Within minutes of Nigel Evans being found not guilty I was bombarded with messages from bag-carriers, researchers and activists who work in Westminster.
A young parliamentary aide predicts that “there is still a huge scandal to come”, naming a Tory MP on his corridor “who is very indecent towards staffers” and another openly gay MP who “is pursuing my friend at the moment”.
“It shouldn’t be against the law to be creepy,” another texts, “but there are some MPs who have made advances on dozens of us. We all have stories.”
Speak to the young men and women who work in Westminster – most in their late teens and early twenties – and over half of them will have a tale to tell about parliament’s predatory MPs. A third have experienced some form of sexual harassment. One in five say they have witnessed inappropriate behaviour from an MP to an employee.
Over the last few months I have investigated the culture of inappropriate behaviour among a group of MPs who prey upon young men and women. The victims’ stories are compelling and reveal a culture of sexual harassment that is rife in parliament.
One girl in her early twenties recounts how, having forgotten to do something very important one day at work, she turned up the next morning terrified at being on the receiving end of the hair-dryer treatment from her boss.When she explained her mistake to the Tory MP in his sixties, he sat back in his chair and looked at her sternly. “I will forgive you,” he replied, “so long as I can have a look at those fantastic breasts”.Red-faced, and unsure how to respond, the recent university graduate politely declined his request.
Then there was the junior civil servant who told me how one night he had been befriended by a middle-aged MP.The evening had started with drinks in Parliament’s Strangers bar, before the pair moved on to the Players piano bar in Charing Cross, a regular haunt for politicians on the hunt.The big mistake, he tells me, was giving the MP his number. Over the next few days he was inundated with unsolicited sex texts from the not so Honourable Member.
The age of smartphones only encourages this sort of behaviour. I have been shown messages sent by politicians on the dating apps Tinder and Grindr – the latter aimed exclusively at gay people – where MPs have sought one night stands with employees half their age. Grindr was the app used by the Tory official exposed for organising a gay sex orgy at his party’s annual conference.
My own experiences, as a young political writer, have been less serious.But I will not forget the scotch-sozzled MP who swayed across a hotel lobby towards me in the early hours after an event attended by Tory boys in their late teens, clasping his hand around my waist and asking me if I would like to join him in the gents.
Nor the backbencher who, after two bottles of Rioja, asked me how I was getting home. When I told him my South London postcode he said he lived nearby, and so foolishly I agreed to share a cab.The alarm bells started to sound when the MP gave the driver an address in North London. I robustly declined his invitation of a nightcap, but the experience confirmed the truth about rumours of a certain group of MPs who are ‘not safe in taxis’.
As we have seen during the Evans trial, the powers that be have a vested interest in keeping inappropriate behaviour by MPs secret. The Conservative Party has announced a new Code of Conduct for its MPs, though the Chief Whip has told colleagues it is “entirely voluntary”. Commons Speaker John Bercow is pledging to introduce a hotline victims will be able to call to report allegations.But the truth is this is a problem that exists for all parties. It is a problem being ignored by all parties.