Sexual Harassment Claims Surface in UK Parliament – New York Times

Politics, like the world of entertainment, is a highly competitive profession in which senior, mainly male, individuals have the power to make or break careers. Recent days have produced a blizzard of accusations against lawmakers of varying degrees of seriousness, with all suggesting a degree of sexism or complacency about inappropriate behavior.

Last week the opposition Labour Party suspended one of its lawmakers, Jared O’Mara, while it investigates allegations that he made a series of misogynistic and homophobic comments.

The former work and pensions secretary Stephen Crabb has apologized for “sexual chatter” with a 19-year-old who applied for a job in his office.

And on Saturday Michael Gove, the environment secretary, prompted angry complaints after joking that being interviewed by the BBC presenter John Humphrys was like entering Mr. Weinstein’s bedroom and hoping “you emerge with your dignity intact.” Mr. Gove apologized unreservedly.

In addition to announcing an inquiry by the Cabinet Office into Mr. Garnier’s actions, Mrs. May has written to the speaker of the Commons, John Bercow, to seek better ways for lawmakers’ staff members to raise concerns about their employers.

Mr. Bercow told lawmakers on Monday, however, that political parties did not require his intervention to adopt an effective grievance scheme. That effectively put the onus on party leaders to police their own rank and file. “Make no mistake,” he added, “there is a need for change.”

Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, conceded that current safeguards, including a confidential help line, were inadequate.

“We do indeed need to change things,” said Anna Soubry, a Conservative Party lawmaker. “Things can’t go on as they are.” Harriet Harman, a veteran Labour lawmaker and campaigner, agreed, saying, “This is not hysteria, this is long overdue.”

To some, the recent spate of allegations has revived memories of the 1990s. Then, as now, a weak Conservative government that was divided over Europe became embroiled in a series of scandals that were all the more embarrassing because the prime minister, John Major, had promised that his party would get “back to basics.”

In an earlier era, women were openly taunted. Diane Abbott, a senior Labour lawmaker, said that when she first joined Parliament in 1987, male colleagues would gesture as if they were weighing their breasts when women spoke in the chamber.

Back then, Parliament generally sat late into the night and alcohol consumption was higher, leading to more unacceptable behavior. In recent years, the parliamentary authorities have made the legislature a more sober and family-friendly place, many lawmakers say.

But suspicions linger that Westminster tolerates behavior that would be unacceptable in other workplaces. According to one longstanding rumor, the party whips, who are responsible for discipline in Parliament, keep a “black book” detailing bad behavior by lawmakers. But instead of being exposed, this information is used to pressure them to vote as instructed, so the story goes.

On Tuesday, reports that Mrs. May had been briefed on such allegations on a regular basis were denied by Downing Street.

Ms. Abbott argued that, despite progress, there is still a long way to go before sexist or inappropriate behavior disappears from Parliament, where it sometimes affects even those who are not parliamentary staff.

Last year Isabel Hardman, a senior political journalist at The Spectator magazine, described how a male lawmaker had approached her with the words “I want to talk to the totty,” using British slang for an attractive woman.

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Sexual Harassment Claims Surface in UK Parliament – New York Times

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