be considered, and the impact on their safety, when articles are written. I would just ask that we are all a little kinder. That is what I wanted to talk about at tomorrow’s meeting.’
Angela Rayner’s Sharon Stone laughter: Labour deputy leader joked on podcast in January about ‘mortifying’ Basic Instinct comparisons
By Jason Groves Political Editor for the Daily Mail
Angela Rayner joked about being compared to Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct during a light-hearted podcast this year.
Labour’s deputy leader is at the centre of a sexism storm after Tory sources told The Mail on Sunday that she tried to put the Prime Minister ‘off his stride’ by crossing and uncrossing her legs when sitting opposite him in the Commons.
Mrs Rayner has condemned the claims as ‘desperate, perverted smears’. The Prime Minister has led Tory criticism, describing the suggestion as ‘misogynistic tripe’.
Angela Rayner (right) joked about being compared to Sharon Stone on a podcast with Matt Forde (left) this year
Speaking at a comedy event in January, Mrs Rayner said she was ‘mortified’ by the comparison with Miss Stone’s infamous character in the 1992 thriller – but appeared to see the funny side.
In a light-hearted question and answer session with comedian Matt Forde she volunteered the fact that her appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions that month had drawn comparisons with Miss Stone, joking that it had sparked an internet meme of her crossing and uncrossing her legs.
Speaking about her treatment as a senior woman in politics, she told the audience at London’s Duchess Theatre: ‘There is a tint of misogyny in it. Every time I do a PMQs somebody has an opinion on what I wear. Did you see the meme on Sharon Stone like I was doing it at PMQs? I was mortified.’
In the audio from the recording of Mr Forde’s Political Party podcast she can be heard erupting with laughter as she added: ‘They did this whole meme about me doing the whole, you know the old …’
Mrs Rayner said when she saw the meme ‘I was like when did I do that?’ She then made a reference to the erotic thriller Fatal Attraction, mistaking it for Basic Instinct.
She added: ‘I wasn’t aware I did it but apparently there was this whole meme about how my dress was a bit revealing, but I didn’t think it was.’
Mr Forde asked if the suggestion was she was trying to distract the Prime Minister. Mrs Rayner laughed and replied: ‘It don’t take much does it? I don’t need to do that.’
She also laughed at suggestions that the PM flirted with her when they clashed at the dispatch box, saying that Mr Johnson and other male ministers ‘don’t know how to deal with’ a working class woman. She told Mr Forde: ‘Yeah, I think he has got a bit of a romance going on there somehow.
‘Michael Gove did the same and think they have this thing – “If you can’t beat them, smooch them”. Do you know what I mean?
‘You can’t beat a puppy. You can’t beat a seal. Working class girl from council estate, “If I start attacking her I’ll look really c**p as someone from a posh school so I’ll just sort of compliment them in a backhanded way”. I think that’s how they try and deal with me. Because they don’t know how to deal with me.’
In an interview with ITV’s Lorraine show yesterday, Mrs Rayner donned a trouser suit, saying that she did not want to be ‘judged for what I wear’.
The 42-year-old politician said she had been ‘crestfallen’ at the claim she tried to distract the PM with her legs, saying she had had to prepare her children for what would be written about her.
But she said she had been ‘heartened’ by the public reaction.
‘All I worry about when I’m at the despatch box is doing a good job and being able to do justice to my constituents and the work I’m doing, so I was just really crestfallen that somebody had said that to a paper and a paper was reporting that,’ she said.
‘It wasn’t just about me as a woman, saying I was using the fact I’m a woman against the Prime Minister.’
A Labour source last night denied Mrs Rayner had not been offended by the comparison with Stone’s Basic Instinct scene when she spoke out about it in January.
The source said: ‘Angela clearly said how deeply hurt she felt at the misogynistic comments aimed towards her, and has spoken passionately about the sexism she has faced and her fear that it could discourage women who want to enter politics.’