Why are people turning the Tory sexual harassment allegations into a joke?

Damian Green isn’t laughing – he’s tooling up with lawyers to fight allegations of inappropriate behaviour after he was named on the Tory sex spreadsheet [Image: Peter Nicholls/Reuters].

“Yes, that’s right,” said Mrs Mike. “Everybody’s making a big joke about it – and that is what allows it to continue.”

I had just pointed out the cover of the latest issue of Private Eye to her. Here it is:

Is it funny?

If you think so, ask yourself: Would you feel the same if you were a victim of the (alleged) monsters who have inflicted themselves on unwilling victims and forced them to stay silent? That is what has happened in some of the cases on the Tory sex spreadsheet – and never forget that there may be other cases yet to come to light.

Come to that, how about asking whether any other victims of sexual attack – of any kind – thinks it’s funny?

So, did Ian Hislop (the Eye‘s editor) shoot himself in the foot with that cover? It’s a good question. Perhaps it would be a good idea to use that cover as a yardstick for prevailing attitudes. Does a significant proportion of the public feel outraged? Or are they laughing along?

Michael Gove is probably hoping they’re laughing, after his rape “joke” attracted a storm of criticism – and absolutely nothing by way of reprimand from his boss – last weekend.

Labour’s Dawn Butler has drawn attention to it in a letter to Theresa May that asks what the minority prime minister is doing about the scandal – especially as all the activities that have been identified were known to Mrs May, some of them for a considerable period of time, and she did nothing at all to stop them or bring the perpetrators to justice. Doesn’t this make her an accessory to every crime?

Is this the behaviour of anybody you would want to have as prime minister?

Ms Butler writes:

After your spokesperson expressed your “serious concern” at reports of sexual harassment in Westminster on Friday, it was disappointing to hear the comments of a member of your cabinet, Michael Gove, on Radio 4 the next day, which made light of sexual abuse and rape. Abuse is the never the woman’s fault, and insinuating that those who experience it and come forward have lost any of their “dignity” is inherently wrong and harmful. What action has been taken so that Mr Gove and others understand that “jokes” like his make it harder for those who experience harassment to feel like they will be taken seriously if they speak out?

It’s a good letter, calling for robust action to ensure that members of all political parties (not just the Tories) know exactly what to do if they are sexually harassed.

And it attacks the culture that allows these abuses and then makes jokes about it like the Private Eye cover above.

But it doesn’t go far enough. Perhaps Ms Butler is being diplomatic.

Personally, This Writer thinks it is time the police were dispatched to the Whips’ Office and to 10 Downing Street and searched both buildings for any and all evidence about MPs’ and ministers’ sex crimes.

I do not believe Theresa May will tell the truth about her involvement in these activities. I do believe she and her cronies will try to hide – or destroy – any evidence before the authorities have a chance to find them.

Look at what she has done since this scandal broke: Nothing. She has passed the buck to the Speaker’s office. She has asked for an investigation into whether a minister broke the ministerial code (which doesn’t appear to cover such matters) at a time when he wasn’t a minister. She has not suspended the whip from any of the politicians who have been named.

The problem of abuse and harassment of women isn’t restricted to those who make unwanted advances on women; it extends to a culture that has tolerated or made light of abuse for far too long. All political parties have a responsibility to act thoroughly and properly where instances of unacceptable behaviour come to light, and to take appropriate action.

Therefore, I was extremely concerned by reports in Sunday newspapers that your chief of staff and chief whip made you aware of allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Ministers and Conservative MPs. Can you confirm if you were made aware of allegations about members of your party or Government, and what action you took, if any?

Can you explain why the investigation into Mark Garnier appears to be confined to whether he broke the Ministerial Code at a time when he wasn’t a Minister? Further, can you confirm that both he, and Stephen Crabb, will be investigated by the Conservative Party and have the whip suspended while investigations into their conduct take place?

Sunday newspaper reports claim that you are concerned that taking action against ministers could risk the Government collapsing. All party political considerations should be put to one side to ensure we take serious action. I am hopeful that if we do, this could prove to be a turning point that sees us make progress in tackling the sexism and misogyny that pervades our society.

Source: Put aside party political interest to tackle sex pest claims – Dawn Butler letter to PM | LabourList

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  1. NMac November 1, 2017 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    Behind the jokes I believe that with the public generally there lies a deep sense of contempt and disgust for these odious people. Personally, I feel that anything which brings the Tories into disrepute is very welcome. However, the most serious of these allegations should be investigated by the Police.

  2. Chris Bergin November 1, 2017 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Why so surprised. this is the classic male response to being called on inappropriate behaviour. Every office pest will say ‘Wheres your sense of humour? It was just joke.’
    This is to ensure that the ‘perp’ is treated with humour and the (usually) female victim is shamed in a subtle way for being humourless. The code is very well known if you have ever worked in an office

  3. Roy Beiley November 1, 2017 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    Hislop is a Tory anyway. He is part of the collective mindset that wants the seriousness of the alleged events to be trivialised and pave the way for “leniency” to be shown in favour of the perpetrators.
    There has been some discussion that the current sexual harrasment laws covering the workplace do not apply to MP’s as they are not “employed” as such. They can not therefore be “sacked” for Gross Misconduct. They are elected by their constituents and the only sanction that they will face if they are proven guilty will be the public infamy that will stick to them thereafter.
    So, if they are not re-elected they will doubtless be found some Board Member jobs by the Old Boys Network and be back amongst friends who still believe in mysoginy and bullying.

  4. Athel Dunning November 1, 2017 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    The Private eye is a satirical magazine, if they want to report anything it will be done as a joke. You’ve taken that cover out of context.

    • Mike Sivier December 22, 2017 at 7:28 pm - Reply

      You clearly haven’t read Private Eye. There’s a LOT of serious reporting in there.
      The cover is always intended humorously. It isn’t always in good taste, though!

  5. rotzeichen November 1, 2017 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    Sadly I personally don’t like Ian Hislop, in true Etonian fashion (and I am not saying he is an old Etonian) but in public school style, he mocks society as though everyone is as corrupt as the establishment.

    Private Eye is not something I choose to buy as it’s columns are filled with sarcastic digs at people rather than proper investigative journalism, and sloppy messages inferring we are all as bad as one another.

    Ian Hislop could I feel, do us all a favour and find a quiet corner in which to hide himself, out of site out of mind.

  6. Scurra November 1, 2017 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    For once, I disagree with your premise here – I think that Private Eye cover hits the nail on the head perfectly, as it often does. What the Eye specialises in, especially on covers, are jokes that instinctively make you laugh, and then challenge you to wonder why you laughed.
    Sure, I realise that there are too many folk who will laugh and not think about it, but it’s the slow drip-drip that helps to change attitudes, and satire is a part of that process. It’s important to be able to make jokes like this; for me, the key thing here is that this particular cover (a) doesn’t “name and shame” anyone and (b) makes it clear that this is definitely not a party political matter, but one that applies across the board. (Which they did with the “expenses” scandal too; another story that the Eye went on about for years so that when the MSM did catch up, it made proper waves.)
    I think that’s a much better way to do it – indeed, if anything, this is a better cover than the last one, which merely made a specific Harvey Weinstein joke.

  7. Uriah November 2, 2017 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    All the allegtions are serious…. and warrant any materials being handed over to the police… to hold these tories up to ridicule does not belittle their crimes, it does put them under a spotlight though

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