29 Oct 2017 at 16:02
I really do think that we should all take a deep breath and put the sexual harassment stories at Westminster into some sort of sane perspective. Westminster is no different from anywhere else when it comes to the beery breathed office groper. There are no less ageing lothsarios with badly dyed hair, tight suits, creepy smiles, cringing chat up lines and wandering hands. There are no less men of a certain age who will put a hopeful arm around a pretty boy. And no less predatory females who can sniff out a willing young cock at fifty paces. In my time, we all knew who they were and sniggered at their exploits which usually ended in failure. Many of them would have been horrified if anyone would have said yes to their cheesy demands. Over the years I have been, propositioned, touched up and ravished in the corridors of power. It is neither a boast nor a moan and I don’t need treatment nor go on a journey. But at least I was in a position where if things got a little too frisky I could make my excuses and leave or deliver a swift kick in the bollocks. Nowadays not all youngsters are in that sort of position. They can be overawed, scared and not quite sure how to handle things. These are the ones we must protect.
I remember a very prominent Loyalist MP was so desperate for a shag and knowing that I liked a stiff gin and tonic ensured that a flunky was always on hand with chilled glass when I visited Stormont. Well, the only stiff I ever had in my hand was the gin. And I remember fighting off a mauling from an ageing South American diplomat at a Foreign Office lunch that I was hosting. It first started with a stockinged foot probing my groin under the table and an assumption that I would return to her hotel room for some reciprocal Parliamentary rumpy pumpy in the interests of the friendship of our great nations. The list is endless and this was pretty harmless stuff which I dined out on for years. But these were the days of a culture of endless late night sittings, drunken brawls and very, very bad behaviour. In many ways the women were safer then than they are now. Because they were so bloody tough. Put a hand on Edwina Currie, Dame Elaine Kellett Bowman, Dame Jill knight and a host of battle hardened women who had fought their way to the top would lead to…..well, nothing actually. Nobody would dare.
But let’s get things into perspective. There is absolutely nothing wrong with flirting. We all do it and if done tastefully, reciprocated and clearly innocent, it is harmless fun. The trick is not to make anybody feel uncomfortable. There is an invisible line which should never be crossed. Most people know where it is. The moment it is ignored you cease to be a genial flirt and turn into a predator. Forbidden territory. And that is when action has to be taken.
It goes without saying that no man or woman should take advantage of their position and prey on the young, vulnerable and ambitious. In the courts the dilemma for the jury is often confronted with is two young people under the influence of drink, but not drunk enough to make consent impossible. There are no witnesses and no supporting medical evidence (there rarely is) to say whether the sexual act was consensual or not. The difficulty for those of us who prosecute and defend these sorts cases is that the accuser rightly has the right to be believed, but so does the defendant. So how can a jury be sure of guilt?
Let’s try and translate this to Westminster. But let me make it clear that I am not talking about sexual assault. Unless the alleged predatory behaviour is in a public place with witnesses, or there is a history between the two, who do the authorities believe?
The casting couch, the power shag, the office groper have never left us and sadly probably never will. What we have to do is ensure that men and women who are put in potentially dangerous and uncomfortable positions can have the confidence to come forward. And be listened too.
The press are going to have a feeding frenzy over the Sodom and Gomorrah that Westminster will be wrongly depicted as. Oh, but the stories I could tell you about journalists! The editor who sexually assaulted the wife of a prominent MP in the ladies loo. The guy who shagged a secretary in the grounds of the MOD and was caught on CCTV. The endless gropings with interns and the long lists of editors and their mistresses are the low hanging fruit. So although I have signed the Fleet Street Omarta, MPs under threat may not be so fussy and rush to Guido Fawkes. Guys, if there is going to be a war on MP sleaze it will be a blood bath for everybody.
The danger is that the Thought Police who have given us safe places and jazz handing are on patrol. Let’s be honest, Michael Gove’s comments on the Today programme were neither offensive nor would deter people from complaining about sexual misconduct. Why on earth did he have to apologise? Similarly, Clive Lewis’s remark in jest to a man “on your knees bitch” is hardly degrading to women. Jared O’Mara’s conduct is rather sinister though. I suspect that he has some serious and very unpleasant demons to deal with. He will have to go on another journey. The last train out of Westminster.
But I too have been on a journey. On a train back from Westminster to my home. I wanted to be left in peace to read my Evening Standard when two young girls a little the worse for wear for drink wanted my autograph as a Z list celebrity. I obliged. I whipped out my pen which they exchanged for lipstick. “Nah Jerry we want it on our tits”. And as the fool that I am, I signed them. The writing is a little wobbly though.