Nicola Sturgeon says men need to change to make politics better for women amid Angela Rayner smears
It is up to men to make politics better for women by ending misogynistic behaviour, Nicola Sturgeon has said, as Boris Johnson condemned “sexist” claims aimed at Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner as “appalling”.
The First Minister’s comments come in the wake of a controversy sparked by a story in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, in which anonymous Tory MPs accused Ms Rayner of attempting to distract the Prime Minister by crossing and uncrossing her legs in the Commons chamber.
The comments, which were condemned across the political spectrum, resulted in calls from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to end the “misogynistic culture” at Westminster.
When asked how politics could be made more welcoming to women, the First Minister simply said: “Men have to stop being misogynist.”
She added: “Not all men are misogynist, but misogyny comes from men and that’s what needs to change.
“It’s not women that need to change, it’s the conduct and behaviour and attitudes of men.”
Ms Sturgeon, one of the most high-profile women in UK politics, went on to say women are too often reduced “to their body parts”.
“I’ve been subject to that, all women in public life have been,” she said.
“And, also, this suggestion that the failures of men can always be laid at the door of a woman.
“The fact that Boris Johnson performs poorly in the House of Commons, the fact that Angela Rayner manages to out-debate him on every occasion that they’re up against each other, is somehow Angela Rayner’s fault rather than the fact that Boris Johnson’s just not very good at his job.”
When asked what repercussions those who briefed the story to the press should face, the First Minister said that was for the Conservative Party to decide, adding she hoped they would be dealt with “seriously”.
Her comments came after Mr Johnson said if the source of the newspaper’s story was identified they would face “the terrors of the earth”.
Asked if the row was a sign of a wider cultural problem, Mr Johnson said: “It’s hard to say on the basis of that particular story.
“But I have to say I thought it was the most appalling load of sexist, misogynist tripe.
“I immediately got in touch with Angela and we had a very friendly exchange.”
Sir Keir separately labelled the smears towards Ms Rayner as “rank sexism and rank misogyny”.
The Labour leader praised his deputy as a “fantastic woman and formidable politician” and called for an end to the sexist culture in Westminster.
The former head QC told ITV’s This Morning there would be “zero tolerance” for such attitudes in his own party.
He said: “It is rank sexism, rank misogyny. She was really disgusted that all of her political attributes were put aside for this ridiculous, offensive story.
“She shouldn’t have to put up with it, but all women in politics shouldn’t have to put up with it. Almost every woman in politics has had an element of this in some shape or form.
“We have got to change the culture. The culture in Parliament, it is sexist, it is misogynist. We need to change it.
“That is what Angela said to me. She used this expression, she said ‘it triggered something in me about the way women are seen in politics’.”
The Labour leader added: “I need to look at it within my own party wherever we see it. We will be absolutely on it with zero tolerance. There shouldn’t be a party political divide on this.”
Mr Johnson, who publicly condemned the claims on Twitter, was reported to have written to Ms Rayner privately expressing his sympathy and assuring her the comments were “not in his name”.
Technology minister Chris Philp there was “ongoing, active work” to root out such “offensive views” within the Conservative Party.
He said he expected efforts would be made to find out who spoke to The Mail on Sunday political editor Glen Owen, but suggested the chances of success were limited.
“I think that if anyone is identified having views like those that were expressed, which are just outrageous and misogynistic, then I would expect serious consequences to follow,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has demanded a meeting with The Mail on Sunday editor over the claims against Ms Rayner, and said he would also speak with the Chair of the Press Gallery over the story.
Making a statement to MPs, the Speaker announced the meeting would take place on Monday evening.
He said: “I said to the House last week in response to a point of order about a different article that I took the issue of media freedom very seriously – it is one of the building blocks of our democracy.
“However, I share the views expressed by a wide range of members, including I believe the Prime Minister, that yesterday’s article was reporting unsubstantiated claims – and misogynistic and offensive.”
Sir Lindsay added: “I express my sympathy to [Angela Rayner] for being the subject of this type of comment in being demeaning, offensive to women in Parliament and can only deter women who might be considering standing for election to the detriment of us all.”
Associated Newspapers, which publishes The Mail on Sunday, has declined to comment.
Earlier former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale claimed the allegation was an example of the “extreme misogyny” women in politics face.
She said: “You’re just hearing about this particular example because Angela Rayner is senior enough to have power and agency to call it out and demand that there are consequences for what has happened.
“But for a lot of women, they just have to quietly put up with comments like this on a day-by-day basis."
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.