Skip to main content

UK politics

Blair’s babes, Cameron’s cuties… It’s still the same old Westminster

Tony Blair with some of his 101-strong “harem” of female MPs. PA Images/Alamy

When Tory MPs accused Angela Rayner of goading Boris Johnson by crossing and uncrossing her legs in a short skirt, I was hardly surprised, says Alice Thomson in The Times. As a reporter in the 1990s, I interviewed Gulf War pilots by a swimming pool in Kuwait, visited a nudist camp and went to an S&M party, “but I never encountered as much sexism as I did when I arrived at the House of Commons”. The MPs treated me and other female journalists appallingly. One assumed we used our “female wiles” to trick innocent men into spilling their secrets. At one lunch a male MP put his hand between my legs; others used to joke about their vibrating pagers. “It soon became clear whom to avoid.”

Female MPs had it worse. The 101 “Blair’s babes” were made to have a group photograph on their 1997 arrival in parliament, “looking like some modern-day harem”. And in 2010, David Cameron’s female lawmakers were nicknamed “Cameron’s cuties” and graded on their looks. That’s just the mild stuff. Currently, 56 MPs (just under 9%) are facing accusations of sexual misconduct – three of them are cabinet ministers. When Rayner arrived in Westminster, she told me: “I feel like I’m punching above my gene pool.” Now she may feel “she’s wallowing in a foetid puddle”.

👔👠 When Shirley Williams was a Labour MP, humour was her best weapon. Once, a male colleague asked Williams to iron his shirt. She obliged, and deliberately burnt it. More troublesome were those who would regularly pinch Williams, and other female MPs, on the bottom in crowded voting lobbies. As revenge, the women decided to wear “vertiginous pairs of heels and stamp on anyone who misbehaved”. The next day one male MP “hobbled” into the tearooms, said Williams. “Of course, we women all rushed up to commiserate.”