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30 October 2017

Parliament needs to do far more to deal with sexual harassment

Two Conservative MPs accused of sexually inappropriate behaviour have been named so far.

By Stephen Bush

Over the weekend, two Conservative MPs accused of engaging in sexually inappropriate behaviour became the first to be named. Mark Garnier, named in the Mail on Sunday, who at time of writing is still a junior minister at the Department of International Trade, has admitted asking his Commons secretary to buy a pair of sex toys and referring to her as “sugar tits”, but he says the remarks were made as part of a series of jokes about the TV show Gavin & Stacey.

The Telegraph has unearthed further tales of inappropriate texts from Stephen Crabb, who has admitted and apologised for sending the messages. Conservative staffers at Westminster have been compiling lists of MPs who have behaved badly, and a redacted copy has been published on the Guido Fawkes website. The 36-strong list includes at least 18 serving ministers, including two of cabinet rank.

The reason why Labour aren’t making hay with this is they know full well that they are sitting in a very large glass house. A new organisation, “Labour, Too” has been collecting testimony about sexual harassment in the opposition. MPs on all sides are talking about the expenses scandal, and how that quickly turned from a Labour story into a system-wide one. Will this do the same?

It’s true to say that the problems of sexual entitlement and violence aren’t confined to party politics, but it is also true that they are given an extra freedom because of a) the employment structure at Westminster, which Anoosh Chakelian describes here in further detail, and b) because of the fear not only of career damage for the victims but because of the political damage to the party cause.

From the Tory MP described as “handsy in taxis” all the way to the SWP’s “Comrade Delta”, the senior member who was accused of rape repeatedly for at least three years and who has never been questioned by the police, the cry of “don’t hurt the party” has protected a great number of men for a great number of years and it may continue to do so now.

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As Sam Bacon, who has worked for a number of Labour politicians, details for the NS this morning, real change means changing the structures by which staff at parliament are employed if the “Weinstein moment” means more lasting change than simply purging one generation of exploitative politicians.