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Of pricks and men

Pincher and Bone. It’s fitting that, as we watch the curtain fall on the 2019 parliament, it’s the ghouls who gained the most from it who are slamming the coffin shut on the Tory party for the foreseeable future.

Pincher and Bone. They sound like Roald Dahl-style grotesques who run a mortuary next door to an orphaned child and his impoverished grandmother. You can’t help but make up nonsensical doggerel like, “Pincher and Bone, Pincher and Bone, just couldn’t leave others alone.”

If nothing else, it’s been a huge month for nominative determinism. Peter Bone – who was alleged to have indecently exposed himself to an assistant on a work trip to Madrid – is named after not just one, but two euphemisms for penis. Peter. Bone. That’s like calling him Dickie Cockanballs, Scrotum McWang or Glans Bonar-Johnson.

In fairness to Mr Bone, he did submit to the independent appeals panel that merely displaying his genitals to an assistant after a towel malfunction in a bathroom in Madrid need not necessarily constitute sexual harassment. So we now have this marvellous quote: “The respondent, who denies the allegation, submits that exposure alone does not necessarily constitute sexual conduct.” The appeal panel seem to have exhibited a degree of scepticism. Their findings also include an outstanding use of quotation marks in paragraph 2.26: “The respondent’s apparent obliviousness to the impact of his position of power on others, and his refusal to take on board clear evidence that he made people uncomfortable, did not lend credibility to his case that working for him was ‘always’ ‘relaxed’ and ‘fun’.”

It must be difficult, of course, not to expose your genitals fairly often if you’re Peter Bone. I imagine he has lengthy, pendulous clackers like the weights in a grandfather clock, which make a sound like the opening of the seventh seal when they knock together in his weekend corduroys. If such in-depth chat about the heft and sonorousness of his testicles makes Mr Bone uncomfortable, I can only remind him that these columns are “always” “relaxed” and “fun”.

Then there’s Chris Pincher, who groped two men at the Carlton Club. He has the sort of name Dickens would have crossed out for being too obvious, before calling him Ezekiel Squishbum and considering it a day’s work well done.

Powerful sex pests weren’t just on display in parliament recently. Many viewers also watched Steve Coogan’s remarkable portrayal of Jimmy Savile in that upsettingly familiar tracksuit. The central thrust of the show seemed to be that, had people known what Savile was doing, the Britons of the 1970s and 1980s would have been horrified. This is a position that only makes sense to someone who has no idea what it was like to be a child in those decades. Savile wasn’t “a monster hiding in plain sight”, he was “a monster in plain sight” and nobody cared, because our culture was steeped in the abuse of children and young people.

I imagine he has lengthy, pendulous clackers like the weights in a grandfather clock

The traditional English childhood came laced with unwanted sexual contact from adults – from teachers who prowled the showers to make sure no one had swimming trunks on “because you can’t get clean like that”, to the headmaster’s wife who boasted about watching the boarders change because “some of them are getting big”. From the youth club leaders who weren’t safe to be alone with, to church elders who accidentally reached inside your shorts, all the way to being groped at the Oxford Union by a man who resembled a startled cushion in owlish glasses.

I was once on the jury for a historic sex abuse case, and, in the jury room, it became clear everyone there had experienced some sort of abuse as a young person. The question isn’t “how did Savile get away with it?” It’s “why do we collude in pretending what he did was extraordinary?” Savile may have been the teabag, but the whole adult world was the tepid water he sat in, and they all knew it was turning brown.

We still don’t really care, of course. Dame Janet Smith’s 2016 report on Savile’s behaviour at the BBC also found that Tony Blackburn’s account of the investigation of his, and others’, encounters with Claire McAlpine (a fifteen-year-old who committed suicide) was contradicted by documentary evidence in a number of ways. Subsequently, Blackburn was fired by the BBC for giving unsatisfactory evidence to the inquiry “that fell short of the required standard”. He vigorously protested his innocence, was rehired within eight months and can still be heard regularly on BBC Radio 2. But who am I to talk? Let’s face it, I spent the first half of this article making light of sexual assaults and seeing how many puns I could get out of them.

We aren’t really shocked by powerful men abusing others, and we don’t properly object to it. I’ll bet you can’t even name three of the Tory MPs who lost their jobs for sexual misconduct in the past few years – because so many of them don’t lose their jobs. Rob Roberts was found to have repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances to a member of staff. He’s still an MP. Mark Garnier said that calling his assistant “sugartits” absolutely “did not constitute harassment” and neither did making her shop for sex toys. He’s still the MP for Wyre Forest. Daniel Kawczynski asked a researcher to go for a coffee with a business contact of his and refused to accept that this was inappropriate. He’s also still an MP.

Can this country really look itself in the mirror and say the problems with historic sex abuse were a few bad apples? Can we disclaim responsibility for the horror show this country has been for the past few years? Or will we simply see two faces staring back at us? Pincher and Bone.

Nathaniel Tapley is a comedy writer and performer on the TV shows you hate

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