Labour MP hits out at claims of Westminster ‘witch hunt’

Harriet Harman says crackdown on harassment long overdue as Scottish minister resigns

 Labour MP Harriet Harman said: ‘There are a lot of men saying this has been totally blown out of all proportion, this a witch hunt. No, it’s not a witch hunt, it’s long overdue.’ File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Labour MP Harriet Harman said: ‘There are a lot of men saying this has been totally blown out of all proportion, this a witch hunt. No, it’s not a witch hunt, it’s long overdue.’ File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

 

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party has hit back at claims that Westminster is in the grip of a witch hunt as accusations of sexual harassment continue to swirl around parliament.

MP Harriet Harman told the BBC: “There are a lot of men saying this has been totally blown out of all proportion, this a witch hunt. No, it’s not a witch hunt, it’s long overdue.”

On Saturday, Scottish National Party minister Mark McDonald resigned over past actions he said had been “considered to be inappropriate”.

The SNP’s Mark McDonald has resigned as Scottish minister for childcare and early years. File photograph: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
The SNP’s Mark McDonald has resigned as Scottish minister for childcare and early years. File photograph: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Mr McDonald, the Scottish minister for childcare and early years, apologised “to anyone I have upset” as he stepped down from the role.

The MSP for Aberdeen Donside said previous behaviour he had thought “humorous or attempting to be friendly” might have made others uncomfortable.

It is understood the complaint is one of two made to the SNP about inappropriate behaviour, the second of which does not relate to a parliamentarian.

Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke and Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins have already been suspended amid harassment allegations.

The controversy began earlier this week when defence secretary Michael Fallon resigned. Mr Fallon, who was one of prime minister Theresa May’s most loyal ministers, admitted repeatedly touching a radio presenter’s knee in 2002, and said his past conduct had fallen below the required standard.

‘Hiding to nothing’

Ms Harman’s remarks were at odds with Tory backbencher Sir Roger Gale who said MPs and other prominent figures were on a “hiding to nothing” as it was difficult to refute claims about alleged incidents years ago. Giving a hypothetical example of a woman claiming a man kissed her in a lift five years ago, Sir Roger told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “How does a member of parliament refute that? It’s a witch hunt.”

On Friday, the Conservative Party suspended Mr Elphicke, an MP for Dover, over what it said were serious allegations.

Mr Elphicke, formerly a tax lawyer who was first elected in 2010, denied any wrongdoing. “The party tipped off the press before telling me of my suspension,” he said on Twitter. “I am not aware of what the alleged claims are and deny any wrongdoing.”

On Friday, Mr Hopkins said he “absolutely and categorically’’ denied allegations of inappropriate conduct made by Ava Etemadzadeh (27). Ms Etemadzadeh, a party activist, claimed Mr Hopkins sent her suggestive texts. She told the Telegraph that he hugged her very tightly and rubbed himself against her at a Labour event in 2013.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis on Friday denied a claim that he groped a woman at the Labour conference in September after it emerged that the party was investigating a formal complaint against him.

In response to the controversy, Ms May introduced a new code of conduct guaranteeing an independent voice in investigations of abuse and harassment.

The code was revealed by Ms May in a letter to the speaker of the Commons, John Bercow.

The new Conservative code applies to MPs, peers, MEPs, members of the Scottish, Welsh and London assemblies, police and crime commissioners, elected mayors, councillors and party officials, the letter explains.

The code compels those covered by its rules to “take reasonable steps” to ensure that people who want to complain about harassment, bullying or discrimination are able to do so. There is an email address and phone number to which complaints can be made. – Agencies