A spreadsheet accusing 38 Tory MPs of sexual misconduct was released by parliamentary researchers last week. It has led to a spate of serious allegations against sitting or former MPs.Westminster is reeling following revelations about systemic sexual harassment and abuse.
Four Tory MPs were referred to the party’s newly established disciplinary committee last weekend. More are likely to follow.
One MP has been suspended, and Michael Fallon has resigned as defence secretary. Fallon left after several sexual harassment claims were made against him.
He gave a mealy-mouthed apology saying his behaviour had “fallen below the high standards of those in the armed forces”.
But then he also defended himself saying his actions would have been acceptable a decade ago. This isn’t true, and MPs shouldn’t use the historic nature of the allegations as a defence.
Fallon isn’t alone. Damian Green, Theresa May’s most senior minister, was hanging onto his ministerial position by his fingertips as Socialist Worker went to press.
He’s answering questions to a cabinet office investigation about harassing a journalist in 2015.
He’s also been accused of having “extreme pornography” on his parliamentary computer by ex-police chief Bob Quick. The police were searching his computer after investigations into Home Office leaks in 2008.
Chris Pincher resigned as chief Tory whip and referred himself to the police after allegations that he harassed a Tory activist.
Dover MP Charlie Elphicke has had “serious allegations” made against him. Shrewsbury and Atcham MP Daniel Kawczynski has been accused of pressuring an intern to go out with him.
Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter is under investigation over accusations of assaulting female MPs in parliament. Fellow Tory MP Andrew Brigden claims to have reported complaints about him to the whips’ office as early as 2010.
And more revelations will come. Speaking at bosses’ CBI conference Theresa May said “a number of issues were raised with me that didn’t appear in the press”.
This scandal comes after a year of a deepening crisis for the Tories.
Their coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party gives them only a slim majority in Parliament. Further resignations and allegations put this at risk.
Some Tories are keen to explain the allegations away as political opportunism.
After Andrea Leadsom spoke about Fallon’s sexual harassment, Rachel Johnson of the Daily Mail said, “She thought she could scuttle a rival and goldplate her own precarious position in government at the same time.”
The researchers’ spreadsheet also included behaviour that wasn’t abusive—there is mention of extra-marital
and LGBT+ relationships.
These may be embarrassing to MPs—but only because of homophobia and backward ideas about sexuality that are seized on by the right wing press.
It is not the same as harassing or abusing people. There will need to be genuine change in society to challenge the sexism that is clearly tolerated in Westminster.
Individuals must be held to account—and the system which allows and encourages such behaviour must also be brought down.
The whips ‘killed six people’
The scandals at Westminster have shone a light on the role of the whips.
These are MPs who act as enforcers for the party leaders.
For them any breath of scandal or “inappropriate” conduct is useful in order to be able to pressure MPs to toe the party line.
In 1993 Tory prime minister John Major was desperate to force through support for the European Union’s Maastricht treaty.
In a series of knife-edge votes several Tories threatened to rebel.
One Tory said about the whips, “They kept phoning my wife and saying ‘you should tell him to vote with the government’.
“With some it was affairs, or things like visits to gay nightclubs. It didn’t matter if it wasn’t true, or was gossip, they still tried it on.”
During the Tony Blair governments the whips used intense pressure to push MPs top vote for the war in Iraq, tuition fees and other measures.
The whips can certainly be ruthless. From 1977-9 the Labour government did not have a majority in the Commons. Every vote mattered.
Joe Ashton, then one of the Labour whips, said years later, “The whips’ office killed six people—I say that with deep sympathy. Some of them had to have their operations at 10 o’clock in the morning and come in here to vote at 10 o’clock at night. Others had to postpone their operations until the recess.”
Women who allege abuse must be taken seriously
Women who have come forward with allegations have all faced doubt or personal attacks by some sections of the media and those in the political elite.
Kate Maltby, who said Damien Green sexually harassed her has faced a frenzied character assassination.
The Daily Mail described her as “one very pushy lady” who is “not afraid to use all her charms to get herself noticed.” The paper described how Kate wore dresses in an attempt to blame her.
It analysed her behaviour instead of Green’s. “At parties she is the one who always presses too close to the person she’s decided can be the most use to her,” an article said.
This is part of a wider context of minimising the reality of sexual harassment and abuse.
Writing in The Sun newspaper, columnist Trevor Kavanagh euphemistically described the allegations as “what would once have been described as a bit of slap and tickle”.
And Douglas Murray of the Spectator blamed a “sexual counter revolution” for women coming forward with allegations of abuse.
He goes on to say “This is turning sexual freedom into sexual fear. The rules are being redrawn with little idea of whether any sex will be allowed in the end.”
All those who come forward with information should not be subjected to the sexist attacks of bigots, who try to shift the blame from the perpetrator to the victim.
Reject homophobic myths
It’s not just MPs who are facing new sexual harassment claims. In the past fortnight, the actor Kevin Spacey has been accused of sexual assault and harassment by at least ten individuals.
Spacey responded to the initial allegations of assault against a 14 year old by coming out as gay.
This disgracefully suggested that there might be a link between LGBT+ people and paedophilia and oppressive sexual behaviour.
It is also true that many newspapers have used bigotry against LGBT+ people in their coverage of the Westminster scandals.
The Daily Mail has talked of “gay claims” in its coverage.