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9 March 2018updated 09 Jun 2021 10:32am

In the row over Westminster’s sexual harassment, the other shoe may be about to drop

Three MPs – two Conservatives and one Labour – are alleged to have been bullying Parliament’s clerks.

By Stephen Bush

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, Labour MP Paul Farrelly and John Bercow have all been accussed of bullying Parliament’s clerks after an in-depth investigation by Newsnight‘s Chris Cook and Lucinda Day.

All three men deny the claims, but it is the first sign that, in the row over sexual harassment at Westminster, the other shoe – the bullying treatment handed out by many MPs to both their staff and parliamentary officials – may be about to drop.

Part of the scandal here is that the treatment of clerks ought to be the easiest bit. Their job is to serve the needs of MPs, regardless of party, which makes removing politics from their working conditions easier. 

When it comes to the bullying of parliamentary assistants by their bosses, the problem is that an MP and their staff will (often, but not always) have similar politics: a bullied employee won’t want to see their boss replaced either by a candidate from a different faction, let alone lose the actual election. 

But, for many reasons, it is harder to effectively stamp out the problem of the poor treatment of parliamentary clerks. “Don’t say anything or the Tories might win” doesn’t really apply to the functioning of the select committee for culture, media and sport.

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So, the harder part is what you do to safeguard Westminster’s political rather than administrative staff.  If real change is coming to how Commons clerks are treated, it will give organised parliamentary staffers to aim for.

As Cook and Day note, the idea that MPs might have to give up control of their HR to a third party seems farfetched: but not so long ago we’d have said the same about their expenses, too.

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