Searching for something good to come out of something so bad...

In truth, Parliament has not been a nice place to work these last few weeks.

The allegations of sexual assault and abuse against Harvey Weinstein in Hollywood opened the floodgates for allegations in other walks of life and that included the Palace of Westminster.

Some of the allegations involved tittle tattle about relationships between consenting adults. I believe they should have a right to privacy and can’t be conflated with sexual abuse, even though national newspapers try to do so in order to spread salacious gossip.

Other allegations are more serious, but in two cases, the accused were not even told what they had been accused of, which surely runs counter to natural justice. My friend Carl Sargent, the Welsh Assembly member who represented our neighbouring area and lived in Connah’s Quay, took his own life after just such a situation.

So there is a dreadful unfairness here. Due process and natural justice must be applied in these situations.

But let us be clear: Sexual harassment and worse has clearly been going on, in Parliament and many others places, for years on end. In the Weinstein case, careers were ended for women who rebuffed his advances. Others suffered sexual assault and lived with the pain and humiliation in silence.

In Parliament, even MPs have complained of unwelcome advances from colleagues. Although for me it is worse when junior members of staff are propositioned; the imbalance in power means they might feel less able to give a firm and clear “no.”

During the American presidential election, we heard a tape of Donald Trump boasting of grabbing women between the legs, with impunity, because he was “a star.” Revolting, but he was still elected. I hope that in the UK we would be less tolerant of such dreadful behaviour.

Parliament must now address the scandal and put our house in order. We must also ensure that reporting mechanisms for sexual harassment are adaquate, and of course, staff should join a trade union to give the collective strength all employees would benefit from.

Most MPs – from all parties – are decent people and genuinely horrified by what has been reported. But once again we will have to work to win back respect and trust because this scandal will taint Parliament and politics as much as it taints individual transgressors.

It is largely women who suffer harassment and not just in Hollywood or Westminster, but workplaces everywhere. If any good can come of this scandal it is that women will have the confidence to tolerate this behaviour no more. 

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