2017 Westminster sexual scandals

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The Palace of Westminster, home of the UK Parliament, where the scandals arose

A series of allegations concerning the involvement of British politicians in cases of sexual harassment and assault arose in October and November 2017. Allegations were prompted by discussions among junior staff employed in the UK Parliament at Westminster following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations in Hollywood earlier in October, and the subsequent rise of the #MeToo movement.[1][2][3] but spread further to cover all the major political parties, including political figures beyond Westminster.

Prime Minister Theresa May wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow asking for his assistance in establishing a "house-wide mediation service" supported by a "contractually binding grievance procedure" that would be available for all MPs. May also stated that current House of Commons required urgent reform as they lacked "teeth".[4]

A spreadsheet that alleged various sexual improprieties, mixed with consensual acts, by Conservative MPs was published in a redacted form by the Guido Fawkes blog on 30 October 2017.[5] It detailed complaints against 36 individual MPs; the complaints were said to have been compiled by aides working for the parliamentarians concerned.[6] The BBC's political editor Laura Kuenssberg described the list as containing "both a mixture of unsavoury allegations, reports of well-known relationships, and some claims that are furiously denied. There is just no way of knowing frankly, how much of it is true".[7]

Conservative Party allegations[edit]

  • Michael Fallon, the Secretary of State for Defence, resigned on 1 November 2017 because his behaviour towards women had "fallen short" previously. He told the BBC: "The culture has changed over the years. What might have been acceptable 10, 15 years ago is clearly not acceptable now".[8] A day earlier, the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer alleged that he had repeatedly and inappropriately touched her knee during a dinner in 2002.[9] Hartley-Brewer recalled that after Fallon kept putting his hand on her knee, she "calmly and politely explained to him that, if he did it again, I would punch him in the face". She later downplayed the incident. "No one was remotely upset or distressed", Hartley-Brewer said.[8][10] It was later reported that Fallon had resigned shortly after journalist Jane Merrick had contacted No. 10 with the allegation that Fallon had tried to kiss her in 2003 by lunging at her. Fallon does not deny this happened.[11][12]
  • Stephen Crabb, the former Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was reported by The Daily Telegraph (28 October 2017) to have sent sexually suggestive text messages to a young woman he had interviewed for a position in his parliamentary office which he said "basically amount to unfaithfulness".[13]
  • Mark Garnier, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Trade, admitted on 29 October 2017 to calling his assistant Caroline Edmonson "sugar tits" and asking her to purchase sex toys for his wife and a constituent in 2010. Garnier claimed that the "sugar tits" comment was a reference to the BBC 3 sitcom Gavin and Stacey and that "It absolutely does not constitute harassment". Edmonson said in the interview with The Mail on Sunday that Garnier "suggested to me in a Commons bar one evening that we went shopping for sex toys in Soho. The next day, he said: 'Come on, let's do it.' He took me to Soho and gave me the money to buy two vibrators. He stood outside the shop while I did". An inquiry in Garnier's behaviour was announced by the Cabinet Office.[4][14]
  • Dominic Raab and Rory Stewart were both mentioned on the spreadsheet, and both denied claims of impropriety on 1 November 2017. Raab said that claims he had engaged in sexually abusive behaviour or harassed anyone were "false and malicious" and stated that the claims on the spreadsheet "need to be taken seriously". Raab said that for "anonymous individuals to compile and publish, or allow to be published, a list of vague, unsubstantiated and – in my case – false allegations is wrong" and that it was "also a form of harassment and intimidation, although of course I am not suggesting it is the same or equivalent". Stewart was described on the list as having asked his former parliamentary researcher, Sophie Bolsover, to "do odd things". Stewart said the claim was "completely untrue and deeply hurtful. Neither of us have any idea how our names appeared on the list". Bolsover said that "During my time working in parliament, Rory Stewart was never anything other than completely professional and an excellent employer".[15]

Labour Party allegations[edit]

  • Bex Bailey, a Labour Party activist and a former member of Labour's National Executive Committee, stated that she was raped in 2011, when she was 19 years old, by an individual who was senior to her in the Labour Party. The individual was not a member of parliament.[19] Bailey waived her right to anonymity in 2017 to make the allegation.[20] Bailey did not initially report the rape to the police or within the Labour Party, but two years later she told a senior party official. She said that "It took me a while to summon up the courage to tell anyone in the party ... But when I did, I told a senior member of staff, who told me ... or it was suggested to me that I not report it, I was told that if I did it might damage me". After Bailey described the rape and subsequent events in a BBC Radio 4 interview on 31 October 2017,[21] the Labour Party announced an independent investigation into her allegations; Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party said that "There will be no tolerance in the Labour Party for sexism, harassment or abuse ... Whatever it takes, we are absolutely committed to rooting it out".[20]
  • Kelvin Hopkins, the Labour MP for Luton North, was suspended by his party on 2 November 2017 following a report from The Daily Telegraph of sexual harassment allegations made by a Labour activist, Ava Etemadzadeh, which includes inappropriate text messages and making unwanted physical contact with her at a political event. Etemadzadeh first reported the incidents to party official two years earlier.[22] Labour's Chief Whip at the time, Rosie Winterton, is reported to have reprimanded Hopkins.[23] Hopkins denies the allegations of inappropriate conduct.[24] On 10 November 2017 fellow Labour MP Kerry McCarthy released correspondence over a 20 year period from Hopkins which she stated were "unwanted attention" and "upsetting"; these would also be given to the Labour party inquiry as evidence of Hopkins' behaviour. They had first come into contact when both were active in the Luton Labour Party during the 1990s.[25][26]
  • Clive Lewis, the Labour MP for Norwich South, was accused by a 39-year-old woman of groping her at Momentum's "World Transformed" event. [27] In response to the accusation, Lewis said he was "pretty taken aback" by the accusation and "completely" and "categorically" denied the claim.[28] On 12 December 2017 Lewis was cleared by Labour's National Executive Committee sexual harassment panel[29]
  • Ivan Lewis, the Labour MP for Bury South, was accused of sexually harassing a 19-year old at a Labour Party event. He denied the claim on 4 November 2017, but apologised for behaviour that 'may have made women feel uncomfortable.[30] As of 23 November 2017, he has been suspended from the Labour Party.[31]
  • David Prescott, an aide of Jeremy Corbyn and son of the former Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, was suspended from his work for the Labour Party amid the ongoing allegations. Prescott had been credited with improving Corbyn's image.[32] Details of the allegations were not released, and he was reinstated later in November.[33]
  • On 26 November 2017, The Sunday Times reported that an unnamed Labour Party staff member based at its London headquarters in Victoria had died suddenly while on suspension and during an investigation into pornographic images that were found on his computer.[34][35]

Resulting actions[edit]

On 6 November 2017, a meeting took place between leaders of the political parties at Westminster. Theresa May proposed that a new system be set up for Westminster employees, with a hotline for abuse to be reported, and an independent grievance process. Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable described the proposals as "the right first cross-party steps", and Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas said that the meeting had been "broadly constructive and helpful" but that "we did not get into much of the detail".[36]

Political scandals beyond Westminster[edit]

Scotland[edit]

Wales[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Payne, Sebastian (30 October 2017). "Will sexual harassment in Westminster be as big as MPs expenses?". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 5 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  2. ^ Stewart, Heather (31 October 2017). "Michael Fallon sorry for 'unwelcome' behaviour against female journalist". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 5 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  3. ^ Cohen, Tamara (4 November 2017). "Sex pest scandal engulfing Westminster 'worse than expenses'". Sky News. Archived from the original on 4 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  4. ^ a b Heather Stewart and Haroon Siddique (29 October 2017). "Tory minister faces inquiry after getting female assistant to buy sex toys". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 1 November 2017. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  5. ^ "Tory Aides' Spreadsheet Names 36 Sex Pest MPs - Guido Fawkes". Guido Fawkes. 29 October 2017. Archived from the original on 4 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  6. ^ "'Parliament sex pest row' as PM vows to take action". BBC News. 1 November 2017. Archived from the original on 26 November 2017. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
  7. ^ "Calls for change in Westminster culture". BBC News. 31 October 2017. Archived from the original on 1 November 2017. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
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  9. ^ Rayner, Gordon (31 October 2017). "Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon admits touching female radio presenter's little finger at a dinner". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 2 November 2017. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
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  11. ^ Doward, Jamie (4 November 2017). "Revealed: why Michael Fallon was forced to quit as defence secretary". The Observer. Archived from the original on 5 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  12. ^ Merrick, Jane (4 November 2017). "I won't keep my silence: Michael Fallon lunged at me after our lunch". The Observer. Archived from the original on 5 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  13. ^ Hughes, Laura (28 October 2017). "Stephen Crabb sent young woman sexually explicit messages after rejecting her application for role in his office". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 28 October 2017.
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  22. ^ Hughes, Laura; Newell, Claire (2 November 2017). "Exclusive: Labour MP suspended after alleged victim tells The Telegraph he sexually harassed her". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 3 November 2017.
  23. ^ Stewart, Heather (2 November 2017). "Labour suspends Kelvin Hopkins over allegations of sexual misconduct". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2 November 2017. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  24. ^ Wills, Ella (4 November 2017). "Kelvin Hopkins 'absolutely and categorically' denies allegations of inappropriate conduct". Evening Standard. London. Archived from the original on 4 November 2017. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  25. ^ "MP to submit 'unwanted attention' letters". BBC News. 10 November 2017. Archived from the original on 11 November 2017. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
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