Sex­ual ha­rass­ment in Par­lia­ment

The Week (US) - - 14 News -

“Some­one once joked that pol­i­tics is ‘show busi­ness for ugly peo­ple,’” said La­bor Party law­maker in the Mail on Sun­day. So it should come as no sur­prise that in the wake of Hol­ly­wood’s Har­vey We­in­stein scan­dal, Bri­tain’s Par­lia­ment should be the next in­sti­tu­tion to be ex­posed as a hot­bed of sex­ual ha­rass­ment. The rul­ing Con­ser­va­tive Party has been hit with dozens of ac­cu­sa­tions in the past two weeks: De­fense Sec­re­tary Michael Fal­lon re­signed after sev­eral al­le­ga­tions, in­clud­ing that he lunged at and at­tempted to kiss a fe­male po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist. Trade Min­is­ter Mark Garnier ad­mit­ted that he once sent an aide, whom he called “sugar t--s,” to buy sex toys for him. More se­ri­ously, an ac­tivist with the op­po­si­tion La­bor Party, Bex Bai­ley, claimed that she was raped by a se­nior party fig­ure in 2011 and was ad­vised by party of­fi­cials not to con­tact po­lice be­cause “it might dam­age her ca­reer.” For too long, Par­lia­ment has been a boys’ club where pow­er­ful men could abuse younger women con­se­quence-free, said In­de­pen­ in an ed­i­to­rial. The “revo­lu­tion in at­ti­tudes” postWe­in­stein “is cer­tainly over­due and much to be wel­comed.”

Al­le­ga­tions of se­ri­ous crimes must be in­ves­ti­gated, said Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail. But the “witch hunt” now play­ing out in Par­lia­ment means that lives are be­ing ru­ined over some­thing as in­no­cent as a bot­tom pinched in jest. More wor­ri­some still is that nor­mal stan­dards of fair­ness—the as­sump­tion that peo­ple are in­no­cent un­til proven guilty—“have been jet­ti­soned as hys­te­ria runs riot.” Con­ser­va­tive law­maker Damian Green, who is ef­fec­tively the deputy prime min­is­ter, has been ac­cused of touch­ing the knee of party ac­tivist Kate Maltby in 2015. “Not the most se­ri­ous ac­cu­sa­tion in the world, but se­ri­ous enough to harm Green, who has no way of prov­ing this didn’t hap­pen—as Maltby has no means of prov­ing it did.” I fear we Brits are los­ing our bawdy sense of hu­mor, said Libby Purves in The Times. Over the cen­turies, we’ve laughed at Chaucer’s “lusty bach­e­lors” grab­bing wenches and Benny Hill’s hands-on pur­suit of buxom beauties. Yet one of Fal­lon’s sup­pos­edly griev­ous of­fenses was telling a col­league that he knew some­where she could “warm her cold hands.” Is that re­ally a crime? Prud­ery on this scale “risks mak­ing men re­sent­ful, cau­tious, and tempted to avoid women or seek chap­er­on­age.”

This is a se­ri­ous scan­dal, not mere prud­ery, said Sean O’Grady in In­de­pen­, and it may af­fect Bri­tain’s planned exit from the Euro­pean Union. Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment is so frag­ile that if a few of her law­mak­ers were forced out over ha­rass­ment, she could lose her ma­jor­ity, trig­ger­ing a new elec­tion. Ev­i­dence about the dev­as­tat­ing costs of Bri­tain’s im­pend­ing de­par­ture from the EU is mount­ing, so dis­gusted vot­ers might elect a La­bor gov­ern­ment that is more will­ing to make con­ces­sions and strike a deal with the bloc—one that keeps the U.K. in­side the EU’s sin­gle mar­ket. That sce­nario “may not be prob­a­ble, let alone likely, but, as we have seen in re­cent years, the po­lit­i­cal game is an in­creas­ingly un­pre­dictable one.”

Fal­lon: The first po­lit­i­cal ca­su­alty of the scan­dal

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