Channel 4 News has been investigating sexual harassment in parliament. We spoke to 70 people hailing from all political parties and found this is something that’s really part of the fabric.
The trial of Nigel Evans has given the outside world a glimpse of sexual politics in Westminster.
Although he was cleared of all nine charges of rape and sexual assault, the former Commons Deputy Speaker spoke of his involvement with a man 33 years his junior, who had previously done work experience in Westminster.
And like the claims of sexual impropriety against the Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard – claims he continues to deny – the trial raised questions about the conduct of powerful politicians, and the apparent reluctance of political parties to deal with such allegations.
When I was there, older men would explore their sexuality and be predatory to younger men
Channel 4 News has been investigating sexual harassment in Parliament. We spoke to 70 people hailing from all political parties and sexual orientations, and found that this is something that’s really part of the fabric.
Researchers from Firecrest Films discovered that a third had personally experienced sexual harassment which they saw as an abuse of power. A further 21 per cent told us they had witnessed someone else being sexually harassed, or that a friend had confided in them. And less than a half (46 per cent), said they had no first or second-hand knowledge of such behaviour.
The people we spoke to didn’t want to talk on camera, because they were too fearful of blighting a nascent political career. But here’s what they told us. “At an event for young political activists I was asked to go to the gents by a certain MP who had always been a nice guy. I just brushed it off.
“The MP suggested I go to the toilets with him at about 1am, but then at 3am I saw him going back to his hotel room with a guy who looked about 18,” one said.
“He invited the office to a gay bar, and came up to me and put his arm around my shoulder. Then one time he slid his hand right down my back, and I moved it away,” said another.
Our investigation revealed that young men are more likely to get harassed than women. Some 40 per cent of men we spoke to had received unwanted sexual advances. One woman watched it happening.
“I watched men coming on to men, and men hiring men that they wanted to sleep with. I saw male MPs and researchers having relationships.
“When I was there, older men would explore their sexuality and be predatory to younger men.”
The gay equality campaigner Ben Summerskill told us that this is a cross-party problem, and it’s the peculiar nature of the Westminster workplace that’s to blame.
“Sexual harassment is part of the culture of Westminster. In the last decade I’ve heard of dozens of cases from men and women…people are vulnerable as they’re often political obsessives and have never worked anywhere else.
“For both sexes the MP can say that if they oblige them, it might help their career enormously. There’s no HR, no structure for people management or supervision,” he said.
The lack of an HR department, and the inadequacy of grievance procedures were both issues highlighted in the wake of the Lord Rennard story, and indeed the Lib Dems admitted failing to deal with the allegations properly over a period of years.
And yet despite all political parties promising to treat sexual harassment seriously, behind the scenes it’s clear that senior MPs have failed to grasp the nettle. We’re told one Tory MP expressed the view just last week that those who believe themselves to be victims of unwanted sexual advances should toughen up – or as the MP put it: “Grow a pair”.
Clearly, the culture won’t change until serving MPs not only recognise that there’s a problem, but also decide that something must be done about it.