A veteran Tory MP has said the sexual harassment scandal engulfing Westminster has become a “witch-hunt”.
Sir Roger Gale, who has been MP for North Thanet for 34 years, said MPs and other prominent figures were on a “hiding to nothing” as allegations could be made that would be almost impossible to refute.
The 74-year-old said the way claims were being reported undermined the trust between voters and MPs.
“To sell tomorrow’s chip-wrappings on the back of allegations that are unfounded, and to undermine that trust in that way, I think is despicable.”
He added: “In the context, there is no proof that I can see yet of any wrongdoing. There may be things that have been done, a hand on a knee. Fine, you know, 15 years ago that may have been acceptable where it’s not today.”
Labour MP Harriet Harman has hit back, saying the multiple allegations of harassment were not a witch-hunt.
She told the BBC: “There are a lot of men saying this has been blown out of all proportion, it’s a witch-hunt. No, it’s not a witch-hunt, it’s long overdue.”
She also said the Prime Minister’s decisive action in ensuring Sir Michael Fallon did not continue as Defence Secretary gave her hope that the two main parties might work together on the growing scandal.
She said people were put off from making complaints for fear of being disloyal to their party and “helping” the other side. But now, she said, “there’s a bigger fight”.
“We’re all tribal beasts, that’s why we’re there [in Parliament] and that has dampened down any ability to speak out,” she said. “I think that’s changed after this week.”
Ms Harman said that Parliament has a “sea change opportunity” to address the issue – and to help those who speak out.
She added: “If you point your finger at a powerful man, they won’t just sit there, they will fight back. So there will be some backlash about this amongst the corridors [of Westminster].”
Lord Bew, chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that outside bodies needed to be involved in investigations “to avoid claims of a ‘cover-up”
He said: “The parties need to get a grip of this issue of accountability. It’s vital that these things are not seen to be done in-house.
“It is vital that there are people outside Parliament in cases of harassment and so on, who are there, who can give some reassurance to the public that this is not just another cover-up.”
The comments came as a string of MPs moved to deny allegations of inappropriate conduct.
Tory MP Charlie Elphicke has been suspended by the party while it investigates allegations made against him. No details have been made known.
Sir Michael Fallon resigned as Defence Secretary earlier this week following allegations about his conduct.
Labour MPs Clive Lewis and Kelvin Hopkins are being investigated by the party over allegations about their behaviour.
Mr Hopkins has “absolutely and categorically” denied inappropriate conduct, while Mr Lewis has said: “I don’t, as a rule, grope people’s bottoms.”
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