So, what were they? Casually sexist? Very drunk? Or just not very bright? The ‘they’ in question, before readers ask, is whichever anonymous Tory MP gave the story to the Mail on Sunday about Angela Rayner crossing and uncrossing her legs to distract the Prime Minister at PMQs. I only ask since the story is so patently absurd, so utterly wrong-headed, and so completely self-destructive that it can’t possibly have been done by any Conservative parliamentarian who was completely compos mentis.

Leaving aside whether the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party was consciously recreating the infamous scene with Sharon Stone from 1992’s Basic Instinct, and the story is really revealed as a load of tosh by the claim that Rayner “knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training”. Anyone who has ever had to sit through a Union debate would know they are rather unedifying spectacles, that no training is required, and that they have little resemblance to PMQs. So Rayner not having had to endure one might be quite an asset.

Nevertheless, there is an even bigger question raised from this piece than those about the lack of sanity or experience of the Oxford Union of a nameless MP. That is: what on Earth were the Mail on Sunday thinking by running it? As the above graph from 2020 shows, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday are the most popular titles amongst women, being the paper of choice of 40% of the fairer sex. Although both titles pick up more than a third of 16–24-year-old readers, we can assume the Mail’s female readers tend to be slightly older, since almost half of all newspaper-takers over 65 have it as their paper.

I point this out since I am wondering both what the Mail on Sunday expected its readers to make of the story, and what they did make of it. Were they outraged at the misogyny of the anonymous politician? Were they quietly entertained by Rayner’s alleged methods? After all, she has been the subject of tabloid gossip before. Or was the response of readers the same across both sexes – that this is an obvious piece of Sunday paper nonsense, and not to be taken seriously? One prays for the latter, since I desperately hope that Conservative MPs are a bit better than this.