UK Parliament: Sexual Assault Allegations Shake Westminster

Numerous members of the British Parliament may be facing repercussions including criminal charges as the spectre of sexual assault and harassment spreads to the UK political scene. A series of rumours, which have included the admission of misconduct by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, rose to a new level of seriousness this afternoon when a member of the Labour Party — the official opposition — revealed she had been raped at a party event and was advised by a more senior party member that reporting it might hurt her political career.

Bex Bailey, a former member of the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) told the BBC that she had been 19 years old at the time and had been reluctant to report the incident to the police for fear of not being believed. She spoke out today against the backdrop of what seems to be building into a scandal with the potential to engulf the entire political landscape of the UK.

In the last 24 hours, a spreadsheet believed to have been compiled by senior members of the ruling Conservative party has come to light — both in redacted and unredacted form — naming MPs who have been accused of sexual misdemeanors of varying degrees of seriousness. The list has been criticised for featuring, alongside the allegations of harassment of assistants and forcing mistresses to have abortions, entirely consensual private relationships between MPs.

UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn addresses his party conference. Corbyn has appealed to party members who have suffered sexual assault to come forward. [Image by Leon Neal/Getty Images]

The Labour party has announced an investigation into Bailey’s allegations over the incident which took place in 2011. In recent days party leader Jeremy Corbyn has written to party members asking anyone with an issue to come forward and make a report, while also stressing that the existing procedures both inside and outside Parliament need to be reviewed. Bailey, for her part, has said today that part of her reason for coming forward was to show that abuse was an issue within British politics “in every party, at every level”.

Meanwhile the Scottish National Party, which, with 35 MPs, is the third largest party in Westminster, has revealed that it is presently looking into two allegations of harassment within the party, after leader Nicola Sturgeon expressed the desire that people who had suffered harassment come forward.

Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, who has requested that party members report any incidents of sexual harassment. [Image by Jane Barlow (Pool)/Getty Images]

Stories had emerged over the weekend naming Conservative MP Mark Garnier as the most senior of an initial 13 MPs with sexual harassment allegations against them. Garnier, a minister in the Department for International Trade, has admitted to asking an assistant to purchase sex toys on his behalf and referring to the same assistant by a sexually charged nickname, though he denied that the nickname (not repeated here for reasons of decency) constituted harassment.

It would be naive to expect that Bex Bailey’s revelation will be the last such disclosure, as the pressure to do something about harassment and assault grows in Westminster and beyond. Shortly after that story became public, according to the Guardian, an unnamed Westminster staffer revealed that she had been assaulted last year by a member of parliament. The staffer, who remains nameless (as does the MP), spoke out due to concerns that new measures announced by Prime Minister Theresa May would not be sufficiently independent of the political parties– and thus would make victims of assault less likely to come forward for fear of their cases not being taken seriously.

As pressure grows for more sweeping changes to the reporting process, it becomes harder to escape the possibility that a wider enquiry may be necessary, as was the case with the expenses scandal that rocked Parliament in 2009. At the time of writing, there is no suggestion that it will have the power to bring down the government; it will, however, be expected that it may change a culture in British politics where powerful individuals have found it too easy to prey on young assistants who are in many cases just out of college.

[Featured Image by Carl Court/Getty Images]