Ruth Davidson said “some pretty big shovels” will be needed to ‘clear the stables’ of politics following a wave of allegations of sexual harassment that have reached the top of government.
Speaking to the BBC within hours of the shock resignation of Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, the Scottish Conservative leader said “the dam has burst” on a culture of harassment in parliament and the “boy’s own locker room culture” had to end.
Theresa May is expected to replace Mr Fallon today after he stood down, admitting that his past conduct had “fallen short” of the expectations placed on soldiers who were his responsibility.
Collecting the prize for Parliamentarian of the Year at the annual Spectator Awards in London, Ms Davidson told a crowd made up of the UK’s political elite that Westminster was like an “Augean Stable”.
She said: "Just because we have a woman in No10, at the top of the tree in Plaid Cymru, in the Scottish Conservatives and the SNP, in the DUP doesn't mean sexism and misogyny are somehow consigned to the dustbin of history when it comes to politics.
“Nor when we look at some of the house clearing that is going to be, and needs to happen in the next few weeks, months and years ahead, are we going to say we didn’t need some pretty big shovels for the Augean Stable”.
In an interview, Ms Davidson revealed she had spoken to the Prime Minister on Wednesday night about establishing a new code of conduct for all elected politicians.
She said any criminal allegations should be handled by the police and courts, but said political parties had to clamp down on the “grey area” of sexual misconduct.
And she didn’t rule out further ministerial resignations, saying: “I cannot speak of others because I do not know.”
Theresa May’s deputy is under investigation by the Cabinet Office over claims that he propositioned a journalist 30 years his junior, an allegation he denies. Another minister, Mark Garnier, is also under investigation for his conduct towards a former secretary.
Dozens of other Conservative MPs and ministers have been named on an unverified list of allegations that has been circulated at Westminster. Labour is investigating at least historic claims of sexual assault and rape, and the SNP are probing two claims in Scotland.
“There has been this sense that people can use positions of power to demand things from others, and that has got to stop,” Ms Davidson told the BBC.
“The way in which this has manifested itself is through sexual impropriety and misconduct, and in some cases assault.
“But it isn’t actually about sex, it’s about power, it is always about power. We as elected representatives have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Mirroring the reasons given by Mr Fallon for his departure, Ms Davidson drew on her military training, saying that politicians had to “serve to lead”.
She said: “When you put people in a position where they feel they can’t speak out because they are on a ladder and the person who is exerting power and influence over them is a few rungs further up that ladder, then we fail, we absolutely fail as leaders.
“The way you succeed in leadership is to be a servant, not a master. You serve to lead. At Sandhurst, that’s what all officers are taught. Serve to lead.
“The dam has broken on this now, and these overwhelmingly male-dominated professions where the boy’s own locker room culture has prevailed and it’s all been a bit of a laugh, has got to stop.”