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Sexual Harassment In Westminster


Accusations of sexual harassment have now made it into the highest halls of power in the United Kingdom. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon has been the first to fall after being accused of inappropriate behavior toward a female colleague. He resigned on Wednesday. A spreadsheet of names and allegations has been circulating at Westminster. There are some 40 names of conservative Tory politicians on it with descriptions such as handsy in taxis. We're joined now by Lucy Fisher. She's the senior political correspondent at The Times of London. Welcome to the program.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I haven't seen the list. I don't know if you have. I've just seen the reporting on it. Lots of salacious stuff in there. And we should say the allegations are almost all unverified. Do we know where it came from and how seriously the government there or the press there are taking the allegations?

FISHER: Yes. Well, I can say The Times, my newspaper, was the first to get hold of this spreadsheet document of 36 names. A few more names were added after that. It's been compiled by researchers and people that work in Parliament. I think it's an interesting thing, actually - after it gained traction in the media at the beginning of the week, MPs towards the middle-end of the week came out and said, actually, no, my name is on this list. These allegations are next to my name. And they are categorically not true. And I think one of the reasons that people felt compelled to come out and publicly rebut the claims was that this step document was shared publicly on social media.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What stories have you heard? I mean, it started with the Tories. But, of course, that has now shifted to Labour and other sections of the government.

FISHER: Yes, that's absolutely right. One very big problem with the spreadsheet that was shared is that some of the things on there were actually completely permissible. We had people named for having consensual relationships between MPs. There's actually nothing wrong with that. And I think one of the problems has been you've seen people making dinosaur or perhaps sexist comments conflated with people having consensual relationships, conflated again with people accused of sexual harassment - you know, very serious crimes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lucy, as someone who obviously reports on this but spends a lot of time in Westminster talking to MPs, what is your sense at how people are discussing this and dealing with this?

FISHER: Well, it's interesting. In a way, Westminster's always been a hotbed of gossip. You know, people - many people who work there are in the public eye. Knowledge is power. People love swapping information, particularly among the young researchers. And I think that's, in a way, what's led to this spreadsheet. I think people are now thinking that a lot of the claims on that may be the result of kind of gossip, flights of fantasy. So I think that certainly hasn't stopped this past week. But it certainly has made, you know, people who have suffered some really appalling attacks come forward.

One particularly shocking case was a Labour activist who says she was raped by another party official at a Labour Party event in 2011. And I think a really interesting point about her case is that she said she then reported it to a party official and was warned not to take the complaint forward because it could damage her career prospects within the party. So I think there were also a lot of questions being asked now about, what have party officials known about allegations in the past, and why haven't they acted? Have there been suppression of information and cover-ups?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How serious do you think this all is? I mean, do you think the investigations and the revelations are going to continue?

FISHER: I absolutely think they will. It's incredibly serious. We've already seen one cabinet minister's scalp claimed. A second, Damian Green, the deputy prime minister, no less, has been reported to the Cabinet Office for an investigation into claims of unwanted sexual advances made against him. Another conservative MP has been reported to the police. Labour MPs had the whip removed and been suspended from the party while allegations are investigated. And I think this is only the beginning. We've only had seven days since this whole scandal broke in the U.K. I think there'll be more claims that come to light in the days, weeks and months ahead.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lucy Fisher is the senior political correspondent at The Times of London. She joined us from London on Skype. Thanks so much.

FISHER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.