Gemma White QC’s report into harassment, sexual misconduct and bullying at Westminster will make anyone who cares about the nature of our politics feel ashamed.
It’s more evidence, if any were needed, that the problem is extensive and that, despite significant improvements led by a cross-party group of MPs, including myself, the culture that allowed the consequences of such behaviour to fester is still resisting meaningful change or justice.
The complex power relationships that lie behind it have built a wall of silence and denial. White’s report must be the force which finally knocks that wall down and breathes fresh air into what far too many experience as an uncomfortable, alienating and even destructive working environment.
The scale of the scandal revealed yesterday should have been foreseen decades ago. Long hours, lack of HR procedures, intoxication of power and alcohol: these are just some of the most potent ingredients that have created a culture which fails to reflect that parliament is first and foremost a workplace. We must do justice to those who have suffered, as well as put things right going forward, if we want to open up politics so it better reflects the diversity of the communities it is supposed to serve.
That is why I was pleased to read White’s recommendations, the vast majority of which I have previously called for myself. Establishing an independent commission to monitor the employment practices of MPs, allowing for the investigation of all historic cases of abuse, strengthening the sanctions regime, making the complaints process entirely independent from MPs and creating compulsory training programmes will be essential steps in making everyone who works in and around parliament feel safe.
But I do think the problem goes even deeper and so too must the solution. As MPs from the bigger parties have warned previously, complaints against MPs don’t get taken seriously when there’s the risk of a by-election.
If we want to clean up how Westminster operates, we need to look at how broken politics is overall. It has become toxic. The rhetoric is divisive, the debate hostile – and MPs have to shoulder some of the responsibility.
Some parts of Westminster generally work well. Select committees for example, and MPs co-operate constructively across party lines when the cameras aren’t on, so why can’t we across the dispatch box?
The public deserves so much better. We can’t expect good policies to come from a broken system. So as well as making sure parliament leads by example as a best practice workplace, we must try to create a more inclusive, compassionate, and cooperative politics.
That is why I am glad to be working with Compassion in Politics who are looking at exactly those issues. Their proposals – from creating new constituency boards for residents to meet their MP quarterly to discuss local and national issues, to establishing work experience for government ministers – should all be a part of the process of transforming our politics, parliament and parties so that they are safe places to work, inclusive environments to engage with and champions of the public good.
History will judge this moment: it will judge whether, when presented with the evidence, we did the right thing or the easier thing and protected the status quo. If we value a healthy politics, we have to rise to the occasion.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion
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