It’s groundhog day in Westminster as sexual ethics becomes the topic of conversation once again. There have been a flurry of stories in recent weeks about the behaviour of honourable members in parliament, none of which have particularly edifying. First there were the revelations about the disgraced ex-MP Charlie Elphicke and the subsequent suspension of his (still-serving) colleague David Warburton over allegations of drug abuse, sexual misconduct and the failure to declare a loan.
Then Imran Ahmad Khan was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy – prompting Crispin Blunt’s extraordinary intervention. The Sunday Times then reported at the weekend that three cabinet ministers are among 56 MPs facing allegations of sexual misconduct after being referred to a parliamentary watchdog. And now today it has emerged that a government minister watched pornography in the House of Commons chamber and at a committee meeting. The claims emerged after female Conservative MPs shared their experiences of sexism and misogyny at a meeting last night.
No party of course has a monopoly on sleaze – among the 56 MPs reportedly being probed are two members of Sir Keir Starmer’s shadow Cabinet. Yet it is striking just how many of the aforementioned incidents involve Conservative MPs or ministers. Other Tories have been criticised for lending their names in support of colleagues under investigation for sexual offences. Theresa Villiers, Natalie Elphicke, Sir Roger Gale, Adam Holloway and Bob Stewart were all found to have breached the Commons’ code of conduct last July over an ‘egregious’ attempt to influence Charlie Elphicke’s legal proceedings.
Such a slew of stories have prompted suggestions that another ‘Pestminster’ scandal could be about to burst. The Commons bars are filled with speculation as to the identity of those responsible for alleged wrongdoing, with some suggesting that the Rayner/Mail row will only give legs to such stories. This is the second time in five years that the issue of sexual misconduct has emerged as a major ‘theme’ in Westminster – following the #MeToo revelations in 2017 which led to the resignations of Michael Fallon, Damian Green and Chris Pincher.
Boris Johnson will remember all too well from his time as the Telegraph’s chief political commentator in the 1990s how quickly sex, sleaze and gross misconduct can land the final blow for a government in decline. The question is: how many further revelations are set to rock parliament and the Tories? And how serious will they be?