Westminster has been rocked over the past eleven days with accusations of sexual assault and harassment, ranging from lewd comments to rape. This has spanned across the Conservative and Labour Parties as well as the Welsh Assembly.
Sexual assault and harassment happens across the board in our corridors of power, so it seems. It happens at the top in the Cabinet, as we have seen with the resignation of Sir Michael Fallon as Defence Secretary, and it happens at the lowest levels, as we have seen with Labour activist Bex Bailey’s allegation of rape at a party event.
The major problem we have with all of these allegations is the fact that very little is being done about them. Yes, leaders of all political parties met at Number 10 on Monday to discuss protecting workers in the House of Commons. Yes, there has been one resignation from the Cabinet. Yes, MPs have been suspended.
But no clear action is being taken. The former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Stephen Crabb, sent explicit messages to a 19 year-old girl who applied for a job in his office and was rejected. He’s currently being investigated, even though he admitted to saying “some pretty outrageous things” to her.
If an MP thinks it’s acceptable to send explicit text messages to someone who was much younger than them and applied for a job in their office, they are not fit to serve this country. And they certainly do not represent the majority of workers in this country either.
In any other workplace, sending such texts to a prospective employee would be a sackable offence – as it should be. When it’s someone in a position of real power too, it’s disgusting that very little has been done. Crabb hasn't even been suspended.
Then there’s Michael Fallon who thinks it’s unacceptable to make lewd comments to Andrea Leadsom and continue as Defence Secretary, but it’s still fine to continue being a MP. If you are unfit to serve in the Cabinet, you are unfit to serve as an MP – it is that simple. Though, nothing ever is simple in this political climate, is it?
The fact that other MPs, like Kelvin Hopkins of the Labour Party, have had accusations brushed under the carpet and then, in Hopkins’ case, have been promoted, is vile. What it shows is utter contempt for the British people. Theresa May’s closest ally, Damian Green, has also remained in his post, despite being accused of having pornography on his parliamentary computer and sending lewd messages to a woman as well as touching her at a dinner. But he’s being investigated by the Cabinet Office, the exact office he is the Minister for, despite his denial of the allegations.
If our so-called representatives are behaving in such an immoral and utterly unacceptable fashion, they should be sacked and removed from a position of public power. Otherwise they are abusing everyone’s trust, not just their victims’. It is a betrayal of the highest order.
Look at Hollywood: actor Kevin Spacey, who has been accused of sexual assault, has been dropped by Netflix, his publicist and most of the public. It’s unlikely he’ll be in another blockbuster film ever again. Yet those who actually make laws, vote on real issues affecting real people and have the power to change the world can continue to face no consequences for actions that would put even a Hollywood actor out of business.
We all know why the MPs who have been abusing their power won’t be leaving their jobs: it’s because of how fragile May’s majority is. She can’t sack an MP without jeopardising her agreement with the DUP and triggering another general election that would undoubtedly be detrimental to her leadership and her party. Moreover, if Labour sacks MPs, they get further and further away from getting past that very important post. And they don’t want to lose after making so much progress earlier this year.
But something has to give, and it should not be the integrity of our democracy. Unfortunately, Mrs May and Mr Corbyn are going to have to stand up for what’s right and as are the MPs who have sexually assaulted and harassed women throughout their careers. It has to stop and it has to stop now.
If there is really to be a change in the culture in Westminster, then there will have to be leaders putting their neck on the line. It’s not easy for them to stomach, but it’s the right thing to do. If they really care, they must show it.