Voices: Give me strength! Tory sleaze has nothing to do with the ‘culture’ at Westminster

·5-min read
This is not a Westminster cultural problem, it is a problem perpetrated by individuals  (PA Media)
This is not a Westminster cultural problem, it is a problem perpetrated by individuals (PA Media)

Culture eats policy for breakfast, or so the saying goes. There is an element of truth in this without doubt. You have to change people’s hearts and minds before you can ask them to adhere to dramatic changes. Oh – apart from the dramatic moment when the country was confined to their homes in lockdown, overnight. That moment changed working culture forever.

Of course you need culture change for society to change – but culture can be led. And I am going to scream from the rooftops if I hear another government minister or Tory MP use the excuse that “culture” is to blame for their inability to behave appropriately or tell the truth.

When you work in the field of domestic and sexual abuse, you hear a huge amount of excuse making by ministers about how “culture” is to blame for their slow progress in convicting rapists and wife beaters. This week, the latest Office for National Statistics crime data shows us once again that only 1.3 per cent of reported rapes are leading to a charge. Some culture!

The Conservative Party constantly tells politicians on the left that we are “talking down” Britain if we complain about anything. However, every time they reach for the “culture” excuse for why they have failed to improve things such as rape figures or politicians’ behaviour, they are basically saying that British people (in this case: men) are too base and stupid to adapt to changes. When will the government stop talking men down?

This week, the defence secretary took to the airwaves to blame the “culture of drinking” in parliament for the fact that 56 MPs have been accused of sexual harassment or abuse – and that one of his Tory colleagues has been caught watching porn while in a public workplace. Give me bloody strength!

I work in that same building and have been known to have a few beers on occasion – and so far I have not fallen to the deep cultural problem of groping my staff or watching people shagging on my phone while on a committee.

Why does the defence secretary think so very little of his colleagues and his place of work that he wishes to remove the agency from the individuals who have behaved poorly? Also if he thinks that the culture is so bad, what the hell has he done to change it? This is not a Westminster cultural problem, it is a problem perpetrated by individuals – not because they are culturally led, but because they chose to do wrong. The government should stop talking down politicians.

But you see, the reason they are doing this is because they want to talk down politicians. They want to make the country exasperated with politics, because if the public thinks we are all rotten, gropey liars with our fingers in the till, the offenders don’t have to face their own misdemeanours.

Politicians are not children – we are adults who sometimes make mistakes, sometimes behave immorally and sometimes behave illegally. Boris Johnson is a fully grown adult man, completely capable of making choices and decisions. Whoever was watching porn in the chamber of the House of Commons is an elected representative of the people, able to make choices. It wasn’t culture that made these men behave badly, lie, or party til dawn – it was their own choices.

If the Tories want to blame culture for these misdemeanours and try to get away with failures because of it, one simply has to ask, who creates the culture in No 10 or on the green benches? Who is responsible for that culture?

Culture is not something that happens externally to human beings – it is driven by them. So much for them being the party of individual responsibility and law and order; they seem instead to be the party of generally falling foul to culture, without any agency.

It is very convenient for the prime minister to have all of this gross behaviour being dolled out at the moment, because it makes the whole of Westminster look like a cess pit – which is exactly what he wants.

His back is against the wall and he wants to blame us all. The right wing always want a “drain the swamp” rhetoric to take hold, because (in truth) it protects them. The more the people opt out of politics because it is grubby and unseemly, the more the people who hold the power cheer.

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Do you honestly think it hurts Boris Johnson if his ministers manage to convince you that it’s not them that’s the problem – it’s all of politics? They literally rejoice when the ordinary man or woman on the street decides they are going to opt out: more room for them.

Yes, there is a culture problem in Westminster. It is the one that allows individuals to behave badly, dodge taxes, grope staff, lobby for businesses and watch porn in the chamber – and blames “culture” instead of taking personal responsibility.

We are not all bad. I’d say 90 per cent of MPs are good, decent people who want to change the world for the better – and can take responsibility for their actions.

The other 10 per cent behave poorly and then make out that it is a cultural problem or because they have to stay up late. Cry me a river – if a nurse on a night shift was caught watching porn on a ward they would be sacked, regardless of how late they had to stay up.

I guess the way we could start to change this culture that Tories wish to lament is to start there. Stop minimising lies and misdemeanours and start acting to stop them. Hope springs eternal.

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