Ignore this at our peril... Parliament has to change
SADLY, I have too much experience of abuse scandals.
For the last five years I have been the Member of Parliament for Rotherham.
I know first-hand that if allegations of abuse are ignored and victims belittled or afraid to report, a toxic environment can rapidly escalate.
I have worked with survivors of abuse in Rotherham, Oldham, Rochdale, Oxford. Abuse is always about power. It can flourish when people don’t believe there will be consequences to their actions.
With that in mind, we should not be surprised by the current abuse rumours about Parliament and politicians.
I had never been to Parliament before becoming an MP. It shocked me when I got there as the architecture, and the attitudes, were of an elite boys’ public school. While everyone was very polite to me, I had never felt more out of place, isolated or aware of being a woman.
I was 43 years old, a former CEO and now a parliamentarian. Think how it must feel to be 23 and a junior administrator, desperate to have a career in politics.
Rather than being employed by the party, MPs are actually self-employed.
This means that their staff are directly employed by the MP, which automatically creates a tension.
If you have a problem at work, you have to report it to the MP. If your problem is inappropriate behaviour from your boss, would you have the courage to make the complaint? Do you think the claim would be upheld if you did?
Next, consider the architecture of Parliament. Each MP has their own little office. We frequently work late and often our staff are expected to do the same.
Doors on the offices are usually shut. When they are glass doors, they are frosted. Who would see if there was inappropriate behaviour going on?
Who would believe a junior staff member’s word against an MP’s? While it is not realistic to change the buildings we work in, we can change the culture. Parliamentary authorities need to establish clear and independent procedures to probe allegations of misconduct.
There needs to be policies on whistleblowing, sexual harassment, abuse and intimidation with simple referral processes. Support and advocacy needs to be given to known victims and there should be a culture of believing victims until the evidence shows otherwise.
Parliamentary staff, elected officials and party staff need training in safeguarding and appropriate behaviour.
To me, these seem modest and effective measures. The vast majority of workplaces have similar practices in place.
To make Parliament a safe working environment for all, we need to adopt these measures too.