DESPITE stiff competition, ranging from Covid-19 to the post-Brexit trade talks and beyond, there was only going to be one contender for the lead story on which our fearless Fourth Estate turned its forensic, objective and impartial gaze last weekend. That was the Conservative MP arrested in connection with an alleged sexual assault.
‘Tory ex-minister arrested over rape‘ splashed the Sunday Times, notably omitting the word ‘alleged’ from its headline, and helpfully informing us firstly, that the man was an ex-minister and secondly, that the alleged assaults took place in Westminster, Lambeth and Hackney – both of which might be interpreted as narrowing the possibilities down somewhat.
From the Sunday Telegraph‘s headline we learned, further, that the man was a ‘senior Conservative‘ – whatever that means these days – and was in his 50s. It took me approximately ten minutes to establish there were 89 male Tory MPs in their 50s, i.e. born between August 3, 1960 and August 2, 1970. Without laboriously checking the parliamentary careers of each, to anyone interested in contemporary politics it was obvious that not all were ‘former ministers’ by a long stretch. One was, therefore, probably looking at a shortlist of no more than 30 possibles. So much for anonymity.
Already, the Times, the Guardian and the Financial Times were either demanding that the Tory MP in question be named, suspended, have the whip removed, or even sacked, or going further by additionally criticising both the party (and by extension the Government) for not having done so immediately.
This intensified over the following days. ‘Row grows over failure to suspend Tory MP accused of rape‘ protested the Times. ‘Tory MP arrested on rape charges should have whip withdrawn‘ scolded the Guardian, purporting to report the words of Labour MP Jess Phillips. ‘Tories criticised for not taking sexual misconduct claims seriously‘ sniffed the Financial Times.
On the Monday August 3 edition of BBC Newsnight, the ever-willing rent-a-quote Phillips let rip. Living up to her uncomplimentary – but not entirely inaccurate – ‘Midlands Motormouth’ sobriquet, she condemned the Tories’ failure to name and suspend the accused MP, and declared that Parliament was not doing everything it could to make itself a safe workplace.
‘Chief whip defends lack of action against Tory MP accused of rape‘ followed in the Guardian on Tuesday August 4.’ As did the predictable call from a coalition of ‘charities and unions’ for the accused MP to be suspended while facing investigation, on the grounds that failing to do so represented ‘another example of minimising violence against women‘.
On Wednesday August 5, it was the turn of the Spectator‘s Isabel Hardman, with an implied criticism of the Tories’ parliamentary whips as ill-suited to deal with disciplinary issues, particularly of a sexual nature.
However, there’s one rather large elephant in this particular room that protesting politicians and harrumphing hacks alike overlooked, or perhaps more likely, chose to ignore. It was hinted at early on in the imbroglio by Tory MP Michael Fabricant, but seemed to gain no traction whatsoever.
It is that, on February 10, 2016, the House of Commons itself voted to change its procedures so that any arrested MP would not be named or otherwise identified (which either suspension or removal of the whip would undoubtedly do). Moreover, the proposition was passed with only one vote against (then Labour MP and now Lord John Mann), which means that among those voting in favour of the change was – yes, you’ve guessed it – Labour’s current Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence, one Jess Phillips MP.
Yet not only did the Newsnight presenter not challenge Phillips with this inconsistency, much less suggest that, by condemning the application of the very procedure for which she had herself voted, she was guilty of both hypocrisy and blatant political opportunism. From what I can see, mentioned nowhere in the reportage contained in all the supposedly ‘quality’ press articles linked to above is that 2016 decision of the Commons to prohibit the naming of an arrested MP.
To assume that every single one of the political reporters or lobby correspondents involved in the production of all this material would have either been unaware of that 2016 change or had forgotten about it, especially on such a clearly sensitive subject, seems to be stretching credulity beyond its limit. It’s hard, therefore, to dispel the suspicion that it was specifically and deliberately not mentioned because it would have diluted or negated the narrative which the media wished to convey. In other words, bias by omission.
There are perhaps two or three other points worth making.
First, although it should be axiomatic, in the current atmosphere of febrile, intolerant Wokery where silence is automatically deemed to be conclusive evidence of acquiescence, I suppose I must for the avoidance of doubt declare my abhorrence of any kind of unwanted sexual assault, or even attention. Particularly in the workplace context of boss and subordinate, it’s often not so much an expression of sexual interest as an exercise of presumed status or power. So, for the record, if the Tory MP is found guilty by due process of law, I want him both expelled from the Commons and imprisoned.
Second, although the Commons decision to abandon naming appears superficially to confer on MPs rights not available to others, it’s easy to see the logic behind it. In such a relatively closed and exclusive workplace, once the accused MP was named and suspended, the identity of the alleged victim would quickly emerge. Is that what the ardent namers and shamers in Parliament and the Press want? Or are they happy to throw the victim’s anonymity out of the window for some political point-scoring? That some of the MPs shouting loudest for the Tory’s naming and shaming are also usually among the first to argue for anonymity for alleged rape victims in other circumstances doesn’t go unnoticed.
Thirdly, that the importance of upholding the presumption of innocence is so readily either disregarded or dismissed is an increasingly disturbing feature of the Woke witch-hunt. Ever since the advent of the #MeToo movement, no longer are the finger-pointers content to wait for due process to take its course; they demand instant condemnation and punishment of the presumed guilty perpetrator based on (often one single) accusation alone. Woe betide he or she who objects, especially if facing the likelihood of a viciously aggressive social-media pile-on. Is it too fanciful to suggest that the prevalence of the New Puritanism is conducive to the mainstream media feeling it can abandon impartial and accurate journalism for partisan activism with impunity?