As sexual harassment claims engulf Westminster and the Conservative Party, May’s concern seems more focused on damage limitation than showing leadership
The recent stories about sexual harassment have seemingly caused panic to the establishment, whether that’s in Hollywood or Westminster. Their sheer volume of stories that are now getting attention (many were rumoured or open secrets previously) are causing people in positions of power to suddenly take action, or to ensure that they look like they are. So what exactly is our Prime Minister doing?
Theresa May has so far urged an independent body to be set up to help deal with sexual harassment complaints against MPs. This is toothless and yet another bureaucratic delay to justice. The right wing publication, Guido Fawkes, was the organisation that initially broke the story that 36 serving Conservative MPs had been named and listed as conducting “inappropriate sexual behaviour”. The Times reported earlier in the week, and before Fallon’s resignation, that May was reluctant to fire anyone from within the Cabinet because it might destabalise the government. Is that really the priority?
Fallon was forced to resign when it was thought more allegations would come to light. The initial story wasn’t enough. Elphicke has been suspended, although at present it remains unclear when the Conservatives were first made aware of any allegations. Garnier and Green, both serving ministers, remain in their posts despite allegations of inappropriate behaviour. There seems to be little transparency to the decision making, or if any decisions will come over certain MPs. Until Elphicke, the focus had been firmly placed on talking on an abstract wider issue than with dealing with specific allegations.
An independent body takes time to set up. That’s often why they are deployed. It can buy time on an issue that may be sensitive or in an area where the government isn’t willing to act themselves. Sometimes they are correctly used for political neutrality, but more and more they’ve been used as a political ‘get out of jail free’ card. The names are known to Conservatives. There is already a record of conduct that warrants investigation and at the very least, suspension. May though is refusing to act herself, but hiding. There is no solidarity for survivors. They’re expected to go through a new untrusted and unproved independent body that may prove toothless or report to the police. The police themselves are often poor at handling complaints of sexual harassment. The emphasis is being put on survivors to act and come forward, rather than our own Prime Minister sorting out Westminster.
The emphasis too on needing a thorough body to investigate, and the rhetoric around that has all played to subtly undermine people coming forward. In no other area of crime (except for hate crime) is the burden of proof on the survivor to show that something did indeed happen. There is a reason survivors are coming forward at once, together, in public, because at no other time would they have been believed. The police in the US knew about complaints about Weinstein and took no action. The allegations around Spacey are claimed to have been akin to an open secret, and The Advocate admitted it had been told on the record about Spacey’s alleged conduct in the early 00s. It is only with multiple (often well known) survivors coming forward that the world is starting to pay attention. Setting up a system to report to and for them to pass judgement does not seem to be a body designed to offer confidence or space to survivors, but a way to minimise fallout and to delay action against MPs.
“It is only with multiple (often well known) survivors coming forward that the world is starting to pay attention”
Admittedly, there shouldn’t be little surprise at this. There are (so far) over a dozen women accusing President Trump of sexual assault and/or harassment. During his Presidential campaign, a Hollywood Access tape was released where Trump bragged about sexual assault and said “grab them by the pussy”. Theresa May was happy to visit Trump, to even be photographed holding his hand, and she waxed lyrical about the relationship between the US and the UK – all in the name of a trade deal. As Home Secretary, Theresa May, the Home Office demanded that queer asylum seekers give proof of their identities, and this led to some filming themselves having sex with people of the same gender. This was a gross violation of human rights. Additionally, as Home secretary, May was accused of “allowing state-sponsored abuse of women” within the detention centre, Yarl’s Wood, where there were allegations of rape, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. Furthermore, Labour MP, Lisa Nandy has claimed May has failed to ensure parties aren’t covering up sex abuse scandals, and stated she had raised questions to the Prime Minister several times and they had all gone unanswered until this week’s PMQs.
Fallon’s resignation came as there were other suspected incidents waiting in the wings, which the revelations by Leadsom corroborate that there was more to Fallon’s history. Fallon though remains as an MP. May’s record on supporting alleged survivors of harassment and assault is abysmal. There has been no commitment to standing in solidarity. There has been political maneuvering to minimise the damage to the government. The priority though to May is to ensure that the government functions, even if that means keeping men in power who have no right to be there.
This is a situation that should not be politicised and it is disgusting. The comments once the story that a senior member of Labour discouraged Bex Bailey from disclosing her rape at a Labour Party event were overwhelmingly focused upon, but what about the Tories? Party supporters just don’t get it, and May is acting in the same manner. This isn’t a crisis for the Conservative Party to manage to uphold Government but a time when we need a Prime Minister who is unequivocal in support for survivors. Throughout her career, May has put politics before people.
The men who abused their positions of power should never be allowed near public office again. However, we must also demand more from so called allies and from those allies who wish to claim to be leader. If May is to be Prime Minister, then she must act it. This is not an area where party politics matters. The number of allegations will shock few, except maybe privileged white men, and now the UK is watching to see how the establishment reacts. Will it protect itself or will it finally stand up for survivors?