It took just over a day for attendees of the disgraced Presidents Club to launch their defence.
The Financial Times newspaper exposed on Tuesday how a men-only charity event hosted by the group saw hostesses harassed, groped and propositioned.
One man who attended the event told Sky News on Thursday that it wasn’t as bad as it’s been made out. “It’s been painted as some kind of Roman orgy,” he complained. He then added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few guys who behaved in a handsy way or made inappropriate innuendos to girls. That wouldn’t shock me. When blokes get together they can be silly.”
He added, “I suppose it just adds some glamour. They were standing around looking pretty, but there was no harm done in that.”
He said the men were there because they “want to support charity and go for a night out – don’t think there’s anything more sinister than that”.
“The vast majority are good guys,” he said. “This is getting out of control, things are getting so twisted. All the people I know who go to it are absolutely perfectly decent people. Charitable people. Successful. They wouldn’t get involved in this kind of behaviour.”
He added, “The fact they had money is irrelevant to all this.”
Meanwhile the Tories have rushed to distance themselves from the club and the event.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson “knew nothing” about the fact that a lunch with him was being auctioned at the men-only event. Tory MP Nadhim Zhawi “didn’t stay long enough” to witness any harassment or abuse.
But it’s ridiculous to say that the event isn’t linked to the Tories. Two of the three trustees of the Presidents Club are Tory donors.
David Robert Meller, Harvey Soning and Bruce Ritchie are the Presidents Club’s three trustees.
Meller and Ritchie have given the Tories £222,273 between them. Nearly £70,000 of that was donated in the last two years.
Ritchie’s last donation was £50,000. This is the minimum required to be part of the Tories’ Leader’s Group – whose members can have meals with Theresa May and cabinet ministers.
Ritchie last dined with May between April and June last year.
Richard Caring was the winning bidder of a course of plastic surgery advertised with the slogan, “Add spice to your wife.” Caring, multi-millionaire owner of fancy restaurants including The Ivy, paid £25,000 for the lot. He has also donated to the Tories.
Caring gave over half a million pounds in cash and non-cash donations to the Tories between 2010 and 2015.
Meller resigned from the board of the Department for Education after the FT article was published.
It’s not just Tories who were part of the Presidents Club. Labour peer Jonathan Mendelsohn was at the event.
He was effectively sacked from the party’s frontbench on Thursday. A Labour spokesperson said, “Jeremy Corbyn has asked Lord Mendelsohn to step back from the frontbench as he attended the Presidents Club dinner, and he has agreed to do so.
“Lord Mendelsohn has previously made clear that he attended part of the dinner as president of a charity that received support from the event and he had no knowledge of an after-party. Lord Mendelsohn did not witness any of the appalling incidents described in reports and has unreservedly condemned such behaviour.”
Mendelsohn should never have been in a Labour post in the first place. He is or was an important figure in nine firms.
A former adviser to Tony Blair, he co-founded lobbying firm LLM Communications which was bought by PR firm Financial Dynamics.. In 2007 Mendelsohn left FD-LLM to return to the Labour Party to become director of general election resources and its chief fundraiser.
Mendelsohn was later embroiled in Labour’s funding scandal, and faced calls to quit after it was alleged he knew of arrangements to fund the Labour Party through intermediaries.
The Presidents Club has announced it is closing down.
But as the attendee who spoke to Sky News put it, “Maybe it will rise from the ashes. Maybe somebody else will set something up, something charitable.”
Whatever the future of the Presidents Club, rich men won’t be at a loss for opportunities to harass women.