A CENTURY after women finally won the right to vote, Parliament’s antiquarian ways have been exposed by a succession of unedifying controversies that have eroded public trust in its work.
From the expenses scandal nearly a decade ago to lurid allegations of sexual impropriety more recently, it continues to be brought into disrepute by its inability to reform and protect the employment rights, and dignity, of all staff working there.
That one in five Parliamentary workers say they have experienced, or witnessed, sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour over the past year, with female complainants outnumbering males by two to one, is quite damning.
In a week that saw the Houses of Parliament at the forefront of events to mark the legacy of the suffragette movement, authorities at the Palace of Westminster must now demand – and then enforce – the highest standards of integrity.
As such, the new behaviour code, proposed by a cross-party working group headed by Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, is a welcome first step as the new complaints procedure would be totally anonymous and not under the auspices of MPs, and in particular the small minority who are disrespectful towards their staff. The question is at what stage of the process should miscreant MPs or peers should be identified – transparency is important to winning back the confidence of the public and, potentially, paving the way for the abusers to be deselected or stripped of Parliamentary privileges.
Time, nevertheless, is of the essence – MPs do need to get their house in order now and start leading by example rather than waiting to be shamed into action by the public at large who appear far more enlightened on issues of equality, and modern employment practices, than the country’s legislators.
If not, a career in politics will become an even more unattractive proposition for future generations, including those who already harbour genuine misgivings about the level, and volume, of vitriolic abuse that is now posted online.