The recent threat by Birmingham MP Jess Phillips to ‘cut up my Labour Party membership card’ is rumoured to have prompted a mass donation of scissors. Predictably, though, the grandstanding Jess has yet to follow through and apply the snip.
The bolshie Brummie made her empty threat in response to reports that Labour’s National Constitutional Committee was to permit suspended MP Kelvin Hopkins to question by audio link Ava Etemadzadeh, the party activist who late last year accused him of sexually harassing her several years earlier. It now seems that when the hearing eventually takes place, Hopkins will in fact be in a separate room when his accuser gives evidence, and will be able to challenge her testimony only by written questions through a third party. This seems a far from ideal means of defence for someone whose career and reputation are in the dock, yet Etemadzadeh continues to protest that she would ‘not feel comfortable’ with the procedure, while Jess Phillips, Sarah Champion and other Labour women still seem outraged by the very notion of Kelvin Hopkins contesting the complaint.
Activist’s anguish as Labour gives MP right to quiz her. In Parliament, I argue with my colleagues to prevent alleged abusers of Domestic violence & cohersive control cross examine their victims – how is this different? https://t.co/0bRHchhoqC
— Sarah Champion (@SarahChampionMP) March 21, 2018
Of the MPs accused of sexual misbehaviour since the start of the #MeToo purge, the case of 76-year-old Hopkins is undoubtedly the most intriguing: this is partly due to the actions of the complainants and partly because, when Ava Etemadzadeh went public, Hopkins did not just ‘absolutely and categorically deny’ the allegation but responded with a detailed statement of his own, which can be read here. Hopkins’s rebuttal catalogued the pair’s encounters, addressed Etemadzadeh’s specific accusations and quoted contemporaneous text messages from her which, liberally sprinkled with smiley faces and kisses, seem antithetical to her subsequent claim of having been upset and discomfited by Hopkins’s behaviour.
At the behest of Etemadzadeh, now 27, in November 2014 Hopkins had spoken to Labour students at her university, following which she alleges: ‘He hugged me to say goodbye, held me too tight and rubbed his crotch on me, which I found revolting’. Yet according to Hopkins, not only is this false, but just hours later he received a text of effusive thanks that concluded: ‘My members loved you! :-) You’re a star! x Ava’.
Her revulsion seemingly did not deter Etemadzadeh from then visiting her assailant at the Commons, a meeting she now describes as ‘uncomfortable’. It was in the wake of this Westminster rendezvous that Hopkins sent her his now notorious text, describing the woman 50 years his junior as ‘attractive, intelligent, charming and sweet natured . . . a nice young man would be lucky to have you as a girlfriend and lover . . . I am sure one such is soon to be found . . . were I to be young . . . but I am not’. Etemadzadeh declares herself to have been ‘shocked’ by this, and claims to have responded only ‘to defuse what he had said’, though Hopkins’s statement records her immediately thanking him for his ‘kind words’ and signing off with a further kiss.
According to Hopkins, the final direct contact between the pair occurred much later when Etemadzadeh sought the MP’s help about working at Westminster. Hopkins describes giving her some general advice but no practical assistance, with Etemadzadeh next coming to his attention when she was in the newspapers complaining about his behaviour. On the assumption that Hopkins and his solicitor are able to substantiate all this detail, it is surely pertinent to question why someone now claiming variously to have been ‘revolted’, ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘shocked’, and who now apparently will find it ‘hard even to be in the same building’, had previously maintained contact and sent exuberant texts. A jaundiced eye might observe a mood change when the MP proved less useful than had been hoped.
Nevertheless, having gone public Etemadzadeh immediately found an ally in Labour MP Kerry McCarthy, who also went to the press claiming that Kelvin Hopkins had subjected her to ‘decades of unwanted attention’. Although she concedes Hopkins was never a physical threat, 53-year-old McCarthy complains of having intermittently received notes and comments complimenting her appearance. A cynic might wryly note that in the press reports Ms McCarthy seemed unduly keen to publicise the fulsome contents of Hopkins’s hand-written notes (which evidently she had retained) and eager to broadcast examples of his admiring words.
Despite an age difference of more than 20 years, throughout the period in which McCarthy claims to have been pestered the pair had equal status, initially as chairs of neighbouring constituency parties and latterly as MPs. Yet despite there being no power imbalance, McCarthy contends she lunched with Hopkins only because she ‘found it awkward to say no’, and claims to have found his behaviour ‘upsetting, but did not feel she had anywhere to turn to about it’.
Kerry McCarthy is not only an adult woman, she is a seasoned MP; it is barely credible that she apparently lacked the gumption to tell Kelvin Hopkins to desist. Small wonder that Hopkins, claiming ‘immense personal hurt and utter dismay’, retorted: ‘I cannot understand why a Parliamentarian of such experience and standing, who is also such a long-term friend, would not have told me that she was unhappy with any aspect of our friendship rather than going straight to the national press.’
Only Kelvin Hopkins and Ava Etemadzadeh know the truth about the ‘hug’. As for his predilection for sending much younger women unsolicited billets-doux, Kelvin Hopkins is at best an old fool and a man out of his time. Yet in our contemporary world of lewd texting and crude sexual advances, his purple prose seems almost sweetly innocent and, at least publicly, his wife has remained remarkably sanguine. Regardless of whether his actions were truly sinister or just gauche, due process should surely allow Hopkins robustly to challenge the complaint made by Ava Etemadzadeh, even though Jess Phillips and the Labour sisterhood will be satisfied only when a woman’s assertion is treated as holy writ.
As for McCarthy, when asked in a recent edition of the BBC radio programme Pienaar’s Politics to choose a Labour leader with whom to share a desert island, after some prevarication she eventually plumped for Gordon Brown. Were she to be marooned with only glowering Gordon for company, Kerry McCarthy might quickly welcome a message in a bottle from Kelvin Hopkins.