What’s wrong with Westminster? – POLITICS


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LONDON — A host of misconduct cases have again shone the spotlight on the worst behavior at Westminster. Don’t call it a culture problem.

Even by the standards of the British parliament, which is used to its fair share of scandal, it has been a dismal fortnight.

A sitting MP has been convicted of sexual assault and charged with intimidation. Another 50 MPs are said to have been the subject of sexual misconduct complaints. A female MP has been compared in print to Sharon Stone in ‘Basic Instinct’. An MP allegedly viewed pornography in the House of Commons. To top it off, another MP was suspended for bullying.

It’s easy to look back on the flurry of “Pestminster” sexual misconduct allegations that led to a series of ministerial resignations at the time of the “Me Too” movement in 2017 and conclude that nothing has changed.

It’s not quite fair. The introduction of an Independent Complaints and Grievance System (ICGS) resulted in the sanctioning of several MPs for unacceptable behavior including sexual harassment and bullying.

Some steps have also been taken to make parliament more accessible to women, such as the introduction of proxy voting for new parents, and there are now more women parliamentarians in parliament than ever before.

Yet the problem of misconduct in Westminster persists, as a dozen MPs, campaigners and staff attested in conversations with POLITICO this week, and an effort that Parliament has never managed to muster is needed to that things are getting better.

A long list

The issues range from alleged criminal offenses to sexist comments and jokes. A former parliamentary staffer said she was assaulted by a senior party official who is still in office but had not yet decided to report it.

“It’s scary,” she said. “I’m afraid if this isn’t taken seriously I’ve just become a nuisance and future employers may still think well of him, but I’m seen as a troublemaker.”

A former Tory staffer said a sitting MP elected in 2019 shared details about his sex life with staff and made female employees feel uncomfortable with “sloppy kisses on the cheek”.

She filed a complaint with the ICGS, which was dismissed on the grounds that it was her word against his, despite the fact that she had recorded his behavior in messages to friends about it at the time. .

A Labor MP said she had been ‘repeatedly proposed’ by an older Tory MP and tried to raise concerns informally about another Tory MP only to be told by self -saying whips, who oversee party discipline, “don’t worry, you’re not his type.

A former Tory MP has claimed a current member of government has a ‘guardian’ to ensure he leaves events without getting too drunk and in trouble.

The aforementioned Labor MP said most women in Parliament would rather rely on the ‘whispering web’ – warning each other of people to avoid – than go through the hassle of a formal complaint, which may only lead nowhere.

In a recording obtained by POLITICO, Imran Ahmad Khan – who was recently found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old – claimed he received support from then-deputy chief whip Stuart Andrew, and legal advice from former Attorney General Geoffrey Cox after he was charged.

Andrew said he had checked on the wellbeing of the MP but said it was ‘incorrect to claim that I was supportive in the manner described’.

Cox said: ‘I spoke to Mr Khan at his request on a couple of occasions on the phone, but offered him no substantive advice, other than to follow the advice of his lawyers.’

Khan’s case has reignited a debate over whether MPs accused of serious wrongdoing should be banned from the parliamentary realm, only for the relevant committee to bar it. Mike Clancy of the Prospect union called it a “shameful decision that fails to ensure the safety of parliamentary staff”.

cultural problem

It’s common to hear that these transgressions are hard to solve because of the ingrained culture in Westminster: a toxic mix of late nights, subsidized bars and informal working arrangements.

As Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace said on Times Radio, there is a “global culture” made up of “hundreds and hundreds of people working long hours in a place with bars, and for some people under a lot pressure for all kinds of reasons… It’s been going on for decades.

The Labor MP echoed this, saying: ‘Misogyny, sexism and sexual harassment are so entrenched in the culture of the place that it’s hard to see how this is changing.

She cited the lack of action against the few MPs who have had complaints upheld against them. “There are more serious consequences to misusing official stationery.”

However, Jess Phillips, Shadow Labor Minister for Domestic Violence, disagreed. “The idea that it’s the culture of the place is just laughable, frankly. It is not in the culture to watch pornography in parliament. There are certain things like shouting and being partisan that are encouraged – but that’s not one of those things.

Instead, she said it was the individual responsibility to maintain workplace standards and that the whips made it clear that certain things would not be tolerated.

Anne Milton, former Tory MP and Deputy Chief Whip, said: ‘People need to be reminded that there is no excuse that will get them out – not even the so called culture. You have to have a very firm grip as a whip – people in leadership positions can’t be one of the boys, they have to exercise their authority.

She suggested that the MP suspected of viewing pornography should be promptly expelled from the party, not only for the offense but to send “a violent shock, which might make people take notice”.

Among Westminster insiders, the jury appears to be on the Tories’ current chief whip, Chris Heaton-Harris. He is often referred to as a ‘straight dealer’, raising hopes among staff that he will take a tougher line on misbehavior – and now he has the chance to prove it.

But two Tory women, one an incumbent MP and the other no longer in parliament, argued that the real responsibility lies at the top. They said the problem had worsened under Prime Minister Boris Johnson due to a “culture of rule-breaking” that had taken hold under his leadership.

10 Downing Street declined to comment but called recent allegations by women parliamentarians “shocking” and promised they would be taken “extremely seriously”.

Others have argued that the problem is now more visible as more MPs and staff are willing to speak out against inappropriate behavior.

“There was for a short time a power shift where people were more afraid of the allegations than of perpetrating the behavior, but that’s gone now,” said Phillips. “The reason it hasn’t been fixed is simple: no one wants to fix it.”




Politico

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