No, Lord Greaves, it’s not run-of-the-mill for politicians to cop a feel

To say Parliament is institutionally sexist insults the majority of MPs and peers who don’t engage in groping

Share

After a moderately boozy lunch with a Conservative MP at Westminster’s Quirinale restaurant, I walked back to the Commons with my guest.

We were discussing the party’s rising stars when, as we walked through a quiet corridor just off Westminster Hall, he suddenly lunged at me, kissing me on the lips.

Horrified, but also embarrassed, I turned my head to pretend he was just kissing me on the cheek, shouted “OK, bye!” and ran away. I felt terrible – as if sharing a bottle of wine with an MP was asking for it – and assumed this kind of thing went on all the time in Westminster.

But that was 11 years ago (the party’s rising stars were David Cameron and George Osborne), and in a total of 13 years as a journalist in Parliament that has been my only experience of receiving an unwanted sexual advance. Sure, there have been occasional borderline comments, but nothing that crossed the line as this 2003 incident had.

This is not to say it doesn’t go on. I think journalists are largely immune from the advances of MPs and peers because, by the nature of our jobs, we talk. Researchers and secretaries are targeted because sexual harassment is about control and abuse of power.

But to say Parliament is institutionally sexist insults the majority of MPs and peers who don’t engage in groping.

It also insults men in general, as if they just cannot help themselves.

So when Lord Greaves, an ally of Lord Rennard, says half of all peers have pinched a woman’s bottom at some point, I don’t believe it is true.

Many peers belong to an older generation among whom this kind of thing could perhaps be acceptable.

But, come on, we’re not talking about the 1950s – even the oldest members of the House of Lords are not so unreconstructed that they think it’s normal to cop a feel between the tea room and the red benches. It also suggests that women who work in Parliament are too stupid or feeble to speak out, part of a conspiracy of silence where they get to the office, have their bottom pinched, giggle in a sort of Carry On Up the Lords way, and then go home and say nothing.

Lord Greaves says he’s not claiming this to justify Lord Rennard’s alleged behaviour, but of course that is exactly what he’s doing. Women shouldn’t complain if they are touched up, he’s suggesting, because it is an everyday, run-of-the-mill thing. No: when kissing, groping, unwanted touching goes on, it is out of the ordinary and remarkable.

The women who allege they were groped by Lord Rennard, whose claims were described as “credible” by the investigating QC, complained because the incidents were not mundane or everyday.

The Liberal Democrats failed to deal with the complaints swiftly and robustly, which is why they’re in the mess they’re in today.

They failed to act not because alleged groping by senior figures in the party is commonplace, but because Lord Rennard was himself untouchable – he delivered by-election victories.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions