Amber Rudd: Government is not verging on ‘complete collapse’
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has had a busy media schedule today, appearing on three different political programmes within three hours. First of all, she was on Andrew Marr’s sofa. In a week where the so-called ‘Pestminster’ scandal continues to unravel, the Home Secretary addressed concerns over First Secretary of State Damian Green, who is facing allegations that he sexually harassed the journalist Kate Maltby, and that the police found pornography on his computer in 2008, both of which Green denies. Rudd confirmed that Green would be investigated for his conduct in both cases:
AM: Let’s look at the Damian Green ‘tittle tattle’ in the papers today. Here we have a former very senior policeman alleging something about effectively the Deputy Prime Minister. Is this a proper way for the police to behave?
AR: I think that is a very reasonable question. I know that the Cabinet Office is going to be looking at this tomorrow along with the wider enquiry about Damian, and I do think that we shouldn’t rush to allege anything until that enquiry has taken place.
AM: What about the way that he has treated the woman, Kate Maltby, who has made the allegations against him? The lawyers have been called in – it seems a very heavy and slightly scary response. If you were another young woman who feels that they have been mistreated, that kind of thing will put you off telling anybody.
AR: I do think that men and women who have been subject to any sort of abuse of power should have the confidence to come forward. But I also think that people who think that they have been wrongly accused should absolutely be able to come out and say ‘This is not true’, and Damian has made some very strong statements on that side.
AM: He certainly has… He’s an absolutely crucial figure in Theresa May’s cabinet now. She’s lost Michael Fallon already. Are you quite close now to a complete collapse? If he goes, it seems to a lot of people like the whole centre of government has just imploded.
AR: Absolutely not. I think it is something that will take place in terms of clearing out Westminster of that sort of behaviour, and I think that Westminster afterwards – including the government – will be better for it. When we are confident that men and women can work in a respectful environment, and people who have been on the receiving end of abuse of power can come forward, that will be a positive thing.
Rudd also claimed that there was no infamous ‘black book’ or ‘black spreadsheet’ – in which various misdeeds of Members of Parliament were complied – while she was serving as a government whip. Rudd was also keen to highlight an area in which the government has been working tirelessly. She has previously engaged in combat with tech giants over terrorism, and now argued that social media companies must do more to protect children from exploitation which may be encountered online:
AM: You’ve got an announcement today about child pornography…
AR: Yes… I’m going to Washington this week to make sure that we step up our fight against child sexual exploitation. We’ve seen the real growth of child sexual exploitation internationally and we’re going to make sure that we work with the Americans to take action against it. There’s much more that the internet companies can do. They already do quite a lot, but the growth has been exponential. And we need to make sure that they put their technological knowhow into addressing it, and particularly with working with smaller platforms where children go to game online, to meet each other – there are paedophiles working there. We need to make sure the internet companies work with us in partnership to change this.
Dawn Butler: Kelvin Hopkins case resolved to agreement ‘of both sides’
Labour’s Shadow Secretary for Women and Equalities Dawn Butler also found herself having to defend her party’s approach to sexual harassment in Parliament. Earlier this week, the Luton North MP Kelvin Hopkins had the whip suspended after it was claimed that he had behaved inappropriately towards an activist several decades his junior (which Hopkins also denies). Marr inquired as to how much the leadership knew about the allegations against Hopkins, which had first surfaced shortly before his promotion to the shadow front bench in 2015:
— The Andrew Marr Show (@MarrShow) November 5, 2017
AM: Dame Rosie Winterton, your then Chief Whip, was absolutely clear that she was horrified by the appointment of Kelvin Hopkins into the Shadow Cabinet. She rang the leader’s office and told them what the allegations were, an she said ‘It’s not too late to change this appointment’, but the appointment was maintained. And that has caused a lot of hurt and upset to Labour party members.
DB: …My understanding is that when the Chief Whip was informed of an issue against a member it was dealt with and that both sides were happy with the outcome. Now, if that’s the case, the process is that if there is an issue and that issue is dealt with – and both sides are happy – then that’s the end of the matter.
AM: Do you know whether or not Jeremy Corbyn was told?
DB: …I don’t want to talk about individual cases… What I want to talk about is the process. So if the leader of the Labour party was told that there was an issue against a member and that issue has now been resolved to the agreement of both sides, then it’s not something… If you were to say to me ‘Is there an issues of sanctions?’ then that’s a different issue. So if somebody’s been given a verbal [admonishment] and there’s a sanction to say you cannot be promoted for 6 months to 12 months, that’s a different issue. We haven’t got that in Parliament. And maybe, in the meeting tomorrow with the Prime Minister, we can talk about sanctions and if there’s a case against and MP… that needs to be transparent and clear.
Anna Soubry: We are experiencing ‘trial by newspaper’
While reviewing the papers on the Marr Show, Conservative backbencher Anna Soubry has expressed her disdain for the coverage of the ‘Pestminster’ scandal and complained that trial by media was no way to resolve it. In particular, she lamented the way in which the journalist Jane Merrick’s complaint against Michael Fallon had been treated:
AS: What we are having in relation to Damian, who I said should have been suspended so there was a proper inquiry, this would have formed part of that inquiry, and instead we are pretty much having trial by the newspapers. And this is not acceptable. These are very serious allegations in relation to other people. It is all being blurred and conflated, and this is a disgraceful way for us to conduct our politics and very serious allegations. And further evidence of that is the way that Jane Merrick, who has been outstandingly brave, found herself in a position whereby something had happened to her some time ago.
To be very clear about this, we cannot have this going on any longer. People must have today a system where they don’t have to go to the press in order to make their complaint or happen to find some MP’s telephone number… This is all about protecting other men, and notably, women… I think our Prime Minister must lead on this and she must give an assurance that people must be able – now – to make their complaints, so we can stop the sort of behaviour that Jane and others have had to endure for years.
Mark Carney: Uncertainty is holding back investment in UK
The sexual harassment scandal has not managed to totally eclipse Brexit this week. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney told ITV’s Robert Peston that the uncertainty caused by the UK’s impending departure from the European Union is holding back the country’s levels of investment and economic growth:
— Peston on Sunday (@pestononsunday) November 5, 2017
MC: Since the referendum, what we have seen is that business investment has picked up, but it hasn’t picked up to any of the extent one would have expected given how strong the world is, how easy financial conditions are, how high profitability is and how little spare capacity they have. So It should really be booming, and it’s just growing. Now, I think we know why the reason why that is the case it’s because they’re waiting to see the nature of the deal with the European Union. It’s the most important investment destination, and they need to know transition and end state. Everybody knows this. The government knows it, it’s working on it. The Europeans know it. UK businesses know it.
RP: So just to be clear on this… you would say that the biggest contributor to the slowdown of the rate at which we can grow – become richer – is the uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote?
MC: What we’re saying is that the Brexit uncertainty is reinforcing something that started in 2008. We actually think profitability is going to pick up over the course next couple of years… but not by the same degree as the past, and it’s that Brexit effect which is weighing on it. This uncertainty is going to be resolved in the relatively near future. UK businesses are in very good shape, their balance sheets are in good shape, the financial system is in excellent shape. People are in work and the opportunity is going to be to, once that uncertainty dissipates, is to put that money to work.
Emily Thornberry: ‘I’m happy to go!’
And finally, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry will not be the last politician to refuse to be drawn when asked to comment on Westminster’s sexual harassment quagmire. However, on this occasion, Thornberry had a somewhat bolder solution of how not to answer Niall Paterson’s questions:
NP: Jeremy Corbyn cannot complain ‘I knew nothing of this behaviour’. Simon Danczuk was suspended from the [Labour] party back in December 2015 at exactly the same time that the party knew about the allegations about Mr Hopkins. Similar cases, entirely dissimilar treatment. One of them suspended, who happened to be a critic of Mr Corbyn, another of them promoted to the front bench, who just so happens to be a key ally.
ET: You can draw whatever conclusions you want at this stage, but I am not in a position to be able to comment on these matters in detail as they are under investigation. I’m sorry, but that’s what you’re getting. I mean, I’m happy to go, but I’m here to try and give you such assistance as I am able to, but I’m not going to talk about internal discussions at the moment. Where there is an investigation going on, it is not for me – and I may be being a bit lawyerly about this – but whilst an investigation is going on, we let that investigation take its course, and not to get involved in commentary on it or additional information or anything else. I’m not going to be doing that.