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

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

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Opponents of Israel's military operation in Gaza are the real enemies of Middle Eastern peace

Gabriel Sassoon
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little