Calls mount for an end to male bullying of women MPs in the UK

Thursday May 12 2022
Priti Patel

Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel making a statement in the House of Commons in London on November 25, 2021.

By Gerry Loughran

It has become a kind of daily mantra: “Sexism, bullying and misogyny,” (the latter being by dictionary definition “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.”)

And where is all this going on? Why, in the Palace of Westminster, no less, where more than 50 MPs are currently under investigation for offences alleged to come within the above spectrum.

There is no lack of specifics: MP Neil Parish admitted claims by two women MPs that he twice watched pornography on his mobile phone while sitting near them in the House of Commons debating chamber. He resigned his seat.

Allegations reported in the Sunday Times included an MP using prostitutes, a minister having noisy sex in his private office, an MP licking the faces of new female researchers, and a woman member being sent an explicit photo by a male colleague.

Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan resigned from Parliament after being convicted of sexually abusing a boy, aged 15.

A minister in the ruling Conservative party, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, described how Westminster could often be an uncomfortable workplace for women.

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She said, “All of us women in Parliament have been subject to inappropriate language and to wandering hands, as my granny called it.” She urged male members to behave with propriety and “keep your hands in your pockets”.

Much of the trouble, according to women MPs, stems from the bars in Parliament, which members frequent after working long hours or during late-night sittings. Ms Trevelyan said, “There are a few (male MPs) for whom too much drink makes them think that they can suddenly please themselves.”

The Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said “radical action” was needed to change attitudes.

”He questioned the practice of MPs employing their own staff and suggested an outside body could act as employer, while the MP chose his staff.

There are also pressures for more female MPs in Parliament to reflect the fact that half the national population are women. Some 40 per cent of Conservative MPs are female. The figure for the opposition Labour Party is 47 per cent.

***

It was late 1960 and I was being shown around Nairobi by Ron Jones, a senior editor on the then brand-new Sunday Nation.

At some point along Government Road, Ron suddenly stopped before a young African man, tall, smiling, relaxed, bare feet in open sandals.

My colleague turned to me, “Gerry, I want to introduce you to a future president of Kenya.”

It took time for his prophecy to come true, four decades in fact, but this was Mwai Kibaki and in 2002 he did become President of Kenya.

The memory of that encounter came back to me when I heard that Mr Kibaki had died at the age of 90 and was buried with full honours at his home in Othaya, Nyeri, after a lifetime in public service.

Admired for his skills as an economist, his political vision and his ability to attract loyalty among his supporters, Kibaki’s 10 years at the top also prompted charges of dilatoriness and indecision.

I recall how, when depicting Kibaki, the Nation cartoonist Gado would slyly introduce a bag of golf clubs or a wooden fence into his drawings, references to the President’s favourite recreation and what his opponents claimed to be his preferred political position.

That said and looking back at the often vicious world of Kenyan politics, Kibaki retains a stature few of his contemporaries could equal.

God bless him and may he rest in peace.