If this morning’s Mail on Sunday marks the denouement of the Angela Rayner/Sharon Stone story, it’s fair to say that nobody comes out of it looking good.
First, the paper reports multiple Conservative MPs confirming that the originator of the idea that Labour’s deputy leader was employing tactics out of Basic Instinct against the Prime Minister was Rayner herself. Tory whips apparently uncovered this whilst trying to fulfil Boris Johnson’s promise to unleash the “terrors of the earth” on the MP responsible.
But it also notes that the remarks had been made as part of a “lighthearted and good-natured” exchange between the colleagues in a Commons smoking area. There’s no indication that they were meant seriously.
So why leak it to the press? And why, as a national newspaper, choose to run what we might call for want of a better phrase a bit of office banter as if it were an actual story?
As Dan Hodges notes in his account of what happened, Rayner’s initial reflex to deny the story is understandable enough; there are surely few people who’d be happy to have their off-colour jokes written up in the Mail on Sunday.
Nonetheless, the result was that Glen Owen, the author of the offending piece, was subject to a torrent of online abuse – not to mention official censure from Sir Lindsay Hoyle – for reporting on a “desperate, perverted smear” which originated with Rayner herself.
And the Labour deputy’s lies and evasions will overshadow her in other ways very measured response to the latest round of scandals, emphasising that misbehaving MPs need to take individual responsibility and can’t blame some miasmic ‘culture’ for their conduct.
This whole affairs is also unfortunate, not just because there is more than enough sexism at Westminster without fabricating instances of it, but because it may also heighten distrust between MPs and discourage what was in truth a good and healthy thing: MPs of different parties socialising and cracking jokes together.