LONDON (Parliament Politics Magazine) – After a top minister downplayed systemic difficulties, saying the problem was just “some bad apples,” the government is under great pressure from opposition parties and its own Toris to take action against misogyny and harassment in Westminster.
A Tory ex-minister said Kwasi Kwarteng’s statements “dismissed and belittled” the experiences of female MPs, a day after the resignation of Conservative MP Neil Parish on account of watching porn in the Commons, and as new allegations of endemic sexual misconduct came to light.
Labour said that inaction from Downing Street was exacerbating a toxic environment in Westminster, while Angela Rayner, the deputy leader wrote to Boris Johnson about accusations that a ‘sexist of the year’ was awarded at one of No 10’s Christmas parties.
After denying the idea of inherent sexism in parliament, Kwarteng, the business secretary, came under fire for claiming that the problems were primarily caused by long hours and overwork, and that only a few MPs transgressed.
He didn’t believe there was a misogyny culture, he told Sky News. He believes the issue they had was that individuals work in a very intensive environment, with long hours, and he believes most people were aware of their limits.
He later told Times Radio that the situation was caused by “some bad apples” who should be punished, but added that it didn’t mean the entire society was misogynistic or full of male entitlement. He was not familiar with that.
Former Tory minister Caroline Nokes, the chair of the women and equalities committee, said Kwarteng’s position contradicted the testimony of a number of MPs.
Colleagues offered examples of aggressions and microaggressions they confronted on a daily basis, she added, and it was being dismissed by a senior cabinet member as a result of working long hours. Once again, female MPs’ experiences were disregarded and minimised. That was an example of systemic sexism in and of itself.
Kwarteng is “delusory,” according to Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat chief whip. That wasn’t a few bad apples; it was a culture that was corrupted to the core, she said. The worst thing he could do in the same week that two of his MPs quit and his female colleagues complained was trivialise and dismiss that.
Senior Tories have pushed for more female MPs, although Kwarteng has stated that he is not a “fan of quotas” to increase their numbers.
Chris Bryant, a senior Labour MP, told LBC radio on Sunday that he was “regularly touched up by older, senior gay – they weren’t out – MPs” when he was first elected in 2001, and that he never felt he could report it because you would wind up being part of the story, which was the last thing you would want.
According to the Sunday Times, one Tory MP was accused of licking the faces of male researchers in bars; another Tory MP received a “dick pic” from a colleague; and yet another Tory MP was warned about using services of sex workers.
Rayner asked Johnson for further information on another report in the Sunday Times, that one assistant was awarded “sexist of the year” award at a Downing Street party in December 2020.
Rayner also wanted to know if this had been reported to Sue Gray, a senior civil servant who is looking into alleged lockdown-breaking gatherings alongside a police investigation.
He had claimed on the record the current week that sexism had no place in politics, Rayner wrote, however there were now serious and convincing claims in the Sunday Times that sexist behaviour had not only occurred in his own office, but had been praised and rewarded.