Once again Westminster is embroiled in another bout of ‘something has to be done-ism’ after the latest incidences of sexist and misogynistic behaviour. First we had the bizarre claim that Labour’s Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, was trying to distract Boris Johnson with her legs before we quickly moved on to a Conservative MP having to resign for watching porn on his phone in the House of Commons chamber. On top of that we were reminded that 56 MPs are currently being investigated for inappropriate behaviour. We can only conclude that something is distinctly rotten in the state of Westminster.
Five years ago, following the ‘me too’ movement, and after the latest glut of revelations about MPs behaviour I was asked to serve on the working group of the Independence Complaints and Grievance Scheme. We designed a report which looked at the issues and put in place a confidential hotline with independent process to properly examine complaints. The fact that so many complaints are now being properly investigated at least shows that part of the system has the confidence of staff. What we have not done is make any progress in tackling the central culture of Westminster.
Westminster is soaked in centuries of paternalism, misogyny and weird medieval power relationships. Practically every statue and painting is of a man and we still have ‘Lords’ and ‘Honourable Members’ just to ensure we know our place and who to defer to. There are cheap price late night bars to accommodate the anti family friendly hours just to ensure that the toxic mix is complete. Misogyny and patriarchy simply oozes out the walls of these corridors of power.
The Speaker and other senior members have again called for more reforms such as Members staff to be employed centrally but this is only tinkering with a problem that is now baked in.
We need family friendly hours, remote participation for those with caring responsibilities and child care duties. We need zero tolerance of anything approaching sexist or inappropriate behaviour. We need to look at the ridiculous hierarchy of Lords, Honourables and ‘Strangers’ and the impression that gives in working arrangements.
Up to fourteen billion pounds is about to be spent on refurbishing the Houses of Parliament, yes you heard that correctly ‘up to fourteen billion pounds’! The plan is to gut the place and then put it all back together again only with bells and whistles. We argued that Westminster should be sold off and a new building created to support a modern democracy. This would be much cheaper and more useful to democratic practice. It, of course, was not even given the time of day.
So this endless loop of awful things happening in Westminster, scandals emerging, calls for something to be done, back to these awful things happening again, will go on, and on.