Sex Scandals in Parliament
After the allegations about the film producer Harvey Weinstein upset the glamorous world of Hollywood, and the explosion of the #MeToo social media phenomenon—where women are telling their stories of sexual assault—Westminster is now all shook up with allegations of sex scandals concerning male MPs being a little bit more than just naughty.
For many, who have internalised patriarchal structures and believe that things cannot be changed, it is acceptable to consider the current irruption of sexual allegations and charges against men a bit “silly.” This is the kind of passivity which perpetuates the system of abuse-begetting-abuse and encourages men to behave in ways that are simply unacceptable. For others, fear of damaging their career or the party, keeps them silent.
The truth is that the Weinstein effect is starting to hurt misogynistic attitudes everywhere around the globe, and this can only be perceived as a positive step to uncover harassment and abuse, which has been accepted, forgiven or hushed up.
As the New Statesman Stephen Bush wrote: “From the Tory MP described as ‘handsy in taxis’ all the way to the SWP's ‘Comrade Delta,’ the senior member who was accused of rape repeatedly for at least three years and who has never been questioned by the police, the cry of ‘don't hurt the party’ has protected a great number of men for a great number of years and it may continue to do so now.”
The Sun story
Over the weekend, two Conservative MPs were accused of sexually inappropriate behaviour after the Sun revealed on Friday that Cabinet ministers were named by female staff in a secret list of “sex-pest MPs” to avoid at Westminster in a WhatsApp group.
The newspaper explained that their allegations came after Labour MP John Mann claimed that he was going to name a party colleague who behaved to a young woman “appallingly.” He tweeted: “I will be naming a Labour MP who behaved appallingly towards a young woman.”
According to the Sun, the messages in the group referred to politicians who were behaving in a variety of inappropriate ways. The women, ranging from researchers to secretaries and aides shared their stories and warned new employees of their “sleazy bosses.” From Parliament’s bars to party conferences, female employees warned their female colleagues to avoid getting into lifts and taxis with certain ministers or watch out for other ones for groping.
The accusations included senior MPs having sex with staff in Parliament’s offices, “groping,” demanding staff to buy sex toys, hiring young “leggy women,” pressing for affairs and calling their female workers “sugar t**s.” The Mail on Sunday named Conservative MP Mark Garnier as the minister who asked his secretary to buy sex toys in Soho while he was waiting outside the shop, and called her “sugar t**ts.” He said that his action “absolutely does not constitute harassment.” In addition, the Telegraph revealed that Stephen Crabb sent inappropriate texts for which he apologised.
A source said that women employees “For years we have all looked out for each other. It’s like, ‘So-and-so is hiring, but it can’t be a woman for him’.” A member of the WhatsApp group said: “The usual old suspects are there but there have been some surprising younger names crop up.” A “lechers list” of MPs behaving badly has been drawn up by Tory whips so that they can keep an eye on them. The “36 sex pest MPs” named in the list include 18 serving ministers and two cabinet ministers.
Theresa May’s spokesperson called for staff to come forward with their experiences and said: “Any allegations that may come to light will be taken extremely seriously and we would advise people to contact the police if there is such an allegation, so it can be fully investigated.” The PM has promised to fight against sexual allegations and asked the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, to prepare an independent mediation service for staff to raise their concerns.
Baroness Jenkin, said that “Men used to hit on you all the time. They would say, ‘I had a dream about you last night’. These things affect people differently.” Cabinet minister Maria Miller claimed she “experienced far more sexual harassment as an MP than in my 20-year career in advertising and marketing. This is not a thing of the past — we need to see it as a present-day concern.”
The shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, also highlighted the male culture which she has experienced for the last 30 years first-hand: “You would have sort of micro-sexual aggression. So women would get up in the chamber and Tories opposite would do this gesture like they were weighing their breasts. There was harassment, there were jokes which weren’t that funny – it was partly to do with the fact it was a very male environment – 650 MPs, when I went there just 20-odd women. It was partly to do with idea of all these men away from home, it was partly to do with the fact there were eight bars and the very long hours and the bars were open for as long as we’re sitting, and partly with the notion that what happens in Westminster stays in Westminster. It was worse – it’s a little bit better now – but there’s a long way to go.”