As we prepare to vote this week, the polls are giving us confused...
Stories of sexual harassment of young members of staff by MPs and at least one Minister have captured the headlines this week. As many as 40 Conservative MPs are named in a ‘dirty dossier’ and female Labour MPs have also accused their male colleagues of misogyny.
Inevitably the newspapers are making a meal of all this as they did with the expenses scandal but whilst their journalistic motives might be open to question there is no doubt there is a very real and serious issue at the heart of this.
It is serious for two reasons. First because this behaviour is non-consensual and second, it involves older people using their power to abuse youngsters who work for them. That is a form of bullying. Is it naïve to expect that the people we elect to represent us and make the laws we must obey are above this sort of behaviour? It is a breach of trust for those whom they employ and for us whom they serve.
Now from a Christian perspective, it has to be said that none of us is without sin in our lives. As the Apostle John reminds us, “If we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1John 1:8). Nor should we overlook the fact that half the population no longer believe in and try to practice biblical teaching. They seek to do what is right in their own eyes and there is no doubt that sexual attitudes and behaviour have become more permissive. A study reported in the Express (30.10.15) found that 45% of British men and 32% of women admitted to having committed adultery at least once. A subsequent YouGov poll put the figure at only 20% but the Office of National Statistics tells us that 42% of marriages end in divorce, suggesting that exclusive long term faithful marriages are no longer the norm. The popularity of the reality television programme “Love Island” suggests that a lot of people are not troubled by this.
Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have both reacted to their MPs’ misbehaviour by calling for new grievance procedures to give the victims of harassment a means of stopping this behaviour but that alone will not be sufficient. Rules can be broken and there are suggestions that a Minister and an MP have paid women to remain silent. Where criminality is involved the police must be involved and the proper legal processes followed. In cases where no law has been broken but harassment has occurred, the Parliamentary authorities should suspend the MP until everyone involved has been interviewed and the truth established. That information should then be made public in the MP’s constituency so that the voters can decide whether to vote for him or her at the next election.
When he was Prime Minister, David Cameron favoured legislation to give voters the power to recall their MP if they were guilty of inappropriate behaviour. A by-election would then be held in which the former MP could stand and face the voters’ judgement. If MP’s knew this was a possibility they might discipline themselves to behave properly with their staff and fellow MPs. More radical is the suggestion that we should all reflect on the consequences of losing the moral values that have been eroded by secularism. Jesus’ story of the prodigal son still has relevance today for all of us.