In the wake of a so-called ‘witch hunt’ in Westminster, I have some ideas how to stop the harassment of women

Stringent diversity quotas and background checks for MPs would be a start

Sarah Sahim
Saturday 04 November 2017 18:13
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Sir Roger Gale said he was worried the 'witch hunt' would stop people entering politics
Sir Roger Gale said he was worried the 'witch hunt' would stop people entering politics

The past month has brought about a mass outing of sexual predators. As the spotlight unexpectedly swept over British politics, we heard allegations against Clive Lewis, Damian Green, Mark Garnier, Charlie Elphicke, Kelvin Hopkins and Michael Fallon.

Unsurprisingly, distasteful comments and reactions have been flooding in from MPs and other high-profile figures, including the panel of Have I Got News For You, jokes from Graham Norton and, most recently, Sir Roger Gale on Radio 4. Gale claimed the scandal will prevent “anyone half sensible or decent” wanting to go into politics due to the so-called "witch hunt".

Gale did not mention, however, that sexual abusers do not have an ounce of decency. His lack of empathy and understanding are a serious obstacle to bringing about change in politics. Making abusive people feel unwelcome everywhere they go is exactly the direction we should continue in; not only in parliament, but in society as a whole.

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To run for election, the standard is high but simple: don’t be an awful person.

Despite the actions and opinions of out-of-touch, wealthy white men proving otherwise, the Commons aren’t supposed to be an elite boy’s club—their careers have a massive impact on the lives and well-being of millions of people.

MPs are public servants. Parties owe it to the electorate and to their constituents to ensure their candidates have no track record of sexual assault. While Fallon’s departure from politics is welcome news, something needs to be implemented into law which prevents future Fallons from even being a part of the system.

Back in 2014, Helen Goodman demanded that MPs be CRB checked before being sworn into parliament. This request was raised at the height of Operation Yewtree as child abuse allegations plagued the media and politics. The proposal never came into effect. As it stands, CRB checks are only required prior to school visits. We need to move quickly to explore these options before the controversy fades in the headlines and the pressure eases.

That being said, CRB checks are acutely ineffective. People can and do slip through the cracks. Red flags can arise for petty crime, which is not always a justifiable reason to dismiss someone. A new system which takes these nuances into account would be the starting point for ensuring people’s safety. Cautions which should prevent someone from becoming a politician should include incidents of domestic violence, battery, sexual assault, racial discrimination and even occurrences that are not on police records.

The protuberant gender imbalance in parliament is to blame too. More effort should be made to encourage women and those who don’t fall into the gender binary—especially those of colour—to stand for a seat. By default, this would decrease the amount of abuse and encourage more effective and meticulous investigations when dealing with instances of abuse. When parties select candidates to run for MP, inclusion should be first and foremost.

There are a few initiatives in place, such as Labour’s Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme, but they are limited to the small number of women who apply. If parties were to run these programmes alongside stringent diversity quotas, there will be a guaranteed increase in diversity in the Commons. And a diverse Commons means more diverse issues are addressed, as opposed to those exclusive to the aforementioned boys club.

We don’t need perfect politicians, but we do need politicians who will keep us safe. The more we hold people in power to account, the more that positive change will trickle down into society. After all, the spotlight on systemic sexism came about after Harvey Weinstein—someone completely unrelated to British politics—came crashing down. Let’s do the same to those who are supposed to serve Britain’s best interests.

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