Sex scandals....and Brexit?
There’s never a good time for a feeding frenzy to break over a political system, but it is difficult to envisage many worse times for the British parliament and government than now.
The two major parties – Conservatives and Labour – are currently trying to come to terms with their post-Brexit referendum statuses. The Conservative minority government, meanwhile, has yet to exhibit much sureness of touch in its actual Brexit negotiations. Add to that the natural instability that comes with a minority government, and the populist insurgency that seems to have taken over the Labour party, and you already have a febrile atmosphere in the Westminster parliament.
Into all of this has broken a new and not entirely unpredictable scandal. It is to do with sexual harassment by MPs towards their employees and its tentacles are embracing both parties as well as having just claimed the scalp of a cabinet minister.
The origins are difficult to pinpoint. Some suggest that the Harvey Weinstein scandal has opened the floodgates for similar revelations at Westminster. Others point to the tawdry digital past of one of Labour’s newly elected MPs, Jared O’Mara, which last week forced the party to suspend him after a drip-feed of ever appalling revelations about his attitudes towards women in particular, all helpfully preserved on digital forums.
Wherever they originate though, British political sex scandals always seem to steer relentlessly towards the Conservative Party, and so it has proved again this time. It didn’t take long for a spreadsheet of sin to be widely circulated amongst journalists, featuring exclusively Conservative MPs, ministers and former ministers. Amongst the early figures to be named were junior minister Mark Garnier, for allegedly having his PA procure sex toys, and former Cabinet minister and leadership contender Stephen Crabbe, for sex-texting a 19 year old woman after interviewing her for a job.
The spreadsheet, however, was reputed to contain some 40 named Tory MPs, and soon two senior members of the government found themselves having to respond to accusations of variable veracity. First Secretary – and effective Deputy Prime Minister – Damian Green was accused by a former family friend of making suggestive comments to her. He vigorously denied it and has at the time of writing instructed lawyers. In truth, the accusations against Green – made by his accuser in a prominent article for the Times newspaper – seemed so thin as to almost disappear into the atmosphere, but it has nevertheless consumed his energies and diverted his own political energies for the past few days, as well as prompting an investigation by the Cabinet Secretary.
The other senior Cabinet minister to be engulfed was Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. He placed his hand on the knee of a female acquaintance at a conference dinner 15 years ago. The lady in question, journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, a prominent talk radio host, soon went public to claim that the incident was fully resolved by Fallon with an apology at the time, and was of the utmost insignificance. Bizarrely, despite this, it is Fallon who has now resigned. In what must be the first example of Minority Report style “pre-crime” affecting politics, Fallon resigned because of possible future accusations and not over “knee-gate” as it became known. To date, no further accusations have been forthcoming. *
As to the 38 or so other Tory MPs on the list, whose names were redacted in published versions, several have now outed themselves on the grounds that the list contained so much fabricated material that this was the only way to discredit it effectively.
* Since this article was originally published, other accusations against Fallon have indeed been forthcoming
This article was originally published in Vocal Europe