Michael Gove has been criticised for joking about the sex abuse and harassment allegations against Harvey Weinstein during a radio appearance.
The minister and former journalist appeared on the 60th anniversary special edition of The Today Programme on Saturday and said submitting to interview by host John Humphrys was “like going into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom - just pray you emerge with your dignity intact.”
Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who appeared alongside Gove, joked: “John goes way beyond groping.”
Interviewing the pair during the broadcast in front of an audience at Wigmore Hall in London, Humphrys was asking the politicians whether The Today Programme was too harsh on them.
“The broader point is you can make a fool of yourself,” Gove added after his joke, which was interrupted by audience laughter.
The audience laughed but Guardian media editor Graham Ruddick reported others “set blank-faced or with a look of disgust”.
Weinstein, who has been a powerful film producer in Hollywood for decades, has been accused of harassment, assault or rape by more than 30 women. He insists all of the encounters were consensual.
Sex harassment allegations spread to other industries, including journalism and politics.
It has been reported that four MPs, including a minister, have been caught up in allegations of sexual misconduct at Westminster.
Gove quickly said he “apologised unreservedly”, tweeting it was a “clumsy attempt at humour”.
Immediately after Gove’s comment aired on Saturday morning, people tweeted to condemn it.
Lib Dem deputy leader Jo Swinson accused him of trivialising sexual assault.
Labour MP Jess Phillips said: “Michael Gove just left the studio without his dignity.”
Anna Soubry said the joke “insulted victims of rape”.
Journalist Hadley Freeman attacked him for “kicking off the weekend with a rape joke”.
Law lecturer Paul Bernal said: “There are no words for how appalling he is.”
One Tweeter suggested Gove’s jokes were being written by gaffe-prone Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.
Playwright Lucy Prebble said jokes like Gove’s were “half-conscious attempts to break consensus and make women look humourless”.
The timing of the joke, which coincided with a headline in The Guardian that MPs are failing to take sexual harassment claims seriously, was not lost on anyone.