“All guidelines were followed”

Something rotten in the state of Westminster?

Where to begin? Anonymous, cowardly, Tory MPs telling the Mail on Sunday that deputy Labour leader, Angela Raynor crossed and uncrossed her legs in the Commons to distract Boris Johnson. More than 50 MPs facing allegations of sexual misconduct, including it is alleged, three Cabinet members and two Labour shadow ministers.

A top Tory accused of spiking drinks, with one victim, a fellow Conservative parliamentarian, claiming he woke up to find his nipples being licked. Tory MP Neil Parish resigning his seat after being spotted by female members watching porn in the Commons chamber. Two MPs accused of proposing a threesome to a minister’s girlfriend – which she refused. Caroline Noakes, chair of the women and equalities select committee saying she has experienced “touching, staring, bullying” and had been cold-shouldered for speaking out.

International trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, revealing that another ex-MP had pinned her against a wall and insisted she must want him because, he said, “I am a powerful man”. The scroll of shame rolls on, with most likely the phrase, “powerful man” at its heart. Parliament has long been considered a hotbed of misogyny and harassment, where an outdated boys’ club attitude stubbornly prevails.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has attacked the culture of “rank misogyny” in parliament, although Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden said in a Sky News interview that he thinks “we’ve made big improvements over the past 20 or 30 years”. Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng went further, rejecting the idea of inherent sexism in parliament, arguing that problems were mainly caused by long hours and overwork and that very few MPs transgress.

The evidence suggests otherwise. But how can this intolerable conduct be allowed to continue in our supposedly enlightened age? Is it a case of the “rules don’t apply to me” attitudes followed at the very top set the standard? It’s important to reiterate that the sexual misconduct accusations are not levelled entirely at Conservative MPs, and that there is no suggestion that the Prime Minister has behaved inappropriately in this way. But in other ways? The lying? The deceit? When the Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg patronisingly declares that Partygate is “old news” and that most want to “move on” when clearly most do not? When Cabinet ministers line up to defend the indefensible Johnson and his serial, law-breaking lockdown partying?

When Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, makes jokes and puts on silly voices in a serious television interview about the cost-of-living crisis, ending his comedy turn by adopting a Liverpudlian (possibly?) accent and telling everyone to, “Calm down!” Doesn’t that, and more, show that many at Westminster are completely out of touch with the real world and real people? Isn’t it a fact that this superior, “we know best” and will brush aside criticism and accountability mindset, is now unacceptable and obscene? Are we being laughed at, taken for mugs? Is there something truly rotten in the state of Westminster?

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