I went on holiday last week. Today I got back, and it seems I’ve landed in Britain circa 1972, because the news story dominating all radio phone-ins is the deputy Prime Minister winking at a female member of the opposite bench. I thought by 2022 we had all unanimously agreed that sleaze in the workplace was a no-go…apparently to some it is still a ‘grey area’.

Listening to the callers was on one hand cringey, on the other hand alarming. I tried to tell myself that the debates were not a true reflection of our society’s values, because there aren’t that many people who would actually be available at 2pm on a Thursday to phone in to harp on about how ‘you can’t do anything anymore without someone trying to cancel you’. Terry from Swindon, who called into LBC told the presenter, “All this bloody feminism has gone so far, that now I’m scared of walking down the street by myself because next thing I know, I’ll be cancelled”. I’m not sure Terry from Swindon realises that to be cancelled you actually need to be of note in the first case, so in that regard he is completely immune to the so-called ‘Cancel Culture’ he so stressfully fears.

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The overriding theme of the calls was that winking is just a bit of innocent fun and that we should not consider anything and everything as an assault. Granted, being winked at and being raped are so vastly different that you cannot even begin to compare. However, inappropriate behaviour shouldn’t go unchecked just because it isn’t rape…that cannot be where we set the bar.

A wink is not always inappropriate, of course it isn’t. I’ve been known to buckle at the knees in the wake of a well-executed wink. Grandparents give their grandchildren a knowing wink to let them know that they can be a little naughtier than they would be at home. And then there’s the whole array of winks that girls give each other in different night club settings, like a silent yet universally understood language consisting of winks, head tilts and nods. It’s all about context.

In a combative environment like the House of Commons during PMQs, where two sides of the floor basically fight it out to come out on top, there is no place for winking. Especially not from Dominic Raab who exudes the vibe of a seedy office manager who makes it his personal mission to sleep with the intern. The wink in this context symbolizes a lack of respect in the most patronising of ways. He may as well have given Rayner a spank and told her to make him a cup of tea. That is the level of disrespect and disregard for her professional position as his shadow – vis-à-vis his professional equal – that he exhibited.

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I find it highly coincidental that many of the people who vocally accused Angela Rayner only a couple of months ago of weaponizing her sexuality because she merely uncrossed and crossed her legs in front of the Prime Minister (who, as we know, has the sexual self-control of an old dog on heat…just the qualities you want from a man in charge of the nuclear button)…those same people are the ones jumping head first to Dominic Raab’s defence. The rampant misogyny is so evident, from Raab as well many from many of his greatest defenders.

You don’t have to like Angela Rayner. She doesn’t strike me as someone I’d particularly like to take to bottomless brunch. But you do have to respect that she is in her place of work, trying to fulfil her parliamentary duties in an intelligent manner – she is not there to be non-verbally patronized by the man on the other side of the dispatch box. A man whose own record as a minister is so poor, that less time spent winking and more time spent familiarising himself with the current cost of living crisis  may actually benefit not only himself, but also the country in which he is deputy Prime Minister.

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