Westminster culture of misogyny and sexual misconduct will only change when political elites demand change – Ayesha Hazarika

I’ve been interviewing Ukrainian MPs on my Times Radio show, many female, admirably stoic and strong, incredible role models for politics at its best.

The MeToo movement hit Westminster in 2017, but it is clear that problems of sexual misconduct remain (Picture: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)
The MeToo movement hit Westminster in 2017, but it is clear that problems of sexual misconduct remain (Picture: Adrian Dennis/AFP via Getty Images)

Then I think of that male MP watching porn in the Westminster parliament, one of the world’s most famous, hallowed, historic debating chambers. With lots of cameras. We then discovered he had also allegedly done it in a committee room. Talk about porn to rule.

The immature comedian in me can’t help but snigger at the absurdity of this story. I was on the Jeremy Vine show and had to contain myself when he said, “parliament needs to get a grip on this issue”.

There will of course be an element of smutty black humour about this story but it’s not quite so funny when you look at the ugly culture amongst British politics of misogyny and sexual misconduct.

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Andrew Griffiths bombarded two young female constituents with explicit messages calling himself “Daddy” and was then found by a family court to have raped his wife. Charlie Elphicke was found guilty of sexual assault against two women in 2020. Imran Ahmad Khan was found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy. There are now 56 MPs facing allegations of sexual misconduct.

And it’s not just confined to one political party. A Welsh female MP has accused a member of the shadow Cabinet of making lewd comments about her.

This all comes hot on the heels of Angela Rayner being smeared by a Tory MP in the Mail on Sunday in the most old-school sexist manner. What’s so depressing is that none of this comes as any real surprise.

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Boris Johnson says allegations Tory MP watched porn are ‘unacceptable’ as minist...

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I worked in Westminster for almost 20 years and while I loved much of the experience, there was an unpleasant side to it. Almost every female adviser, staffer or MP will have their own story. I had my fair share of sleazy men and also heard women being discussed in derogatory and sexist ways.

It was all part of a dominant, masculine, hyper-competitive culture where ambitious women, particularly younger ones, want to fit in and get on. You had to laugh it off and, crucially, not be the prude to kill the vibe. What I find even more depressing is that we had this huge, painful outpouring of stories, testimony and rage after the MeToo movement hit Westminster, aka Pestminster, in 2017.

Women politicians and journalists spoke out. We were shocked. We had meaningful conversations about the culture, drinking, late-night socialising, men being away from their wives, the pressures.

Political leaders agreed we needed to call time on this behaviour, yet here we are just a few years later. Nothing has changed. To be fair, a new system, the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, was set up so more people are coming forward.

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But it feels like all the core factors driving this culture remain: male entitlement, abuse of power and a feeling they are untouchable.

Getting more women into parliament is part of the solution, but not a panacea. Political power lies in an elite group of senior MPs, advisers, donors, media barons, editors and commentators who are male, older, white, traditional, and socially conservative. Until they send out a signal that things must change, sadly we are still going to have a lot of w****** in parliament.

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