More women in elected office will help tackle harassment and bad behaviour

Women have faced sexual exploitation and harassment since time immemorial. But today, something different is happening. Sex pests, gropers, untamed rapists, physical and mental abusers are being ‘outed’ and exposed by media outlets as they are named and shamed.

So, Michael Fallon has fallen on his sword. If all of the gossip is to be believed, then more will follow. It brings not only the individual into disrepute, but the system too, that allows those individuals to behave as they do, with impunity.

He says his behaviour of ten years ago is not acceptable today. I have news for him. It wasn’t acceptable then, either.

The abuse of women is a deep seated problem in our politics and our society. It is no wonder that so few women choose to stand for elected office at any level, as a recent report by the Fawcett Society pointed out.

Parliament, the centre of law making designed to protect the innocent, the young, the vulnerable from sexual  abuse, has shown itself incapable of protecting those within its own walls. The Westminster Village, where power and access to power seems able to protect perpetrators and where  party whips seemingly refuse to take action to curtail inappropriate and sometimes criminal, behaviour, has to change.

For women and some young men, there appears to have been no sanctuary, no recourse to real help in a system that is rotten to the core. Why might that be? MPs employ their own staff, that is true, so complaining about a boss to that  boss is difficult, but what is really at the root of the problem is the culture that exits. It means that some men in powerful positions see their rights and the rights of those in lesser positions as different.

‘The lads’; ‘the boys’; ‘ the boss’;  the culture. The ‘lad’ culture in Parliament and, let’s not forget, in Councils too, has to go and the best  way to address that is for more women to be elected.

The picture today of England’s directly elected mayors seeking more power for themselves and more control, would carry more weight if they were not all of a certain gender. It cannot be acceptable that a city region cabinet has no women with the power to vote in decision-making. So, three cheers for Vince Cable and Jo Swinson, who, at a meeting with the Fawcett Society and with the support of senior councillors, Peers and MPs, have made their position clear. We want, we need, we will have more women encouraged to stand for election, to be elected and to take leadership roles.

* Flo Clucas OBE is the President of the ALDE Gender Equality Network and former President of the ALDE Group on the EU Committee of the Regions. She was a councillor in Liverpool City Council for 26 years.

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13 Comments

  • It’s nonsense to impose acceptability rules from today back on the past. The past was what it was and our times’s judgement is irrelevant. Who knows what your attitudes will look like to the future? Unless you believe you are perfect and will eternally considered to have been perfect.
    I remember the past. The office Christmas party led to legends and gossip which lasted months. By the time I retired it was a pizza in an anonymous Italian with dull, sterile conversation and all home by half past nine.
    I am bound to be monstered and probably rightly so, but I saw the laughter and banter die out over the years to be replaced with cold ‘professionalism’. All for the best, I suppose.

  • Ruth Bright 3rd Nov '17 - 3:27pm

    Last night I put in a new submission to the Pastoral Care Officer but I am not holding my breath about any outcome.

    We have female figures in the party, one has just done an interview on the BBC about the treatment of women, one is on the EU committee on harassment and yet they are happy to be photographed with a senior member about whom serious concerns remain. This is hard to understand.

  • ………………..‘The lads’; ‘the boys’; ‘ the boss’; the culture. The ‘lad’ culture in Parliament and, let’s not forget, in Councils too, has to go and the best way to address that is for more women to be elected………………..

    It is not men or women…It is the anonymous ‘safety of a group’ (often combined with alcohol) that fuels situations…

    Years ago in a company I worked for a young apprentice 16/17 was stripped naked by a group of factory floor women (probably drunk) on Christmas eve…
    They wrapped him in wire tape and tied him to a bench..Big enquiry and ‘hoo-ha’ but no sackings..
    I don’t think HE enjoyed the attentions of women (most old enough to be his mother) and the jokes from older male work colleagues about how lucky he’d been…He left the company shortly afterwards…

    Not acceptable at any time…

  • David Warren 3rd Nov '17 - 6:22pm

    Unaccountable power and the knowledge that the consequences are not much of a deterrent are a toxic mix.

    To many people who find themselves in a position of power abuse it.

    I have seen this from both sexes.

    The thing I would like to see is a debate about the legal recourse victims of abuse can take.

    There is currently no right to take a case to an Employment Tribunal for bullying or harassment.

    That needs to change as do the potential compensation awards.

  • The problem is the abuse of power. We used to believe that more women world leaders would make the planet a better place and then Thatcher, Meir and Bandaranaike came along and we were forced to rethink that one.
    The world being the place it is, unpleasant people tend to get to the top in politics, media, business show business and other areas of human endeavour. And unpleasant people have a habit of being, well, unpleasant. If only we could have the nice, the kind, the reasonable and the compassionate running the world. Well good luck with that project !

  • Matt (Bristol) 3rd Nov '17 - 6:58pm

    It’s not about the ‘wrong people’ (Male or female) getting to the top, it’s about a system that takes young people and tells them that to get ahead they need to do X, repeatedly puts them alone or in ‘blurred-lines’ (professional or personal?) situations with small numbers of senior people and isolates them from ‘normal’ employer good practice by its purportedly vocational nature and the the all-pervasive hunger of its demands on their commitment. This is true of the performing arts, football, the church, all the professions which have had abuse and harassment scandals. And its true of politics.

    More women WILL help, and more men need to see this and stand back. But it won’t solve it.

    Someone pointed me to a very good twitter thread on this by Kavya Kaushik. But I see she’s deleted it. I never met her, I don’t know her, but she was making incredibly sane points. I imagine she was hounded off Twitter. This is stupid.

  • Martin Pierce 4th Nov '17 - 9:39am

    What an extraordinary article. I read it thinking it would be interesting as surely it will need to tackle the mote in our own collective eye of only 4 years ago – especially when I got to the bit that said “The Westminster Village, where power and access to power seems able to protect perpetrators and where party whips seemingly refuse to take action to curtail inappropriate and sometimes criminal, behaviour, has to change.” Just to remind ourselves – in an act of massive fence sitting that I remain ashamed of to this day, the party responded to not 1 – but 4 – women putting their heads over the parapet to complain about a very senior party member not by finding their claims lacked substance and exonerating the accused, but instead to find their claims ‘credible’ but take no action. And to take a year over doing so. And this wasn’t 10 or 15 years ago – this was 4 years ago. And at least Michael Fallon had the decency to fall on his sword. The result in our case – the accused remains in the party but with a cloud of suspicion that won’t go away and the 4 women have all left. This is basic stuff – we know there’s lots to worry about from unreported incidents and the wrong culture – but if we can’t get the process right when people actually come forward then I’m afraid we don’t really have the moral authority to comment on others.

  • John Barrett 4th Nov '17 - 10:12am

    I hope that after Vince has had his meeting with other party leaders to look at what can now be done about this issue, that he will take some time to reflect that under previous leaders absolutely nothing was done in the Parliamentary Party or by the leader, even when the behaviour of individuals was well known.

    He should ask those former leaders, what did they know? When did they know it? and what did they do about it?

    Because it is a question that will be asked by journalists and it would be better for Vince if he asked it first.

  • Ruth Bright 4th Nov '17 - 11:28am

    Martin, John. Alleluia to that! I tried to get this reopened – answer: “No” move along, nothing to see here.

  • David Allen 4th Nov '17 - 1:26pm

    “Nothing to see here”. Well, it’s not going to keep the Press at bay, is it?

    Let me try to start with a bit of balance. Palehorse, above, is not entirely wrong. The banter culture of a past generation was a rather peculiar mixture of genuine fun and humour with an edge of nastiness, and all too often it went over the top. But it was nevertheless quite commonly tolerated or even enjoyed by many women, who were in any case very far from being the sole objects of so-called “good-natured teasing”. For Leadsom to suddenly dredge up a six-year-old piece of fairly low-level lewdness, and turn it into a weapon to use against an internal political opponent she wanted sacked, was disgraceful.

    But but but – There is a million miles of difference between annoying low-level banter on the one hand, and gross, physical, traumatising, exploitative, bullying behaviour, corroborated by multiple accusers and hence effectively proven. When that happens – as no doubt will be established in some but not all cases – it looks pretty clear that Tory and Labour politicians will be chased by the Press and eventually held to account by their parties. And so will Liberal Democrats.

    https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/11/i-faced-backlash-speaking-out-about-lord-rennard-so-i-know-why-women-dont-come

  • Sue Sutherland 4th Nov '17 - 10:07pm

    I grew up at a time when men were still thought of as being ‘superior’ in some way and this encouraged an atmosphere of jokes and banter that were mysogenistic. At the same time groups of older women were quite able to tease and humiliate young men. This sort of behaviour should be unacceptable no matter the gender or sexual orientation of any of the parties.
    Habits were different in the past and there is, I believe, genuine confusion about what is acceptable behaviour now, so I would suggest a simple rule. If your behaviour is making someone uncomfortable then stop doing it. If your drinking or other habits make you incapable of discernment don’t carry on with them. Also, and I know some people may disagree with me, if you are the weaker party in a social situation don’t put yourself at risk by, for example, leaving the safety of a group, going to someone’s hotel room or accepting a lift. This is not putting the blame on the victim, it’s trying to prevent an unpleasant situation from developing in the first place.
    Those who use their power at work to humiliate others in whatever way should be dealt with in the same way that any other disciplinary procedure would operate.
    I really don’t think that women are all angels and incapable of this kind of behaviour. When my husband was young and on holiday in Greece with a group of friends an elderly woman, dressed all in black sat next to him and started to stroke his inner thigh. Apparently this was known about as a common practice in that country, just as we young women ‘knew’ that Italian men pinched bottoms.
    Whoever said “the past is another country, they do things differently there” was a very wise historian

  • Lorenzo Cherin 5th Nov '17 - 12:41am

    What testy waters we are in today , with so much revealed about the absurd or appalling behaviour of some, and how refreshing to read such real sense here.

    Very intelligent comments from Davids , Warren and Allen, understanding the nuances of this .

    Similarly , and as often, from Sue, heartfelt words backed up by common sense, these views from women need to be read, a sense of both anger and proportion.

    Ruth as ever has that but in her expression here, the views of one rightly disappointed too, we can well relate too. If it is any help, Ruth, you can only do so much , feel good that you did and do your best even if to little avail.

  • A politician has now been forced into taking his own life – I hope the twitter mob is happy.

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