If Michael Fallon was fired – which he was in effect – because of today’s claims, the bar for dismissal from the Government –
- Is not sexually harrassing someone – persistently propositing them at work or outside it, say – perhaps directly, perhaps over the phone, perhaps via e-mails or text messages.
- Is not making advances to a series of people – putting one’s hand on their knees, say.
- But is making unpleasant and derogatory comments of a sexual nature.
(We must presume that the rules of the game are the same for women as for men, but most of those who make such comments will presumably be the latter.)
It is important to note that the former Defence Secretary denies having made the remark attributed to him by Andrea Leadsom, but does not deny making “derogatory comments of a sexual nature about other MPs on the committee, as well as members of the public who had attended meetings”. (The venue for these was the Treasury Select Committee, on which both served between 2010 and 2012).
Let’s be clear. If the standard is never having made any remarks which might possibly be interpreted in this way, Theresa May will have difficulty finding enough male Ministers to replace all those she will be required to sack.
The Leader of the Commons was applying a different standard to her former colleague to that she announced to the Commons on Monday, when she said –
“If someone is made to feel uncomfortable, or believes that others have acted inappropriately towards them, they should be able to contact an external, independent, specially trained support team—via phone, the intranet or face to face—so that any issue can be raised confidentially, and appropriate advice and support can be given.”
A question that follows is whether anyone who has to make a judgement on a claim – including the Prime Minister – believes that making someone “feel uncomfortable” merits the same penalty as “acting inappropriately” (abusing or sexually harrassing or bullying someone, say).
It is important to stress that the anyone who makes anyone else feel uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily have to have done so deliberately. The rule appears to be the same as for race crime incidents. These are defined as such “regardless of whether or not those making the complaint are the victim and irrespective of whether or not there is any evidence to identify the hate crime incident”.
As Guido Fawkes pointed out yesterday, Labour is even more embroiled in Westminster’s current psycho-drama than the Conservatives. No Tory MP has yet had the whip suspended during it. Jeremy Corbyn’s party currently has two – Jared O’Mara and Kelvin Hopkins, against whom claims of sexual misconduct have now been made. There is also a rape claim about a non-MP.
However, Fallon’s sacking and yesterday’s botched reshuffle have shoved Labour’s woes downpage and downscreen. It is just as well that many voters are unlikely to blame one party more than another; that fear of Corbyn means that Tory poll ratings are healthy, and that a general election isn’t due until 2022.
But there we go again, forgetting ourselves. After all, if not enough male Ministers can be found to make up the Government, it will presumably have just a little bit of difficulty in carrying on.