Theresa May has apologised to victims of sex harassment in Westminster, admitting that “too many” women have been subject to abuses of power “over too many years”.
The Prime Minister spoke after she, Jeremy Corbyn and other party leaders agreed to introduce new safeguards as early as next month to protect Parliamentary and political staff – amid fresh allegations of historic and current sleaze.
A former junior Labour party researcher alleged that a member of Ed Miliband’s office staff had tried to kiss her against her will and left her fearing she would be sacked for refusing him.
And a former Tory MP was accused of putting his hand up a journalist’s skirt while they were live on air during Radio 4’s Any Questions programme.
Meanwhile Cabinet Minister Damian Green was interviewed on Monday by a special Cabinet Office ethics chief investigating allegations that he had made inappropriate advances on a young party activist and downloaded ‘extreme’ pornography on his Parliamentary computer. Green denies the claims.
May and Corbyn – as well as Lib Dem leader Vince Cable, Green leader Caroline Lucas, the SNP’s Ian Blackford and DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson – met in the PM’s Commons office for an unprecedented cross-party meeting to agree a new complaints procedure for harassment claims.
Speaking after the meeting, May said “I’m sorry that we have seen these abuses of power - too many taking place over too many years.
“And the fact that they have taken place here at our seat of democracy should be a matter of shame for us all.”
“I think if this hasn’t happened to you it’s difficult to appreciate the impact that being a victim of this sort of behaviour can have, it simply has a lasting impact on people.”
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon is the highest profile casualty of the sex harassment scandal, quitting his post last week over claims that he had behaved inappropriately towards younger women.
Four Tory MPs and one Labour MP are facing internal party inquiries, while Conservative Charlie Elphicke has had his case referred to the police.
HuffPost UK understands that at the Westminster meeting on Monday all the leaders agreed that trade unions should have a key role in helping draft the new system, which will be independent, as well as better staff support and a new working group to hammer out the details.
May said: “What is important is that people who have been victims of this behaviour - be it sexual harassment or bullying of any sort - that those victims feel confident in coming forward with their complaints and knowing that there will be an impartial and proper and fair investigation of those complaints.”
Meanwhile, BBC Radio 4′s PM programme reported that a former female member of staff in Ed Miliband’s office had spoken out about an incident in which a male colleague allegedly closed the door behind her and attempted to kiss her.
The woman, whose identity was concealed and was referred to by the false name Susan, did not inform Mr Miliband or make a complaint at the time.
She told the programme: “I thought, ‘Oh God, I’m going to be fired’. I thought he was going to be angry that I rebuffed his advance and there might be consequences for me. I thought the best thing to protect my position was not to say anything.”
The woman said she would have liked to have been able to complain to an independent body, as she believed that if she reported it to the party, “they would close ranks on me as my position was very junior”.
In a statement released by his office to PM, Mr Miliband said he was “deeply concerned to hear about this allegation of totally unacceptable behaviour”.
He added: “I would strongly encourage the individual concerned to use the complaints process of the Labour Party to take her allegation forward. She should receive the support she has a right to expect.”
In a speech in Westminster Abbey, former PM Sir John Major attacked both the media and political parties for the current mistrust in politics, citing Vote Leave’s ‘take back control’ slogan as an example of dishonest ‘absurdity’.
Major called for a crackdown on special advisers and for the first time suggested that it was time to increase state funding of parties to reduce the influence of rich businessmen and trade unions.
“More funding through the public purse,,,would be deeply unpopular and I share the general distaste for it. Nonetheless, it may be the least bad option.
“A compromise might be more State funding than at present but, in return, a legal limit to donations from individuals or business or Trades Unions. This should be set at a level where no-one could reasonably argue that it influences policy.”