Last week, a Conservative MP was arrested on suspicion of rape and sexual assault.
The allegations span a period of seven years and the unnamed MP was taken into custody, before being released on bail until a date in June, pending further inquiries.
This shocking story is the latest in a series of sexual misconduct allegations that have rocked Westminster in recent months.
On Monday, former Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan was sentenced to 18 months in jail for sexually assaulting a 15 year old boy in 2008.
He quit as an MP after he was convicted in April and a by-election will be held in June to fill the seat he vacated.
On the same day, there will also a by-election in Tiverton and Honiton, where Neil Parish resigned as an MP after admitting to watching pornography in the House of Commons.
It’s no wonder so many people are asking what on earth is going on – and going wrong – at Westminster.
MP date rape rumours are a new low
It seems barely a week goes by without another grotesque incident being reported in the newspapers.
Before I sat down to write this column, I thought I’d better check for any new developments that had occurred over the weekend, while I was happily tuned out from the news and the grubby world of politics.
What is wrong with some in this political party?
“Tories launch probe into tweet saying girls, 16, have 'creamy magnetic smell'.”https://t.co/VRexuSCcK0
— Kevin Maguire (@Kevin_Maguire) May 23, 2022
And it’s a good job I did, because I spotted one I’d missed.
The Sunday Mirror ran an exclusive story about rumours swirling around Westminster that a senior Conservative MP plied four victims with date-rape drugs.
A source told the paper the name of the alleged attacker was being spoken about “openly’’ among Conservative MPs.
MP sexual assault claims go far beyond ‘sleaze’
This latest batch of stories is being erroneously referred to a “sleaze’’ scandal.
But to call it that minimises the horror of these individual allegations and the alleged victims in each case.
It takes immense courage to report sexual violence and misconduct.
Every victim who does so knows the odds are stacked against them.
Add in the power dynamics and unique workplace practices of politics and you might begin to understand how much mental strength it takes for victims to speak out about what they’ve gone through.
Which is why my gut twists in anger every time I see allegations of this sort being given the oh-so-witty title of “Pestminster’’.
These aren’t tawdry tabloid tales involving consensual affairs or acts.
They are a visible symptom of a wider rot that has set in across society.
Problems aren’t unique to Conservative Party
Men’s violence against women (and in many cases, against other men) is endemic.
As sexual offences rise year-on-year, conviction rates remain worryingly low.
We’ve reached the point of MPs posting light-hearted tweets about one of their colleagues being arrested on suspicion of rape. Westminster is grim sometimes.
— Ben Kentish (@BenKentish) May 18, 2022
While this latest spate of allegations involve mainly Conservative MPs, only a partisan fool would write this off as a uniquely Tory problem.
However, it’s true that the party has serious questions to answer about its vetting procedures and how it deals with complaints against its members.
In the case of the unnamed Conservative MP arrested on suspicion of rape and sexual assault last week, the response has been woeful.
The Conservative Party has thus far refused to suspend the accused.
Instead, he has been merely asked to stay away from the parliamentary estate while the police investigation is ongoing.
This leaves a man who is accused of serious sexual offences spanning seven years free to conduct face-to-face constituency surgeries with members of the public, who will have no idea what their MP has been accused of.
These are clear safeguarding issues here, but male violence isn’t unique to the Conservative party.
No political party has a clean record when it comes to preventing predatory men from joining their ranks.
What sort of example does this set the rest of society?
We see the devastating impact of men’s violence across every corner of the UK, in every social class, every profession and every demographic of people.
Male violence is a societal problem and one that the UK government seems ill-equipped to deal with.
We’ve seen the usual patterns of minimisation and victim-blaming in these recent examples of sexual violence and harassment in the world of politics.
But when allegations hit, political parties must resist that partisan urge to turn inwards in a bid to protect their own members or reputation.
In recent weeks we’ve heard depressingly familiar tales of female staffers warning one another about predatory MPs, and certain politicians who have been assigned minders to keep them out of trouble when the booze starts flowing.
Imagine if parties spent as much time on prevention as they did on mitigation.
A zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment and violence in a political party wouldn’t look like this.
A parliament that was committed to rooting out abusers wouldn’t find itself stuffed full of them.
It’s a question of accountability.
How can we trust our politicians to find an antidote for this poison in wider society when they can’t even get their own house in order?