The Westminster sexual harassment story has been running all week. The atmosphere is building, and the demand for greater power to remedy what some believe is a sea of wrongdoing intensifies. This so far has been based on a spreadsheet, where names have been redacted, rumours of a WhatsApp group and, on Tuesday evening, an allegation of rape made against a member of the Labour Party by Bex Bailey, a Labour activist.
But we should carefully analyse the various demands in light of these allegations. Many amount to an expansion of state power into the business of employers and demands to regulate relations between the sexes at work.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady demands greater interference with the relationship between employer and employee, by the government.
Here is the wish-list:
- The government should be gathering data on how widespread sexual harassment and violence at work is. (So that is more demands from the government that businesses must comply with.)
- In parliament itself, tapping into information traditionally held by the whips’ office would be a good place to start. (I’m sure it is if you are a Leftist).
- Secondly, government should be building up equalities law, not stripping it back. (Obviously).
- Employers should be required to have clear sexual harassment policies in place, and make sure that everyone knows about them. (Most places have these.)
- Employers – especially large employers – should offer specific training on sexual harassment. (Do people really need more training on this?)
Then there were specific proposals relating to MPs and their work in Parliament, from Resham Kotecha, who tells us: ‘Parliament will drive away talent unless it cleans up its act.’
Ms Kotecha, who works for the Conservative Policy Forum, sure does have ideas on how to regulate the behaviour of MPs, and no doubt the bill will be picked up by the taxpayer.
The demands are many: We need a solution in the House of Commons so that all staff have a way of reporting issues. I believe that this system needs to be cross-party, centrally managed, and — most importantly – independent. Staff must be able to report harassment without fearing recrimination. All MPs should have to sign a code of conduct, with clear consequences for abuse and harassment. MPs should be dealt with swiftly if found guilty by an independent investigation. Serious infractions deserve serious consequences. MPs guilty of harassment should have the whip withdrawn and staff should be supported throughout the investigation and aftermath. In the worst cases, MPs should be subject to recall and a by-election triggered.
So that is a cross-party, centrally managed independent ‘system’; a code of conduct; independent investigation of complaints; whip withdrawn and possible by-election. What a busy little bee she is. There will be hardly any time left for parliamentary business at this rate.
On and on it goes. The pearl-clutching, the conflating of the serious allegations such as rape with the juvenile such as knee-stroking. The time has come for us to ask calmly where all this will end up.
What we are forgetting here, the fundamental principle of our constitutional democracy, is that MPs are answerable to their constituents. They are not answerable to special interest groups who seek ever greater privilege for themselves. So, when they say they want ‘more equality of power’, what they mean is more power for themselves. What they mean is replace the men because they are collectively guilty of wrongdoing, with women who never are.
No. We must at all times retain due process and not allow justice to be steamrollered in the heady fog of outrage.
Allegations of criminal behaviour, in particular an allegation of rape, should be referred to the police. This is the only independent body capable of dealing with such a serious crime.
As for flirting, it will be a sad day when we no longer can rely on common decency, good manners and fidelity to one’s marriage (therefore keep your hands to yourself) to govern relations between the sexes and instead must have audits, hot-lines, investigations and codes of conduct.
The time for caution is now.