Angela Rayner has revealed she begged the Mail on Sunday not to run a story claiming a Conservative MP compared her to the character in Basic Instinct, saying the “classist” comments in the piece were disparaging about working-class people.
Labour’s deputy leader said she had been horrified at the story, which she had had to explain to her teenage sons.
Recalling when the MoS first told her it was running the story, she said she told them: “This is disgusting. It’s completely untrue. Please don’t run a story like that … I was with my teenage sons … trying to prepare my children for seeing things online. They don’t want to see their mum portrayed that way and I felt really down about that.”
Speaking on ITV’s Lorraine, she said she had decided to wear a trouser suit for the interview in order not to be accused of anything further. She added: “I want to be defiant because I don’t think that women should be told how to dress but I didn’t want to distract from the fact that actually it’s not about my legs,” she said.
Rayner said she was horrified that the story might reflect the public’s view of her at the dispatch box, where she has stood in for the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, at prime minister’s questions in the Commons against Boris Johnson.
“I just thought, is that what people expect and think about what I do? All I worry about when I’m at the dispatch box is doing a good job and being able to do justice to my constituents and the work that I’m doing. So I was just really crestfallen.”
She said she had been heartened by the response from the public and all political parties. Johnson tweeted a condemnation of the piece, which quoted an MP saying Rayner could not compete with Johnson’s Oxford Union debating skills.
“I felt really fearful of the story coming out thinking, that’s what people think of me,” she said. “Actually, the overwhelming response has been that it’s been terrible that they even printed something like that.”
The Commons speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who met Rayner on Monday, has called the Mail on Sunday editor, David Dillon, to a meeting. The Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, the chair of the women and equalities committee, has written to Hoyle asking him to consider revoking the Commons pass of the piece’s author, Glen Owen.
Conservative whips have claimed they will try to get to the bottom of which Tory MP made the comments about Rayner.
But Mark Spencer, the leader of the House of Commons, said on Tuesday that the anonymous Tory MP who spoke to the Mail On Sunday acted in an “inappropriate” way, but he did not think they broke any rule in the house.
He told the Commons committee on standards that he believed those speaking to the newspaper breached lots of the principles of public life, including leadership and integrity.
But asked what specific rule they had broken, he said: “I don’t suppose they’ve broken any rule in the house or committed a crime that could be charged in general society. You know, I think they just acted frankly in an inappropriate way. And that should be roundly condemned.”
Rayner said the piece, which mentioned her teenage pregnancy and time as a care worker, was “steeped in classism” that often put women off achieving more in their careers.
“They talk about my background because I had a child when I was young as if to say I’m promiscuous, that was the insinuation. It was quite offensive for people of my background,” she said.
She said she wanted other women from the same kinds of background to feel empowered about achieving more. “I don’t want them thinking they’re not worthwhile because they speak with an accent or they’ve had children when they were young, or they might be single parents now … [mean] they should be ashamed of who they are,” she said.
“They should be confident of who they are, and they should be proud of their background and be able to speak about it. I’ll never stop speaking about mine because I’m proud of where I’ve come from.”
“A lot of women say to me when they see me: ‘Angie, you’ve inspired me, because I can see myself in you, you speak the way I speak.’ They see me and they see themselves and that’s the biggest compliment that someone can ever pay me.”