I have been passed a copy of the Westminster List, reportedly compiled by two researchers detailing allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by Conservative MPs. I should make it completely clear, at the outset, that I regard any such behaviour by any MP against staff or colleagues as totally unacceptable. It should be reported and dealt with either by the police if it amounts to criminal behaviour, or to the relevant Parliamentary or Conservative Party authorities.
I have no idea what the truth is in relation to the references by the side of each of the forty or so names on the Westminster list, other than those who have now spoken publicly. However, even on their own terms, some of the accusations appear to be gossip or unsubstantiated rumours – rather than credible reports of abuse.
Under my own name, the entry reads: “Injunction for inappropriate behaviour with a woman”. And yet, I have never been served with any injunction for anything. Nor have I ever sought one. Equally, any insinuation that I have engaged in anything resembling sexual harassment, sexually abusive behaviour or lewd remarks with either Parliamentary colleagues or staff (in any job I have done) is false and malicious. I have already taken legal advice.
The only tenuous link I can conceive of is that, in 2011, a tabloid newspaper ran a vexatious story smearing me, in relation to a previous job before I became an MP. I successfully sued that newspaper for libel, and in March 2012 they paid a five figure sum in compensation, and printed an unequivocal apology and retraction on page 2.
I appreciate the Westminster list will encourage a further media feeding frenzy against MPs. I also recognise that there are undoubtedly some very disturbing allegations out there, which need to be taken seriously. At the same time, for anonymous individuals to compile and publish, or allow to be published, a list of vague, unsubstantiated and – in my case – false allegations is wrong. It is also a form of harassment and intimidation, although of course I am not suggesting it is the same or equivalent. Still, accountability should mean properly investigating any reports of abuse, without irresponsibly smearing those who have done nothing wrong.