A British-born Russia expert who became a top US national security adviser has likened the sexist treatment meted out to Angela Rayner with her own experience in Donald Trump’s White House.
Fiona Hill, who grew up in the North East of England, has previously revealed how she was described dismissively as the “Russia bitch” by Mr Trump’s inner circle.
Speaking to Sky News’ Beth Rigby Interviews, Ms Hill drew comparisons between her own position as a high profile female public figure from a working class background with that of Ms Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader.
A newspaper article over the weekend reporting claims by anonymous Tory MPs that Ms Rayner was distracting Boris Johnson by crossing and uncrossing her legs – and scorning her debating abilities compared to that of the Oxford-educated PM – has drawn widespread criticism.
Ms Hill said: “It’s just a classic misogynistic putdown
“It’s just that kind of putdown, like the ‘Russia bitch’ – when people feel intimidated by women in powerful positions, which is clearly the case with Angela Rayner.
“It’s indicative of the problem that women have over and over again in public life – it doesn’t matter what kind of background that they have, but especially people from the working class.
“I’m also told by people ‘well look, there’s lots of people like you who have risen up in the time since you have’ – that’s just not true.
“Show me the number of working class women with a northern accent or any kind of accent that would mark them there who are in public life.
‘What are women supposed to wear?’
“And then, case in point, Angela Rayner – really unbelievably remarkable career and personal trajectory, leaving school after 16, having to raise a child on her own.”
Ms Hill likened the attention on what Ms Rayner chose to wear when facing the PM in the Commons with her own experience in the spotlight.
“What are women supposed to wear? What are we telling people?”
She described how, ahead of giving evidence at Mr Trump’s impeachment trial, the first thing she was told was “you’ll have to figure out what you’re going to wear”.
“I was like ‘not what I’m going to say, preparation for how I’m going to answer the questions’ but that ‘what you’re going to wear so you’re not distracting, so that people won’t look at you and say, God look at that woman’.”
Ms Hill, whose father was a coal miner, grew up in Bishop Auckland in County Durham at a time when the coal industry was in steep decline and unemployment was high across the country.
She recalled her father telling her “look pet, there’s nothing for you here” and taking the opportunity to go to university – thanks to a local authority maintenance grant.
“That kind of ability to do that now has really reduced,” she said.
‘Middle-aged woman with a funny accent’
Ms Hill went on to gain a scholarship to study at Harvard University in the US in 1989.
“All the way along, the reason that I am where I am today is because there was a grant, a subsidy, a fellowship, a scholarship, some kind of assistance.
“I couldn’t have done this on my own without that.”
Ms Hill went on to advise three US presidents including Mr Trump.
But she said: “I didn’t advise him on anything, in fact very few people did – because he didn’t really listen to advice and he just wasn’t particularly interested.
“He had a kind of vision of who should be an adviser anyway and it certainly wasn’t a kind of middle-aged woman with a funny accent.
“Right from the very beginning it was basically ‘who are you, what could you possibly know about any of this?'”
Ms Hill said Mr Trump was not “anti-women” and trusted some key female advisers such as Kellyanne Conway and his daughter Ivanka, and also listened seriously to then German leader Angela Merkel – though he was prone to interrupting Britain’s Theresa May.
‘I knew more about the Kremlin than Trump’s political machine’
“I found it very irritating – he did that with other people as well… there was not that mutual respect with people.”
Ms Hill said she learnt later that she was referred to as “the Russia bitch” by “the coterie of people around Trump”.
She told Beth Rigby: “It’s that repudiation. As a woman, you and I and many women in public life and many women not in public life have to basically put up with that kind of dismissiveness.”
Ms Hill rejected the idea that going to work for Mr Trump had been a mistake.
“I did it in the spirit of public service, patriotism for the United States at a time when the Russians, Putin, had messed around in US politics, creating absolute chaos on the domestic front that we’re still dealing with now,” she said.
“Where I should have been more careful, when I went in… was really doing my homework about some of the other people who were there.
“I knew more about the Kremlin than I really did about this political machine that was working around Trump, this personal coterie.”
On Mr Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – and the fears raised recently that he could yet win the war – she said he may prevail simply by staying in power, despite the devastation brought by the conflict.
Putin has ‘unleashed the nuclear genie’
She said that for the Russian leader the dismemberment of Ukraine, ceding key regions and cutting it off from the Black Sea would look “like a win”.
Ms Hill suggested that Western powers should continue to push with support for Ukraine and diplomatic efforts to bring other countries round to the same view – and that they should not be intimidated by Russia’s nuclear threats, themselves the response of a “scared” Putin.
“He’s scared that we could indeed push him back, he’s scared that Ukraine could win,” she said.
“We have to put Putin and his nuclear missiles back in the strategic bottle.
“He’s basically unleashed the nuclear genie, we have to put that back.”