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28 April 2022

The sexist culture in Westminster reveals itself once more

As 56 MPs face sexual misconduct allegations, the mood among women in parliament is one of sad resignation.

By Ailbhe Rea

A Conservative MP is under investigation for watching pornography in the House of Commons, after a female Conservative colleague blew the whistle on his behaviour.

Fifty-six MPs are currently under investigation for sexual misconduct – and a fresh discussion has begun about a toxic culture of misogyny within Westminster. And of course, this is only days after an anonymous Conservative MP briefed the Mail on Sunday that Angela Rayner crosses and uncrosses her legs to distract the Prime Minister at PMQs.

[See also: The Mail’s Angela Rayner story exposes a sexism women know all too well]

Westminster is full of tough, no-nonsense women – MPs, senior journalists, staff members – who are determined to push back against this culture with strength and dignity. They are slowly changing the atmosphere, not just for themselves, but for those of us who are younger and coming up through the ranks. But it is fair to say that the mood among women in Westminster is one of exhaustion, and sad resignation that often culture is only changed when women speak out about their personal experiences of being demeaned.

There is so much to be said on this topic, but a small point that is often missed is that the women who are most vulnerable to this toxic culture are not the MPs or journalists but the staff who don’t have a platform. MPs are laws unto themselves; their offices are their own individual businesses, where they are both boss and HR manager. Take a moment to think about how it feels to be a staffer working closely with an MP who briefs misogynistic comments about the Labour deputy leader’s legs, or the one who watches porn on his phone in the chamber – and bear in mind that if she has complaints about him, the first port of call will be the MP himself.

Another public debate about sexism in Westminster has begun, and that is important, but it needs to be accompanied by systemic change. That isn’t just about a big public conversation, but the role of proper HR structures, and bringing Westminster working practices into the 21st century.

[See also: Jess Phillips’ Diary: Saying goodbye to my mother-in-law, Angela Rayner’s right to cross her legs, and non-dom condoms]

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