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In 1957, the Sunday Express editor was summoned to Parliament and reprimanded for publishing an article about MPs dodging petrol rationing in the wake of Suez.
The bombshell scoop was true, and Sir John Junor became the last non-politician so rebuked. Today, there has been a chilling echo of that threat to Press freedom.
The trigger? A story in our sister newspaper, The Mail on Sunday.
A Tory MP claimed that Angela Rayner had admitted using her legs to distract Boris Johnson during PMQs
Cue fury. Mrs Rayner was apoplectic with rage. There was a storm of criticism on social media. And the Commons Speaker, branding the story ‘misogynistic and offensive’, furiously vowed to haul in the paper’s editor for an explanation.
Some politicians even called for the journalist who wrote the story to be stripped of his Commons pass.
Isn’t this simply shooting the messenger?
We have nothing but respect for the Speaker’s esteemed office but does not his intemperate language reveal he has already passed judgment on the article without possessing all the facts?
As we reveal today, three other MPs – including one woman – have corroborated the account of Mrs Rayner’s remarks.
Moreover, in a podcast in January, she herself raised claims that she had copied Sharon Stone to fluster the PM – and, while saying she was left mortified, she also joked about it in the most vulgar vernacular.
The Mail abhors sexism and misogyny in all its forms. And many will despair that so much energy and attention is focused on what they consider a trivial matter against the backdrop of war in Europe.
Yet for democracy to function effectively, journalists must be free to report what they are told by MPs about conversations and events in Westminster – however unsavoury.
Through his crude attempt at censorship, the Speaker has plumbed troubling new depths. When newspapers fear having their wings clipped by Parliament, just because some might find stories unpalatable, it is a very slippery slope indeed.