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  1. Diary
20 September 2023

How the MeToo backlash helped Russell Brand

Also this week: Bring on by-election season, and my predictions for Strictly Come Dancing.

By Jess Phillips

It has not been a good week for victims of sexual violence, or for investigative journalists. The Russell Brand exposé by the Sunday Times and Dispatches for Channel 4 would have not long ago been overwhelmingly applauded as thorough, well-sourced and sensitively managed journalism. Instead, we have seen the exact reason why women don’t speak up.

Russell Brand tried to make out through his YouTube channel that the investigation was some sort of establishment stitch-up and, for some, that became the narrative. “Why now?” people asked online. “Why didn’t the women come forward at the time?” This overlooked the fact that many of them did – to his bosses and others, including a forensic sexual-violence service. “Why haven’t they been to the police?” asked those who have never had to report rape committed by anyone, let alone someone powerful.

[See also: Leaving politics behind on a liberating coastal wander]

The rape charging rate in England and Wales sits at 2 per cent of all cases – so if five women came forward to the police, the chances are that just 10 per cent of one woman would see their case progress to a charge – not a conviction, just a charge. And yet they ask why a woman with so little chance of justice wouldn’t come forward to endure a minimum two-year-long ordeal against someone far richer and more powerful than them. It truly is the riddle of the Sphinx to work out why people keep quiet.

This is the backlash to the momentum gathered by the #MeToo movement. It has been brewing for some time but here it is, in the Elon Musk-owned Twitter era, where dude bros who (in some cases literally) own the narrative challenge one another to physical combat in the Colosseum. Every sexual-violence victim watching on as Harvey Weinstein was brought down would have felt spurred on to report. I am afraid that after this week, every sexual-violence victim watching will be warier of speaking up. I hope I am wrong; I hope it was just my social media algorithm that spewed out mainstream figures repeating some of the oldest myths in the book. The backlash was always coming. But I never thought it would be in defence of such a ludicrous, lightweight figure as Brand.

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What Liz Truss owes me

We are a year on from the Liz Truss mini-Budget and don’t we all know it. I don’t know anyone, no matter how well off, who has not had to dig deeper into their pockets thanks to the last 12 months of economic calamity. When I see Liz Truss, I like to tell her the accumulating amount of money she owes my family on our increased mortgage payments. She resigned from office on my 16th wedding anniversary, so I will always remember the date. If only the consequences of her actions had been as short-lived as her premiership. My marriage is about the only thing that has survived 13 years of Tory rule without showing any signs of cracks.

A sixth sense for Strictly

Strictly is back, and I can see I am going to be drawing fan fiction about Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Les Dennis. After the first episode, my kids and I write down secretly who we think is going to win and seal our guesses in envelopes until the end of the series. I have called it right a few times. Perhaps we should do that with elections, and reveal our answers as the exit poll is announced. I suspect my Strictly predictions are more accurate: I have quite an eye for early signs of a good rise and fall on the dancefloor. Politics, on the other hand, has proved less predictable.

By-election fever

Rather than calling a general election for which the nation yearns, the Tories seem satisfied with holding by-elections for their disgraced or stroppy colleagues’ former seats. We in the Midlands are being treated to one in Tamworth on 19 October. I have so far on my trips to Staffordshire met a very TikTok-famous baked-potato-monger, truly impressing my youngest son: “No way! I can’t believe you met Spud Man!” I have yet to meet anyone who was sad to see the back of Chris Pincher as their MP.

I love elections, and by-elections can be particularly gripping. In Tamworth a Tory MP who’d been selected as the candidate had to pull out of the race, as it would have caused a by-election in his own neighbouring constituency, Walsall North, which is being abolished ahead of the next general election. I suspect that there will be quite a few by-elections before then, as Tory MPs walk away from their seats for greener (not environmentally speaking, you understand) pastures. I’m heading off from Westminster for a month or so now to focus my attention on Tamworth, which from what I can tell is more than Chris Pincher ever did.

[See also: Jess Phillips’s Diary: Building up to power, Rishi Sunak’s healthcare, and why I would decree beards for all men]

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This article appears in the 20 Sep 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers