When the “Pestminster” scandal hit British politics last October, a group of Labour women set up their own campaign, called LabourToo. The aim was to collect Labour women’s experiences of sexual harassment and abuse in the hope of alerting the party leadership to a problem that had been ignored for too long.
The group collated anonymous responses to an online survey from mid-October to mid-December 2017, using the results to file a report to Jeremy Corbyn and other senior party figures about Labour’s problem with sexual misconduct – and what to do about it.
At least four MPs are accused of misconduct – including inappropriate touching, propositioning, trying to take advantage of a drunk teenager, and ignoring a rape complaint.
The report, entitled “#LabourToo: Women’s experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination in the Labour Party”, tells 43 anonymised stories by party staffers, activists, politicians and candidates at both a national and local level, including reports of rape, groping, lewd comments and sexist attitudes.
One story recounts a rape during the party’s annual conference. “I was raped at [party conference], a man was harassing me and wouldn’t leave me alone,” reads the testimony. “I am no longer a member of the party and this at least in part played a role. I told my region and an MP I trusted. No-one cared.”
Another similar account from a party conference describes being molested in a hotel room by a drunk senior party official. “He pushed me down onto the bed and started to kiss and grope me,” the writer recalls. “I told him no and to stop but he ignored it.”
There are also reports on a local level, with one woman being groped by a “councillor who was very well-known to senior figures in the local Labour Party for being a serial groper of women” while out canvassing: “He would come up behind me and put a hand on my hips or round my waist when feeding back the data, and would always want to put ‘vote Labour’ stickers on women in a way that meant he could touch their breasts.”
Although more than 43 accounts were submitted to the group, some had to be left out for naming perpetrators or for fear of identifying the writer – LabourToo, including its organisers, are anonymous. Its main aim is not to shame the party, but to achieve structural change.
The party has taken steps since the Westminster sexual harassment allegations emerged to change its grievance procedure. This includes training for staff members and National Executive Committee and National Constitutional Committee members on how to deal with such cases, and independent support for victims coming forward from the organisation Rape Crisis, which is also auditing the party’s internal procedures.
But LabourToo’s fundamental problem with the current process is that it’s not a fully independent complaints system from start to end, as it still involves party figures (for example, when a formal complaint is made, it goes to a sexual harassment panel of three NEC members, and can then be escalated to the NCC – all political positions).
Victims of sexual assault in the party hope the complaints procedure goes further, with LabourToo and female MPs calling for a fully independent process, including panels made up of people with no link to Labour. LabourToo is also campaigning for a new confidentiality policy, which requires party members not to share confidential information, and compulsory training for all party staff, including elected representatives and officials in local parties.
The report was sent on Tuesday to Jeremy Corbyn, the outgoing General Secretary Iain McNicol, head of complaints Sophie Goodyear, the National Executive Committee, and Karon Monaghan QC, a lawyer in charge of the independent review of Labour’s complaints process.
Extracts of Labour women’s stories:
“…there was a councillor who was very well-known to senior figures in the local Labour Party for being a serial groper of women…if I was running the board at a canvassing session he would come up behind me and put a hand on my hips or round my waist when feeding back the data, and would always want to put ‘vote Labour’ stickers on women in a way that meant he could touch their breasts.”
“I started working as a parliamentary researcher and went to a party where one of the elderly councillors stood behind me at the bar and put his arms around me to the bar trapping me in, rubbing his groin against my back. I mentioned it to people and was met with ‘well that’s just who he is.”
“As an intern, I was sexually harassed by a married male MP at a Labour Christmas party. He got drunk and I remember he was very red in the face and started coming up behind me and stroking my arm. I felt really uncomfortable and not able to report it to the Labour Party because the people I had to tell would have known him and wanted to protect him.”
“A committee member on [x] was accused of rape/sexual assault by two members…He was asked to resign from his position quietly…He got away with his reputation intact…It was dealt with completely unacceptable by the party and essentially covered up because of fears of how it would look to the outside world/media and damage our reputation.”
“At a party event a male, middle aged CLP officer…made lewd, inappropriate sexual comments to me in front of a number of other male party members…I reported to my CLP chair. He was understanding but told me that the officer in question didn’t mean anything by it and brushed it off.”
“I was raped at [party conference], a man was harassing me and wouldn’t leave me alone…I am no longer a member of the party and this at least in part played a role. I told my region and an MP I trusted. No one cared.”
“I went to my first CLP fundraiser on my own. The MP there spent the night stroking my leg under the table…at the end of the night I was getting a life home and he got in the car, when we got back to his house he was insistent on me coming in his house.”
“A senior party official was very drunk at a party conference…I got him to his hotel and he said he couldn’t remember his room number…we got to the third floor and found his room after trial and error…He pushed me down onto the bed and started to kiss and grope me…I told him no and to stop but he ignored it.”
“Last year I made it clear to my CLP that I wanted to attend National Conference. However, I felt it was very difficult to attend with a child in my care…When I requested to attend [the next year], I was told by a male CLP officer that I couldn’t go because last year I couldn’t due to my child.”
“A couple of years ago I was able to start going to branch meetings…I was told in front of the whole meeting when being asked at the AGM if I would take an officer position that it ‘is nice to have something nice to look at’.”
“I campaigned regularly in a particular CLP…it was a typical, old-fashioned CLP with an entirely male executive and a mostly older male active membership. I was prepared to not be taken seriously because of being a young woman; an expectation that was immediately borne out.”
“At a national party event, myself and another woman had to bodily put ourselves between an MP and a very drunk teenager he was trying to take advantage of. It was disgusting.”