Westminster bullying report: Staffers outline how some MPs 'demean, belittle and humiliate their staff regularly'

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
A report into bullying and sexual harassment in the Commons has been released (Getty)

report into harassment in the House of Commons has been released, shedding light into a culture of bullying at Westminster.

The inquiry by Gemma White QC was ordered after a wave of so-called ‘Pestminster’ complaints in the wake of the #MeToo revelations.

It found that staff of some MPs are ‘subject to an unacceptable risk of bullying and harassment, including sexual harassment, at work’.

Among the most common form of offending behaviour outlined in the report was of MPs who “shout at, demean, belittle and humiliate their staff on a regular basis, often in public”.

The report states: “The constant ‘drip, drip’, as more than one contributor put it, eats away at the employee’s self-confidence until they become anxious, exhausted and ill, incapable of performing their job and (often following a period of sick- leave) resign or are dismissed.

“Well over half of the people who contributed to this inquiry described suffering significant mental and/or physical illness as a result of this type of bullying behaviour.”

The report stated that workplace harassment and bullying by MPs towards staff has been 'tolerated and accepted for too long' (Wikipedia)

‘Intimidation and bullying’

One unnamed staffer told the investigation: “[The MP] would intimidate, mock and undermine me every day, often shouting at me.

“On one or two occasions staff members from nearby offices came to check on me, after [the MP] had left.

“On one particular occasion, [the MP] stood directly over shouting at me for over ten minutes on end.

“The relentless daily nature of this intimidation and bullying, coupled with the fact that it seemed unconnected with the quality or delivery of my own work (or anything else I did), left me frightened each day, and made even normal conversation with my boss an uncertain and intimidating experience.

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“I don’t think of myself as a particularly soft individual, but there were occasions I found myself crying on the way to work, the only time I have cried since I was a child.”

Another said: [The MP] regularly undermined me and my work, both in one-to-one meetings and in front of other employees...

“[They] would send emails at all hours of the day, including weekends, expecting an immediate response, and would accuse me of letting [them] down if [they] didn't get one.

“This included contacting me when I was on a planned holiday, and when I had to urgently visit a dying family member as part of compassionate leave.

Contributors spoke of being shouted and swore at by MPs, while others spoke of sexual harassment (Getty)

“[They] frequently used manipulation and gaslighting tactics to set [their] office staff against each-other.”

‘Uncontrollable rage’

Other staffers spoke of how they were regularly shouted and sworn at by their MP employer on a regular basis.

Some contributors described Members “expressing uncontrollable rage, screaming that staff were ‘f***ing useless’ or ‘f***ing idiots’ in front of other staff, other Members and/or constituents”.

One contributor wrote that the MP would “scream and shout at me, make me cry and slam the office doors and storm out”.

Sexual harassment

Staffers who contributed to the report spoke of “being subject to unwanted sexual advances, often accompanied by touching, sometimes forceful”.

One told the report: “Many of the experiences related to me were of unwelcome sexual advances, often accompanied by attempts at kissing.

“Many involved some form of unwanted touching: for example breasts being grabbed, buttocks being slapped, thighs being stroked and crotches being pressed/rubbed against bodies.

The report recommended MPs 'adopt and follow employment practices and procedures' (Getty)

“Most of these experiences were isolated, but some were part of a course of conduct on the part of a Member or fellow member of staff.”

Another staff member told the investigation: "As long as getting political jobs in Parliament are dependent on who you know and who you're related to, sexual harassment will be a necessary evil for ambitious young... people like me who will choose our careers over our comfort every time."

Contributors said that bullying and harassment was from “large numbers of men and women of all ages and levels of seniority from across the political spectrum”.

Conclusions and recommendations

The report concluded that recent steps taken by the House of Commons to address bullying and harassment across the Parliamentary community ‘do not engage sufficiently with the particular issues faced by Members’ staff’

The report stated: “Many describe the idea of complaining about bullying and harassment under the new complaints procedure as ‘career suicide’. They also often have strong party and personal loyalties which constitute significant barriers to complaint.”

Recommendations in the report state that there must be “other methods of tackling workplace bullying and harassment” and MPs should “adopt and follow employment practices and procedures which are aligned with those followed in other public sector workplaces”.

The investigation was ordered following the so called 'Pestminster' scandal (PA)

Gemma White QC said: "Workplace harassment and bullying by MPs towards staff has been tolerated and accepted for too long.

"It has seriously affected the health and welfare of far too many people.

"There is a pressing need for a collective response to what is clearly a significant problem.

"I am concerned by the amount of time it has taken to act on recommendations from previous reports and would urge the House to move more swiftly.

"While the House of Commons is not alone in tolerating these behaviours, it is the home of our policy makers and a taxpayer-funded institution. It should therefore be at the forefront of good employment practice."

Responding to the findings of the report, the House of Commons Commission said in a statement: “We would like to thank Gemma White QC for her report and will look urgently at the recommendations she makes when we meet on Monday 15th July 2019.

“We condemn bullying and harassment of MPs’ staff and offer our full support to anyone in the parliamentary community who has suffered in this way.”

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