Hardline male Brexiteer Tory MPs enjoy likening themselves to Spartans – a self-flattering reference to the warrior race in ancient Greece renowned for fighting to the death.
In reality, though, most of these Brussels-baiting Tory backbenchers are well past their physical prime. But one of their number is an exception.
Dominic Raab’s bulging muscles and athletic frame leap out of a photo taken during his days as an Oxford University boxing blue in 1995. To this day, he does weekly karate classes.
Dominic Raab’s bulging muscles and athletic frame leap out of a photo taken during his days as an Oxford University boxing blue in 1995
Clearly proud of the snap and the impression he feels it gives of a Tory tough-guy fit to be prime minister, 45-year-old Raab handed it to a TV company to use for their profile of him.
Although some women have described the image as a cross between Arnold Schwarzenegger and the TV political sitcom anti-hero Alan B’Stard MP, it wasn’t the photo that caused most controversy.
There has been widespread condemnation of his reply, when asked if he is a feminist, that he is ‘probably not’.
Even some of Raab’s allies wondered whether he had displayed more political testosterone than was good in this age of #MeToo and male politicians desperate to virtue-signal their feminist sympathies.
Indeed, allegations of sexism have dogged Raab ever since he said, eight years ago, that some feminists were ‘obnoxious bigots’.
He launched his leadership bid with a Hello!-style interview and photo of himself and his wife, Erika Rey-Raab, in their Surrey kitchen
His comment came as he criticised Labour’s ‘outdated and obsolete equality and diversity agenda’. Men, he claimed, were getting a raw deal. There was ‘flagrant discrimination’ against men.
Self-pityingly, he said men worked longer hours, died earlier, but retired later than women.
He also talked of ‘subtle sexism’ – for example men being blamed for the banking crisis and only getting paid more than women because they were ‘more assertive in pay negotiations’.
Raab, whose Brazilian wife Erika works in marketing for a major IT firm, said: ‘One commentator recently complained that ‘high-flying women are programmed to go for high-flying men.
Most men aren’t attracted to women who are more successful than they are’. Can you imagine the outrage if such trite generalisations were made about women, or other minorities? Feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots.’
Finally, in a ill-advised reference to 1960s feminists who burned their bras, he suggested it might be time for men to start ‘burning their briefs’.
Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab is vying to replace the outgoing Theresa May as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister
Perhaps wary of his image as a chauvinist who believes a woman’s place is in the kitchen, he launched his leadership bid with a Hello!-style interview and photo of himself and his wife in their Surrey kitchen, displaying the obligatory framed portrait of their two children.
Significantly, he has also been advocating female-friendly policies such as two weeks’ paid paternity leave.
The intended message was that he’s big on empathy as well as policy. As well as marital bliss, Raab is proud of his martial arts skills.
He says karate helped him cope with the premature death of his father, who had fled to the UK from Czechoslovakia at the age of six in 1938 to escape the Nazis. Raab was just 12 when he died.
‘Sport helped restore my confidence, and that hugely benefited my attitude to school and life,’ he told the Mail yesterday.
‘There were strong role models, camaraderie and an ethos of respect. I take the discipline and focus I learnt from sport into my professional life – and I believe that approach is vital to making a success of the Brexit negotiations and delivering a fairer deal from Brussels.’
After school in Buckinghamshire, Raab studied law at Oxford where he captained the karate club and was a boxing blue.
Allegations of sexism have dogged Raab ever since he said, eight years ago, that some feminists were ‘obnoxious bigots’
His MP’s website boasts how he ‘holds a black belt 3rd dan in karate and is a former UK Southern Regions champion and British squad member’.
He still trains at a boxing club in Thames Ditton, where he is put through his paces twice a week by two ex-professional boxers, and has a poster of Muhammad Ali in his Commons office.
In 2006, he was appointed chief of staff to fellow Tory David Davis. The former Special Forces reservist said Raab’s karate black belt impressed him more than his two Oxbridge degrees.
Davis said it showed ‘discipline, the ability to get out and run or train in the rain day after day with no immediate reward, a determined character, able to summon all their resources and focus on an end’.
Despite his karate black belt, Raab is known for his courtesy and was upset when civil servants who worked for him as Brexit Secretary anonymously described him as a bully.
And during his very brief stint in the job before he stepped down in protest at Mrs May’s EU exit deal, EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his colleague Guy Verhofstadt accused Raab of bullying them.
He was also embarrassed last year when a Sunday tabloid newspaper exposed his then diary secretary for selling sex to sugar daddies online.
With regard to this week’s ‘I’m probably not a feminist’ comment, he put it into context to the Mail.
He said a recent opinion poll had showed that only seven per cent of people consider themselves ‘feminists’, while 67 per cent say, like him, they believe in ‘equality for men and women’.
If not a feminist, he does describe himself as ‘a champion of equality and meritocracy’.
Referring to his wife, he says they are a ‘two-salary couple’ and he supports her as much as she supports him.
‘I’m all for working women making the very best of their potential and that’s something that’s really important to me.’
A little patronising perhaps, but as a wannabe prime minister Dominic Raab may be excused being fixated about maximising human potential.