Westminster sex list must not overshadow real issues behind revelations

PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 November 2017

Ex-defence secretary Michael Fallon

Ex-defence secretary Michael Fallon

PA Archive/PA Images

It has been a week of high drama in Westminster.

Gavin Williamson outside the Ministry of Defence after he was named as the new Secretary of State for DefenceGavin Williamson outside the Ministry of Defence after he was named as the new Secretary of State for Defence

The rumours of a secret list compiled by aides and staffers about the misdeeds and misdemeanours of MPs that had been rumbling in the background finally exploded.

As it stands we can’t share that list with you because many of the claims are utterly unsubstantiated and could very well not be true.

Far be it from me to take the moral high ground but if some of the claims are made public I would expect a lot of people to be both shocked and, in some cases, appalled.

Sir Michael Fallon appears on that list. That, along with a claim he placed his hand on a journalist’s knee many years ago, has done it for the now former defence secretary.

The fact that many people have seen the claims and the list is being openly shared around Westminster will make life very tough for anyone on it.

The credibility of the MPs included is in ruins. For some ambitions of big promotions and glittering political careers have no doubt been dashed.

The dam broke on Tuesday when the heavily redacted list began to circulate. Soon after, the uncensored document began dropping into journalists’ inboxes. Journalists never reveal their sources but there was senior Tory involvement in that list being spread more widely.

Sir Michael’s departure has allowed the prime minister to slightly reshuffle her pack – something she has been keen to do for many months but has been unable to due to her diminished power post-election.

Theresa May would not have wanted to dump Sir Michael from around the cabinet table though – he was a trusted and seemingly able minister, but some new blood in her top team will be welcomed.

And in the new defence secretary, Gavin Williamson, she has a driven, acutely bright and unashamedly ruthless new Secretary of State.

He was the chief whip and has gained a reputation for striking the fear of God into unruly Tories. Mr Williamson even keeps his pet tarantula, Cronus, in his office allegedly feeding him live treats as he grills nervous MPs.

Cronus, by the way, is a Greek God who envied the power of his father Uranus so castrated him in order to seize the throne. He then ate his own children to stop a similar fate befalling him. Delightful.

The defence brief is a tricky one in a time of heightened tensions around the world and diminishing budgets.

But in Mr Williamson Mrs May has got a serious politician who will be eager to impress. He is a very ambitious character and this appointment might well have arrived at exactly the right time of the 41-year-old. The fact it has not been greeted with universal glee from his fellow MPs won’t worry him one bit.

Expect Mr Williamson to be included in the chatter about the next Tory leader from here on in – Boris Johnson take note.

But the sex list revelations and Sir Michael quitting must not overshadow the serious issue behind this week’s headlines.

When leader of the House Andrea Leadsom spoke to MPs it was to demand changes to a system that left many feeling unable to come forward with complaints whether they were of sexual harassment, bullying or anything else.

MPs employ their staff directly meaning they are their own human resource department. This is clearly a recipe for disaster in a place like Westminster.

No-one should have to go to work and feel uncomfortable. No-one should feel they cannot speak up for fear of it damaging their career.

There is a helpline for staffers but since its launch it has not been well used. The reason for that is the culture of British politics. This is what has to change.

Not for the first time the goings-on in British politics appear outdated to the public. Maybe now, finally, Westminster will be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

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