“Boris Johnson condemns misogyny” is quite the story and one to send the irony needle crazy.
It took the Johnson-supporting Mail on Sunday to bring about this feat. The paper’s political editor Glen Owen reported that unnamed Tory MPs believe deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner distracts Boris Johnson in the Commons by crossing and uncrossing her legs like a character in the film Basic Instinct.
You can almost imagine Johnson giving his stupid thumbs-up sign to that one, until he realised that the newspaper was being attacked from all sides. Instead, he burbled that the report was “the most appalling load of sexist, misogynist tripe”.
Johnson also threatened to unleash “the terrors of the earth” if the source of the comments were identified. I never knew those were his to command, although the errors of the earth are another matter.
Never mind quoting King Lear, you can’t help wondering if Johnson has himself played the role of King Leer more than a few times. As suggested by when he was campaigning in 2005 and said: “Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts.”
Hatred and hostility directed at women is something many people from all parties know is rife in our politics. And the Mail on Sunday’s snooty, nasty, and frankly pathetic story backs up this sorry thesis.
Angela Rayner told ITV this morning that she was “crestfallen” by the story. She also said the attack on her was “steeped in classism” and implied she was thick.
A round of sarcastic applause, please, for the anonymous Tory MP who was quoted as saying: “She knows she can’t compete with Boris’s Oxford Union debating training.”
And there was me thinking that Boris Johnson has all the oratorical debating skills of dustbin (while often sounding as if he is shouting from inside one).
Politics is still too often a boys’ game, and a posh boys’ game at that. And being allowed to make sneery, common-room remarks about female politicians while keeping your own name out of the papers is all part of that game.
There are many shades to this story. Let’s sketch a few with a blunt old pencil.
Boris Johnson may have condemned the Mail on Sunday report, but what he doesn’t point out is that the Mail, as it always does nowadays, was just doing his dirty work. Johnson did not ask for that story to be printed, but he seems untroubled by the existence of such ridiculously partisan reporting.
These days the Mail seems to have moved from supporting the Conservatives to blindly backing Boris Johnson, whatever damn fool thing he says or does.
The use of anonymous sources is often a curse in political reporting. It allows any story to be floated without calling on a single provable fact or named person. This is wrong on at least two counts.
One, people will say anything if there is no chance of comeback, which is why those anonymous Tories seem happy to blather about Angela Rayner’s legs. I am guessing here, but surely not one Tory MP would have put their name to that misogynist memo to the Mail.
Two, how do we know a word of it is true? We don’t. If a quote is anonymous, it could easily have been composed to fit the chosen agenda.
Sources in political reports – and this is something I bored on about when lecturing in journalism – should have to be named unless there is a sound reason for not doing so. And the only good reason is that anonymity protects a source from potential harm.
It shouldn’t be there to protect them from people pointing and saying, “Oh, so you’re that twit who told the Mail on Sunday about Angela Rayner’s legs…”
And double congrats to Boris Johnson and culture secretary Nadine Dorries for composing the same tweet about this (spooky or what?).