Rosena Allin-Khan: Labour deputy candidate reveals ‘horrific’ harassment as NHS doctor before becoming MP

Exclusive: ‘It takes over your whole life and it takes somebody to believe you and believe in you to change it’

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Monday 27 January 2020 08:46 GMT
The Tooting MP said she had felt her career would be over if she spoke out
The Tooting MP said she had felt her career would be over if she spoke out (PA)

Labour deputy leadership hopeful Rosena Allin-Khan has vowed to stamp out sexual harassment in the party as she revealed she had been victim of inappropriate behaviour as a junior doctor.

Ms Allin-Khan, who is still a practising A&E doctor, said she had endured harassment before becoming an MP, describing how the “horrific” experience made her “dread coming to work”.

The Tooting MP said she had felt her career would be over if she spoke out and it would be “absolutely unacceptable” for anyone to be placed in that position in the Labour Party.

In a pitch for the deputy job, Ms Allin-Khan also vowed that her first act if elected would be to meet the Jewish Labour Movement, to begin rebuilding trust after the long-running row over handling of complaints of antisemitism in Labour.

She called for an end to factionalism in the party, saying she did not care “whether someone was left, right or centre” while growing up in poverty.

In an interview with The Independent, Ms Allin-Khan said Labour needed to work hard to rebuild trust and to stamp out antisemitism and sexual harassment wherever it occurred.

Labour has suffered a rash of sexual harassment allegations over the past few years, with MPs Kelvin Hopkins, John Woodcock and Ivan Lewis all suspended over complaints which they denied and which were never resolved by disciplinary processes. Hartlepool MP Mike Hill was this week revealed to be facing sexual assault and harassment claims, which he denies, in an employment tribunal.

A new policy on dealing with sexual harassment allegations was adopted last year, following the publication of a #LabourToo dossier containing 43 anonymised stories of harassment within the party.

Asked about the party’s handling of sexual harassment complaints, Ms Allin-Khan said: “I do know what it’s like to face harassment like that in the workplace in my life – not in politics, in a previous work life – and it is horrific.

“You dread coming to work every day. It takes over your whole life and it takes somebody to believe you and believe in you to change it.

“And for me, it is absolutely unacceptable for anyone to feel that there is a space for that to happen to them within this workspace and within our movement.

“The moment I ever got wind of anything like that, I’d ensure there was a full investigation. No judgement placed on the person who was complaining.”

Ms Allin-Khan said she would ensure there was a safe way of reporting complaints, adding: “I think a big fear, and certainly what I felt when I experienced this as a junior doctor, is the feeling that if you speak out your whole career is over.

“We need to remove that concern from anyone.”

Ridding Labour of antisemitism is at the heart of Ms Allin-Khan’s campaign – she has signed up to a series of pledges by the Board of Deputies and creating her own manifesto.

“We cannot ever again have a door slammed in our face because somebody thinks that we’re a racist party,” she said. “We are supposed to be the antithesis of that.

“As deputy leader, I would take that so incredibly seriously and ensure that any single person exhibiting any form of discrimination is immediately expelled.”

Ms Allin-Khan, who was elected to parliament in 2016, was an unexpected entrant in contest, pitting her against more established shadow cabinet members such as the frontrunner Angela Rayner, Dawn Butler and Richard Burgon. Ian Murray, the party’s only Scottish MP, is also standing.

The shadow sports minister admitted she was the least well-known candidate, but was still brimming with optimism and enthusiasm about the campaign. I don’t believe in the word impossible,” she said.

Raised by a single mother who worked multiple jobs to support her family, Ms Allin-Khan said her experience of growing up in poverty made her “incredibly relatable” to people struggling across the country.

She has spoken of how a Labour government transformed her life, allowing her to study medicine at Cambridge despite failing her A-levels the first time around due to problems at home.

Ms Allin-Khan, who also spent years delivering humanitarian aid in places such as Gaza, said: “There are people who are living lives that I’m very familiar with, unfortunately, and that gives me a fire in my belly that is almost impossible to replicate if you haven’t experienced cold and hunger and that loss of hope.”

Factionalism and infighting within Labour only risk letting down communities that need the party most, she said, pointing to disunity as a factor in Labour’s election defeat.

“When I was growing up, and we had one heater, which we moved from room to room, we didn’t care whether someone was left, right or centre,” Ms Allin-Khan said.

“We just knew we needed a Labour government.”

When December’s election result came in, she said she felt sick at the loss of so many colleagues and the scale of the defeat.

But Ms Allin-Khan realised quickly she had to dust herself off to help Labour rebuild or risk the door closing “on an entire future generation of children and young people”.

Either the leader or the deputy of the party should be a woman, she argued, but she believed that a team of the best candidates was critical to help Labour out of “a difficult place”.

Ms Allin-Khan, who is of Polish and Pakistani descent, would also like to see more diversity in the top jobs but said “we may not end up with that in this case”.

Asked whether it should be someone outside of London, she said: “I think that the leadership, regardless of where they were born or live now or the seats they represent will be, and have to be willing to work across the whole country for the best interests of the whole country.”

If elected, Ms Allin-Khan said she would continue to do shifts at St George’s Hospital in Tooting when she can – but admits she would be busy with her work as an MP and as a mother-of-two.

She said: “An A&E waiting rooms is like a microcosm of society. It’s all there in technicolour. You see the effects of poor social housing, of lack of job opportunities, cuts to the health service, it’s all there.

“And that gives me credible argument, particularly when fighting for the NHS.”

The new leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party will be announced on 4 April.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in