Politics

Sexual harassment claims hit Westminster

By Conor Holohan

The accusations that have circulated in the past fortnight about the people who represent us have significant ramifications. If even a fraction of the allegations made are found to be provably true, they will seriously undermine the people’s confidence in those who govern them, and the processes through which those people are selected. It is for this reason that it is important that rumours of sexual misconduct are rigorously and independently investigated, but are also not taken as fact until they are proven.

Even if many of these accusations are not provable, public discontent towards the civil servants in Westminster will worsen. Already perceptions of our governing class is one of sleazy conduct and inappropriate spending of public money, particularly since the most recent expenses scandal. This development will only further alienate an already disinterested electorate.

As a dossier compiled by researchers naming 36 Conservative MPs involved in inappropriate sexual conduct has emerged, followed by a myriad of accusations surfaced about those who work in the Westminster bubble. Early among them was the claim that Mark Garnier, a Brexit Minister, made his secretary purchase sex toys for him.

As more claims surfaced, Bex Bailey, a former labour new representative revealed that she was raped at a Labour Party event by someone senior to her who was not an MP. when she told a senior member of staff its was suggested that she not report the incident as it may be damaging to her.

Over the last week the Labour Party released a statements saying that they take the allegations ‘extremely seriously’ and that they were launching an independent investigation into the claims made about the 2011 incident.

Labour MP Lisa Nandy, the member for Wigan, claimed in Prime Minister’s Questions that three years ago she had brought evidence to Theresa May – then the Home Secretary – that whips had ‘used information about sexual abuse to demand loyalty from MPs.’

Nandy’s evidence showed that a senior ex-whip who served from 1970-73, Tim Fortescue, told the BBC that whips helped MPs with scandals in order to ‘exert control over those individuals’. Fortescue said in a 1995 interview; ‘it might be debt, it might be a scandal involving small boys…They’d come and ask if we could help, and if we could we did’. Nandy claims that she asked May to act on the evidence three times. Additionally, former parliamentary intern James Greenhalgh revealed that he was sexually assaulted by a former MP who was ‘stinking of alcohol’.

Downing Street officials told the Sunday lobby that Theresa May recieves a weekly breifing from Gavin Williamson on the sexual misconduct of her MPs. The briefings also include rumours of debts, drug use and prostitution. The Sunday lobby reported that two senior ministers had been named by female MPs and journalists as having engaged in sexually inappropriate behaviour but were still serving in cabinet.

Theresa May then promised to sack ministers who were proven to be guilty of sexual harassment, before on Wednesday Sir Michael Fallon resigned as Secretary of State for Defence over an incident in 2002 where he repeatedly touched the knee of Julia Hartley-Brewer during an interview.

Fallon said in a statement ‘I accept that in the past i have fallen below the high standards that we require of the Armed Forces that I have the honour to represent’. He also said that a number of the claims made about members including himself were false.

Fallon’s replacement for Secretary of State for Defence is Gavin Williamson, the Chief Whip who delivered the briefings on misconduct to the Prime Minister.

Williamson, who is very loyal to May, is known for being feared and respected by Conservative MPs, and although he is young he is seen as a powerful figure in the party. Many speculate that Williamson’s power over MPs is due to his intimate knowledge of their inappropriate behaviour.

Kate Perrier, Theresa May’s former Director of Communications, told the media that party whips stored up illicit information about members to use as blackmail to force them to vote a certain way, particularly when a government does not have a large majority. In many cases, Perrier claimed, the whips even withhold information about MPs from the Prime Minister. Williamson, 41, without any military experience or previous cabinet experience, will be having to find £20billion of efficiency savings from his new department. The ex-Cameron aide seems to have been promoted on the basis of his well established loyalty to Theresa May, at a time when she needs as much loyalty as she can get.

Former vice Chairman of the Conservative Party for Parliamentary Campaigning Michael Fabricant said, ‘Its not fair to base things on rumour. There must be evidence and there must not be witch hunts. We’ve got to ensure that inappropriate behaviour is stampted out. Its wrong, its unprofessional.’

Fabricant is one of the 36 Conservative members named in the recent dossier, and says that claims he was inappropriate with a male journalist in a taxi are false.

As fresh accusations continue to surface about those who work in Parliament, there are huge questions to be answered about the conduct of those who govern us and the power they hold. Behaviour of this sorts must be reported to the police, and the whips’ offices will have some difficult questions to answer, as they stand accused of covering up such information in order to manipulate our representatives for party political reasons.

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