What proportion of complaints about MPs last year involved sex? A third? Half, perhaps? Two thirds? No: nine per cent. Eighty one per cent were about bullying and harassment.
But MPs were the main subject of complaint, weren’t they? Again, no. The biggest single body of complaints registered were about House of Commons staff.
Most of these must have been upheld though, surely? Not so: 46 per cent were, 54 per cent weren’t. The numbers must be large, surely? That depends on your point of view.
Last year, 388 people contacted a hotline that can be used for complaints. About 9000 people are listed as members of the “parliamentary community”: a number that doesn’t include others working on the estate, such as the police.
So under five per cent of most of those who work in Parliament rang the hotline – which is five per cent too many, you will say.
But hang on. Those 388 may have used the hotline, but not necessarily to complain. The largest group
(168 or about 47 per cent) made contact to seek advice or information.
Take them out, and the number of complainants falls to about 220 – out of roughly 9000 people, remember. That brings the five per cent figure down to two per cent or thereabouts.
All these figures are taken from last year’s report by the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. That’s the same ICGS quoted by the Sunday Times two weeks ago in the story that set off the latest round of sleaze stories.
The paper reported that three cabinet ministers and two shadow cabinet ministers are facing allegations of sexual misconduct after being reported to the ICGS: they were “among 56 MPs who have been referred”.
Robert Peston tweeted yesterday to report that the ICGS “emailed MPs last week that cases of MPs under investigation for bullying, harassment or sexual misconduct are running at circa 15 a year (this year and last)”.
“The ICGS said it was providing the guidance “on an exceptional basis given the scale of speculation”, but would “not provide any further information outside our usual reporting mechanisms”, he added.
“Many would say 15 MPs out of of 650 is too high, but it’s not 56.” The ICGS’ report isn’t hard to find, but I haven’t seen these figures quoted frequently in the media, or indeed at all.
Why? You know the answer. It isn’t only that the facts mustn’t be allowed to get in the way of a good story – or even put in in proportion. It is that most MPs must be bullies, sex pests or both – or worse.
The mildest light I can shine on the charge is that it isn’t borne out by figures from the body that the Sunday Times originally quoted.
That’s not to say that Westminster is misconduct-free: far from it. Were it otherwise, the Independent Expert Panel would not have upheld complaints against Jared O’Mara, Mike Hill, Rob Roberts, Daniel Kawcyznski and Keith Vaz.
And of course, most recently, John Bercow, who the Panel said had demonstrated “a marked abuse of power and authority”, and specifically targeted and bullied three complainants.
Then there is what could best be called the “lived experience” of the Conservative women MPs quoted in the media last week.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan was reported as saying that she had been “pinned up against a wall” by a colleague who made sexual advances towards her.
Suella Braverman said that a minority of men in politics “behave like animals”. Caroline Nokes claims that the entire Conservative Party is “institutionally sexist”.
Either way, MPs of all parties can do little about about one of the main challenges facing them – namely, the requirement to work in two different and often distant places: Westminster and their constituencies.
Unless they are all to move their spouses and children to London (assuming that they have them), one of the main strains on their lives will continue to take its toll.
Just imagine the reaction if they did. The cry would go up that they “don’t really live here” and “are absentee landlords” who “neglect their constituents”.
It’s often said that MPs work long hours. But a problem for many is the hours in which they don’t work. For the Commons stopped sitting during most evenings a long time ago.
Few MPs will want to sit up into the witching hours answering constituency correspondence or perusing the Red Book. If they’ve started work at normal hours, I don’t blame them for a moment.
But what do they do then? The devil or rather the Palace of Westminster’s bars makes work for idle hands – or rather hands that aren’t occupied with work.
Throw in ambition, absent families, booze, younger staff, egotism, social media, and isolation, and you have a volatile cocktail. Not to mention the most explosive ingredient: power – and the imbalance of it.
Two proposed remedies are doing the rounds. The first is to close some of the bars or at least to cut back back on the subsidies. That sounds sensible – though the facilities are not only used by MPs and peers, of course.
The second is for MPs’ staff to be employed by a third party, so that they don’t have to complain to the person they work for, in the event of having been mistreated or bullied.
The idea highlights the difference between working for an MP and for a large corporate organisation: the latter has a human resources department and the former doesn’t.
Whatever the merits of the arguments for reform may be back and forth, there is no substitute for such under-rated and overlooked qualities as decency, common sense and proportion.
Not to mention an instinct for self-preservation, which would encompass not looking at porn, if one must succumb to the urge to so do, in the Commons chamber, for goodness sake.
And telling the truth – which seems to be work in progress for Angela Rayner, according to some Tory MPs. They claim that Labour’s Deputy Leader herself referred to “giving [Boris Johnson] a flash”.
There is a push on for more than a bit of change here and there. Some want Parliament to adopt the woke culture of the corporate world – or much of it, anyway.
Relations between employers and employees would be rigidly policed. Gone would be the days when a Norman Fowler or a Douglas Hurd or a John Biffen could marry his secretary.
The trend to family-friendly hours would intensify. The Conservatives would seek more women MPs (rather than prioritising finding more from working class backgrounds, and think independently, or work in the public sector).
I can see why all this may looks more attractive to women candidates than the status qup. But be careful what you wish for. Most complaints about sexual misconduct are made about men.
It ain’t necessarily so for those of bullying and harassment. More complaints would be likely to mean more women MPs being complained about.
That’s no reason not to make changes at Westminster, but it might give some MPs of both sexes pause for thought. I close by panning back the camera.
The focus in the last fortnight has been on MPs, and the quality of life at Westminster. But what about the quality of legislation they pass, and the people that they represent?
If even a small quantum of the scrutiny devoted to MPs private lives were fixed instead on their public duties, we might have a Commons that scrutinised legislation better and virtue signalled less.
Though the facts are more favourable to MPs than much of the coverage suggests. If some of those able to report them can be bothered to do so or not.