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22 October 2018updated 03 Sep 2021 12:16pm

Westminster’s response to #MeToo will always be limited by the desire to play politics

Despite a damning report on bullying and harassment, the bulk of Labour MPs are rallying around the Speaker.

By Stephen Bush

What’s a little bit of bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace when there’s a Brexit to shape? That’s the calculation that Labour MPs are making and that a few of their number have gone so far as to say out loud after Laura Cox, the former High Court judge tasked with investigating sexual harassment and workplace bullying of Commons officials said that the present leadership of the House (read: John Bercow) was unable to change the culture at Westminster. That call was supported by Kevin Barron, the departing Labour chair of the parliamentary standards committee.

But the bulk of Labour MPs are rallying around the Speaker, which guarantees Bercow will be able to reach his chosen retirement date of summer 2019. 

It all comes back to the meaningful vote on Theresa May’s deal. (Assuming for a moment that Theresa May survives in office and negotiates a deal with the EU27 for MPs to vote on.) The ability of MPs to amend and shape that meaningful vote is in the hands of the Speaker. So pro-European MPs need Bercow to stay where he is. 

The reality is that the argument is self-discrediting: if Bercow’s supporters in Parliament have the numbers to protect one backbencher-friendly Speaker, they have the numbers to elect another. The truth is that none of the plausible candidates for the post: not Lindsay Hoyle, not Rosie Winterton, not Harriet Harman, not Chris Bryant – would allow the government to bind the hands of Parliament either. 

Without any apparent sense of irony or shame, Labour MPs are saying that the politicised row over Bercow shows why the problems of bullying and harassment at Westminster need to be addressed through an independent process. Except the problem is, there was an independent process and the parliamentary Labour party didn’t like the outcome, so it is now crying foul. 

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And that’s the real reason why Westminster’s response to #MeToo looks likely to remain limited to a rebrand for the Sports and Social: because one side of Parliament or another will always have reason to play politics.

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