Socialist Worker

Updated: Inside the Presidents Club - a glimpse at a world of ruling class sexism

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2589

 

The Dorchester Hotel in central London, where the Presidents Club auction took place (Pic: || UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || / Wikicommons)


Undercover reporters at the Financial Times (FT) newspaper have shone a light on the vile harassment of women carried out by men at the top of society.

Two women journalists worked as “hostesses” at the secretive Presidents Club Charity Dinner in London’s Dorchester Hotel last week. The women were made to wear very short black outfits with matching underwear and high heels at the men-only event.

They were groped, harassed and propositioned by men throughout the event, and more than one woman was left feeling “frightened”.

This wasn’t a gathering of men on the fringes of society—it was people at the heart of the establishment. It drew together top financiers, politicians and bosses.

As the FT put it, “Current and past supporters provide a roll call of British wealth and business influence.”

One of the FT reporters, Madison Marriage, told the BBC, “I was groped several times and numerous other hostesses said the same thing happened to them.

“It’s hands up skirts, hands on bums but also hands on hips, hands on stomachs, arms going round your waist unexpectedly. One woman was asked if she was a prostitute.”

The people at the top profess to have higher morals than ordinary people. And they use this to try to control and restrict how working class people behave.

The FT said hostesses faced repeated requests to join guests in bedrooms in the hotel. One hostess said a guest exposed his penis to her.

The dinner’s official purpose is to raise cash for services. In the past it has donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

But it seems organisers are openly proud of its real purpose—to give rich men a private space to harass women. One auction host, Jonny Gould, declared it “the most un-PC event of the year”.

WPP, the FTSE 100 advertising conglomerate, sponsored a table as did real estate investment firm Frogmore.

Appointed

Among those listed as due to attend were Arcadia Group’s Philip Green, hedge fund boss Henry Gabay and Peter Jones from Dragons’ Den. Newly-appointed undersecretary of state for children and families Nadhim Zahawi was also named on the seating plan along with Labour peer Jonathan Mendelsohn.

Guests could bid on auctions to win a lunch with Tory foreign secretary Boris Johnson or afternoon tea with Bank of England governor Mark Carney. Other prizes were more seedy.

One lot was the chance to host a night at the Windmill Club in Soho with a free lapdance. Another was a course of plastic surgery advertised with the caption, “Add spice to your wife.”

Agency boss Caroline Dandridge was in charge of finding hostesses. She admitted that for some women “it’s the worst job of their life”. Dandridge apparently warned women at interview that the men might be “annoying”.

It was so obvious that the event would be horrible for the hostesses that her firm, Artista, had an “enforcement team” that targeted women who weren’t interacting enough with guests.

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Bouncers stopped women from escaping to the toilets for too long. And hostesses had to sign a five-page non-disclosure agreement about the event on arrival—without being able to read its contents.

Yet Dandridge later said she would be “astonished” to hear of reports of sexual harassment given “the calibre of guest”.

Whenever sexual abuse and harassment is exposed there are exclamations of shock and outrage from those at the top. They claim to be utterly unaware of the behaviour and pledge to take steps to stop it.

In reality everyone involved knew what the event would be like. In the same way, the sexual harassment carried out by Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein and disgraced celebrity Jimmy Savile was well known too.

And for all David Cameron’s posturing at being respectable, everyone knows how posh boys who go to Eton and later join drinking clubs at Oxford university behave. Although his having sex with a pig was still probably a bit of a surprise.

Control

The people at the top profess to have higher morals than ordinary people. And they use this to try to control and restrict how working class people behave.

We must all aspire to be like our rulers, apparently, with their perfect nuclear families and happy, wholesome lives. But the truth is that the most vile sexism and oppressive behaviour comes from them.

These are the people who have an interest in upholding the system we live in. In order to protect that system, they push the backward ideas that are at its heart—including sexism and racism.

This is why top bankers have a culture of visiting lapdancing clubs. It’s why women working in the House of Commons are routinely harassed.

None of this is to say that there is no sexism or racism among poorer people. These ideas are structured into society and shape material reality.

Women on average receive lower pay than men, for instance. Black people are more likely to be unemployed than white people, and are more likely to be in jail.

The people at the top use this evidence of oppression to argue that men are somehow worth more than women, or that black people are naturally more likely to be lazy criminals. These sexist and racist ideas are pushed so heavily that they can end up seeming like common sense to other people.

But despite this, there is also a tradition of fighting against sexism and racism among working class people. And it is these struggles that have won real changes.

There will be much posturing in the wake of the FT article as the establishment tries to regain control and protect reputations. We will be told that responsible people are going to make changes on our behalf to stamp out abuse and protect women.

But we should never fall for the lie that those at the top of society are our “betters”. They are the most vile, the most backward and the most reactionary—and we need to fight for a society without them.


Presidents Club is just the tip of the iceberg

The Financial Times newspaper’s investigation into the Presidents Club has exposed a world of sexual harassment and abuse.

It has also led to more revelations about how some women workers are treated.

Anna works in the hospitality industry. She told Socialist Worker, “It was New Year’s Eve and I fell asleep in the downstairs area of the bar after it had closed.

“I woke up to being raped by a man who was the manager there at the time. All the other staff had gone home.

“I worked up the courage to tell the owners who then removed him from working at the venue.”

Covering

Anna went to the police who decided there wasn’t enough evidence—there were no cameras covering the area. “The police called the man in for questioning and he denied it,” she said.

Anna had worried about taking the case to court and being cross-examined for what could be a period of weeks or months.

“The shit thing is the company owns two venues and, two months before this happened, the perpetrator bought into the other venue,” she said.

“So when this came out they just moved him to the other venue. They couldn’t fire him because he was one of the owners.”

Anna still works for the company.


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