The House of Lords. Photo: Leon Neal/AFP
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Parliament? Over the years I've met several powerful men there who have no idea of boundaries

Suffice to say that it’s an uncomfortable place for someone like me. One feels like a masked anarchist simply being there as a woman.

I remember very well the first time I went to the House of Fun. Westminster. The Commons. Parliament. Whatever you want to call it.

Like the fool that I am, I didn’t just nip in and out for the spicy bits. I sat in the chamber all day, every day, for aeons. Actually, maybe an entire three weeks. That’s still longer than many hacks who just turn up for the brawl that is PMQs.

First, I was given a guided tour and told how beautiful it all is. Here is Pugin’s throne. Here is the cupboard where the Queen gets dolled up for the opening of parliament. Here are some servants. Men with swords.

Possibly if I was a tourist from Utah, I might have found this “beautiful”, but the whole place is a cathedral of gloom with frilly bits and mannered decoration. It also smells, if repression has a smell.

Nonetheless, Westminster attracts a certain type. Not just politicians, but the kind of people who like to murmur in corridors and burrow away into its recesses. People who have grown up with, or grow to understand, a set of arbitrary and arcane rules paraded as tradition. Public school people.

Suffice to say that it’s an uncomfortable place for someone like me.

I spent the whole time, and still do, accidentally breaking rules.

One feels like a masked anarchist simply being there as a woman. A man in tights once tried to stop me entering the Press Gallery.

“You can’t go in there with that.”

“That” was a long scarf. Some ancient law, or the presumption that I was going to abseil down on to Michael Fabricant’s head? Who knows?

Several times, I was told off for talking. Near important people. Or for trying to get a sandwich in the wrong place. Or for trying to buy a drink in a bar that is for bishops only. Doh!!

I began to see how anyone cooped up there would have “moments of madness”. There’s something very odd about it all, but I wanted to understand it. So when a lord offered to take me to tea, I leapt at the chance to cross from the green carpet to the red and look at the Lords.

I thought Greville Janner, for it was he, would be explaining how the Lords functioned. Instead, he spent the entire time telling me about a birth he had attended. In gory detail. The birth of his grandchild.

This seemed to me extremely inappropriate. What woman has her own father there while she gives birth? I don’t know if what he told me was true. Mostly I squirmed, as I did not know why on earth he was describing this intimate experience to me.

All I can say now is that over the years, in this House of Rules, I have met several powerful men who have no idea of boundaries. Of any kind. At all.

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 24 April 2015 issue of the New Statesman, What does England want?

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.