The Monday column: It’s time to curb the excesses of our lecherous legislators

Westminster is full of priapic politicians and its casual culture of sexual opportunism has demanded attention for decades.

Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday revelations about trade minister, Mark Garnier – referring to his secretary as “sugar tits” while instructing her to purchase sex toys for him – feels closer to one of those dreadful 1970s Robin Askwith sex comedies – but its behaviour that would get anyone in any other organisation the sack.

Everyone in politics is aware of the few bad apples that lurk in each party’s barrel and further revelations about our lecherous legislators will follow in coming days.

The wandering hands, suggestive comments and leering looks are part of the fabric of our dysfunctional system that sees MPs – voting aside – generally left to organise their own working lives.

Late nights and constant boozing hardly help enforce desirable codes of behaviour. Throw in the seedy glamour of politics – the intrigue and back-stabbing – and it’s a combustible mix, for some, who perceive they have a free pass to behave appallingly.

And while laws to protect workers from sexual harassment apply just as readily to Parliament, those abusing their position are abetted by a culture of deference.

Not helped by the fact that the victims of harassment and predation in our political system are usually ambitious people themselves.

At the risk of stating the obvious, discretion is expected in politics. There’s a culture of what goes on in Westminster stays in Westminster and everyone who works there signs-up for that.

MPs demand loyalty, which is why they generally recruit from within their tribe. This inhibits staff facing unreasonable behaviour from speaking out. They know that to do so is career suicide.

None of this makes harassment acceptable, but it helps explain why it happens and why the victims of it are so reluctant to speak out.

Lacing the cafeteria tea urn with bromide might help, but the bigger aim should be to regularise Parliament as a workplace.

Reducing late night sittings and the endless round of receptions and dinners would be a useful place to start.

Ensuring that staffing disputes and complaints are arbitrated by a proper, functioning HR system, as Theresa May seems to be suggesting, is a sensible reform. The risk of investigation should be enough to make all but the most errant MPs behave themselves.

And rather than collecting dirt on their colleagues for the purposes of political leverage, perhaps the Whips offices should be held accountable for the conduct of their MPs.

Making them more accountable is the way to improve the behaviour of those MPs letting the side down. No doubt there will be a correlation between the lechers and the indolent. The hard-working and industrious parliamentarians have little to fear.

No-one enters political life – at whatever level – expecting it to be easy. Politics is and always will be a contact sport.

But when that contact involves being pawed or propositioned – or worse – by sozzled MPs there is clearly a line that needs redrawing.

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8 Responses to “The Monday column: It’s time to curb the excesses of our lecherous legislators”

  1. Tafia says:

    Ensuring that staffing disputes and complaints are arbitrated by a proper, functioning HR system, as Theresa May seems to be suggesting, is a sensible reform.

    The problem with that is that an MP’s staff are not employed by their party, they are not employed by Westminster and they are not employed by the government of the day. They are employees of the MP his or her self. And likewise MPs are not employed by anyone other than themselves and answer only to their constituents.

    So a HR department or whatever wouldn’t actually have any power or say so unless the HR department was employed by the MP his/her self. It would be like Sainsburys HR having say-so over Tescos staff.

    Why can’t they just use ACAS, their union and the Police like employees from other small businesses have to do? They aren’t superior – only equal.

    I can see what’s coming – some sort of ‘Office’ that will probably have a specially created junior Ministers post, more civil servants and lashings of funding – ie muggins will be paying for it

  2. Vern says:

    Politics does seem to have more than its fair share of individuals who appear to be beyond the law and more worryingly beyond a sense of what is acceptable and decent. Or is it that we have made it too easy for them by shrugging it off time and again?
    Its great that there is a head wind with this but It’s time for serious action on this from all parties not another expenses whitewash.
    On Momentums page a couple of weeks ago was a link for Labour25, which if true, is on a more disturbing scale altogether.

  3. Tafia says:

    Well there’s a thing.

    Young lady from the Westminster bubble on Newsnight just now saying this is going on across all parties and all sexes and it will all now come out.

    This looks like a second scandal on the scale of expenses – probably bigger. And this time it involves serious criminal sexual offences.

  4. swat says:

    An alcohol free zone at Westminster might be an answer, but more effective would be for such incidents to be reported and individuals to be charged. Are victims being bought off, or being threatened, which is even worse.
    WEtminster is after all a working enviroment and the legislation is already there regarding harassment.

  5. Anon says:

    The first duty of an MP is to their country and constituents – career and loyalty to party should come second. It is a curse of the system of democracy that we endure in the UK.

    If I live in a solid Labour constituency, I can do nothing to influence the choice of MP candidate if I vote for any other party – no matter how obnoxious he/she is.

    It isn’t just sexual harassment – it is the general hypocrisy and immorality of many of our MPs.

    We need a power of recall.

  6. Johnny says:

    I saw the PM the other day Stating A Statistic , that was not true, now if it’s un known by her , she’s not Lying but she must have a incredibly bad Memory Or not be able ot recall what she’s Said 5 minutes Earlier, or not understand The Statistics when explained TO her and as she Was Told them When she’d
    Been advised on it 5 minutes Earlier By An advisor .As Such he mustn’t And Be able to be PM If It wasn’t for the memory or have remembered it from earlier

    Tjd minimum pricing ideas not bad ,look at Thailand everything’s about 10p they won’t sell it for less so have an unofficial agreement not to try to out do each other

  7. Anne says:

    Perhaps I am a little old fashioned but I do think that the background of perspective candidates for the role of mp should be looked at more carefully. This can be done much easier these days by looking on social media. I certainly do not want to be represented by someone who uses swear words or derogatory phrases in every other sentence. After all you would not expect inappropriate behaviour or language if you went to see you GP or from a professional colleague. There should be professional standards, and I don’t think it is acceptable to excuse such inappropriate behaviour by saying ‘well they work long hours and the bars are open.’ We, the public, deserve better.

  8. John P Reid says:

    The lord Stevenson amendment will prevent, the press revealing stuff when they should ,Being the EU equivalent into The data protection act, would mean a journalist would have to reveal their sources on whistle blowers to the police, even if it was allegations against the police the whistle blowers are revealing,

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