During the Labour Party leadership campaign, every single candidate was repeatedly grilled about how they would stamp out antisemitism within our ranks – and what systems would be put in place to make sure racism was not welcome in the party. Rightly so. So why is it that I have not heard a single Conservative leadership candidate have to answer the same question about sexual abuse and harassment?
Let’s have a reminder of their recent problems: Rob Roberts MP was found by parliament’s independent system to have perpetrated sexual harassment. Prior to this, he had been cleared by the party process.
Charlie Elphicke, the Tory MP sentenced to two years in prison for sexual assault, was – throughout the investigation – given back the whip in order to vote. Then, when his court case was ongoing, a number of Tory MPs who gave him character references (including his wife who is now the MP for his old seat in Dover) were also found by the parliamentary standards commissioner to have breached the code of conduct by writing to the judge urging him not to reveal their identity.
Former Tory minister Andrew Griffiths, who raped his wife, was found to have sent violent and sexually aggressive texts to women in his constituency, although he was cleared of wrongdoing by the parliamentary standards watchdog because he did not send the messages whilst engaged in parliamentary activities. He, like sex offender Elphicke, had the Conservative whip given back to him again over critical votes.
A complaint was made to the party about the candidate for the 2019 Wakefield election – Imran Khan. It seems that the Conservative Party did nothing about this – the same complainant went to the police and Khan is now in prison for child sex offences. Well done.
There are currently two Tory MPs who are accused of sexual harassment and violence – one is on police bail for rape and retains the Conservative whip, and the other, David Warburton, has had the whip removed while claims against him over allegations of sexual harassment and cocaine use are being investigated, although he denies any wrongdoing.
All these cases are before you even get to Chris Pincher, the cause of this entire leadership race. None of the candidates would be preening themselves if it weren’t for the fact that some brave people came forward and made allegations about his behaviour, and accused the party of handling it so very woefully. We are at real risk at the moment of forgetting why we ended up with a Tory leadership race at all.
None of the candidates have been asked once what they did to prevent Pincher being given the job of deputy chief whip. They all knew about his alleged behaviour – believe me when I say everyone knew. So while they all flannel on about integrity and honesty and standards, I want to know what they did about it.
What did they do about Elphicke or Griffiths? I could answer that question easily: I begged the chief whip at the time not to give them back the whip. I reached out to some of the victims to offer them support and ask them what they wanted me to do. In the case of Pincher now, I want to hear about how the Tory candidates asked the prime minister not to give him the job – what representations did they make about his unsuitability?
I have heard many of the candidates talking about the so-called “war on woke”, why on earth haven’t I heard anyone talk about the war on sexual harassment and offences in their ranks? Which systems are they going to insist on so that they don’t select and help elect a child sex offender again? Which standards will they sign up to – to safeguard staff and constituents from men accused of rape? Will they suspend party membership for anyone being investigated?
Will they have an independent process within their own party? Why are they not being asked why they have become a haven for entitled men who seem to think that they can grab and leer and use their power to control? What the hell are they going to do about it all?
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Liz Truss, when asked why she didn’t resign over Pincher, was the closest I have seen to any scrutiny on this matter –and she said it was “because I am loyal”. Great – loyal to a man who thought it was fine to promote a man alleged to have perpetrated sexually harmful behaviours? Loyalty in these cases should not be celebrated, it is literally the problem.
Loyalty makes people turn blind eyes, stick up for mates and give powers back to alleged offenders. Loyalty shouldn’t apply in cases of sexual violence, yet she was allowed to brag about it as if it were a virtue.
I want every candidate to go on a war against the culture of harassment in their party but I have heard more about gender-neutral toilets in this campaign than I have about how they are going to fight the culture that has left them with a litany of shame, disgrace and harm.
The worst thing about all of this is that Chris Pincher – who I assume is still very much a member of the party because who knows what their processes are in such cases – gets to decide who the next person to run our country is... and I don’t.
Please, can someone ask this question: what did you do about all this for the past five years – and what will you do in the future? Where were they and why should we trust any of them?
Jess Phillips is the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, and Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley