November 06, 2017
The ripples from Harvey Weinstein’s considerable bulk are now lapping at the Palace of Westminster. This week the British Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, resigned over accusations of sexual impropriety—namely, touching a female journalist’s knee fifteen years ago. The knee’s owner is a no-nonsense radio host who has plainly stated she took no offense then or now. Fallon was a minister with a good working style who could even have led the party. Yet he resigned after being unable to provide reassurances that no other such accusations lingered from his two decades in Parliament.
A febrile atmosphere has pervaded Westminster since the leaking of a “sin list” of 36 oversexed Conservative MPs at the start of the week. The list presents an odd mix of seriousness, vigilantism, and prurience. At least one name—the ascetic Old Etonian adventurer Rory Stewart—has since been exonerated. His alleged victim said she was as hurt by the anonymous accusation as he was. This alone indicates the list was put together in a hurry, as is the fact that Sir Michael Fallon—the only beast actually to have been felled—did not even appear on it. Its seriousness was further undermined by backstabbing gossip about consensual affairs appearing alongside allegations of serious harassment.
The most prominent name is the prime minister’s de facto No. 2, Damian Green. A journalist and former family friend has accused him of “fleetingly” touching her knee and subsequently sending a flirtatious text. He survived despite the party very publicly opening ranks, including a prominent progressive MP hinting strongly he should be suspended. It then transpired that another female MP—who herself once harbored the most misplaced leadership ambitions in the party’s history—had contributed to the resignation of her colleague Michael Fallon. So keen are the Conservatives to prove their credentials that they are now shopping MPs to both the press and the police without even informing them.
It is not in dispute that the queasy sexual culture of Westminster is long overdue for serious change. But for the Conservatives to gorge on another of their periodic paroxysms of self-hatred—having just handed away their majority to a resurgent hard-left opposition—is an impressive piece of political masochism.
It is already all but forgotten that the catalyst for the current round of scandal was, in fact, a Labour MP. Nightclub owner Jared O’Mara had been feted as the first parliamentarian drawn from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s personal shock troops, the entryist Momentum group. He was recently revealed to be the most brutish misogynist imaginable, whose bouncers punched a woman in the face. And yet Labour gave him a post on the parliamentary committee for Woman and Equalities. The Party was furthermore shown to have bypassed the most basic background checks, then dragged its feet for days before suspending him.
That episode took place well before the publication of the Conservative “sin list.” And yet, as it unfolded, Theresa May failed to land a single blow on Labour—instead speaking in general bipartisan terms. She is apparently still too afraid of being seen as the “nasty party”—in her own phrase of 2002—to hold Labour to its own rhetoric on safeguarding women.
It gets worse. The most serious accusation by far—an actual rape at a party event—also belongs to Labour. Party apparatchiks told the victim to shut up for the sake of her career, without so much as a cup of tea to calm her nerves. At least one more such event is apparently known about. A climate of misogyny has become so widespread under Jeremy Corbyn that the BBC’s female political editor now requires a bodyguard to attend the Party’s national convention. Labour’s most vocal young female MP has recently said left-wing misogynists are “literally” the worst because they also “think they have so much to give the world.” The comment is reminiscent of the Clinton supporter who—wrong-footed by rape accusations against Bill—quickly produced the defense that “he also did a lot for women.”
The left has clearly adopted the view that its rules of conduct are there to be weaponized for partisan ends rather than obeyed. Nothing is done to disguise the double standard. Before he was suspended, Labour’s Jared O’Mara said that only a Conservative should resign under such circumstances. By instilling the idea that the (female-led) Tory party is the enemy of equality, Labour awards itself a free pass to self-examine at leisure. There has been no Labour “sin list” in spite of rumors swirling of criminal assaults far beyond the odd comment or stray hand. The leadership reluctantly suspended a second MP prone to tumescent frottage of staff only after his victim was forced into a distasteful public testimony (having previously promoted him in full knowledge of such predilections). Yet when the Labour leader distributes platitudes at a feminist book launch, they are still warmly received.
At its most virulent, this partisanship extends to Labour MP Naz Shah saying that the thousands of young girls subjected to gang rape by grooming circles—in mainly Labour-controlled areas—should “shut their mouths for the good of diversity.” When fellow Labour MP Sarah Champion begged to differ—based on firsthand contact with victims in her own constituency—the party forced her to resign as Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. When she recently requested a meeting with her party leader to discuss misogyny, she was reportedly refused.
And yet, by grabbing the headlines, the Conservatives have managed to place themselves front and center of the current scandal, putting Theresa May on the run. Instead of the reshuffle she desperately needed to shore up her authority—and clarify the battle lines on Brexit—she panicked and appointed an inexperienced loyalist to the position of Defence Secretary. Her party is furious, not least because the new incumbent himself helped engineer Sir Michael’s fall. In the words of one commentator, it is “banana republic stuff.”
Against such a backdrop, Labour’s rearguard action against its “endemic” sexual-abuse problem takes place in the shadows. How has this reversal been allowed to happen? Because the Conservatives have still failed to grasp the nature of Labour radicalization. The party has been turned into a revolutionary movement for which democratic process is only one avenue of political change. Jeremy Corbyn is as likely to be found addressing a street rally as conducting parliamentary business. His ironfisted deputy John McDonnell has reportedly said he would like to see every Conservative MP harassed in the street. Both he and Corbyn have yet to refute their previous associations with terror groups ranging from the IRA to Hamas. If their political mission is too sacred to disassociate from murderers, then why disassociate from sexual harassers in their own party? And why not instead allow such accusations to sow chaos among their opponents? Like the Saudis turning Wahhabism loose on the world to keep it away from their own door, Labour has loosed the forces of social justice on the Conservative Party.