“Classism: depressing and familiar

Terri White Grazia (again) 3rd May 2022

Even by the current standards of British politics, last weekend’s Mail On Sunday ‘story’ on Angela Rayner, titled ‘Basic Instinct ploy to distract Boris!’, waded into new, grim waters, The full-page ‘hit piece’ – based on reports from anonymous Conservative MPs – claimed that when Rayner steps up at PMQs ‘she knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training, but she has other skills which he lacks’, before accusing her of uncrossing and crossing her legs, presumably flashing her genitals as Sharon Stone did in the 1992 thriller. (The MPs should have paused before letting this reference so lascivious slip off their tongues, considering Stone revealed this was shot without her consent. Nice one, lads.)

Rayner’s spokesman described the humiliating allegations as ‘categorically untrue’ and the MP said she’d begged the paper not to print the piece, before having to prepare her kids for its publication.

The ‘story’ was rightly slammed all-round for being misogynistic, but one thing that many missed was the breath-taking classism stitched into the smears and suggestions. The journalist, Glen Owen, wrote, ‘Ms Rayner, 41, is a socialist grandmother who left school at 16 while pregnant and with no qualifications’ and that she was ‘comprehensive school-educated, but the Tory leader was an ‘old Etonian.’

They mention her age, lack of formal education, and that she was a teen mum because they can’t out-and-out call her ‘stupid’ or a ‘slag’ (that would be crass, right?). But the suggestion is clear: she’s a promiscuous girl-turned-woman from Stockport who is so lacking in intelligence and oratory skills that she resorts to sex.

As women, who among us hasn’t had to deal with sexism at work? But from my experience – and as shown through – working-class women’s sexuality is almost always targeted; our reputations the first and easiest thing to malign…

To be honest, being reminded of how hard Rayner has had to graft against all the odds to become Deputy Leader of the Opposition only made me respect her more. But I’m sure it sticks in their craw; that they’re furious that a woman like her, from working-class roots, dares to believe she has the right to sit alongside them in parliament. They’re threatened by the fact that she regularly dominates their leader at the despatch box. When outclassed and outsmarted, boy do they go low.

Smears like the one flung at Angela Rayner are not just humiliating, they’re dangerous to us as a society. Not only will they put off working-class women from entering politics (part of the intent, I’m sure), but they create a wider culture in which women’s bodies are fair game for comment, judgment, and ridicule; for public debasement. when we want them to hear our words, see our accomplishments, they’re thinking and talking about our vaginas, reducing us to our anatomy.

They should get their minds and mouths out of the gutters: I mean, were they not raised better than that?”

Essentially they objectified Angela Rayner’s body for their pleasure and exploitation – which at least subtextually is rape. Angela Rayner kept her cool and has out-manoeuvred them at every turn.

This sheer nastiness illustrates just how threatened by Rayner they are – I think they may have identified for the public the first woman leader of the Labour Party and a future prime minister.


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