London: Lawmakers hurling heavy pieces of office equipment at aides, groping their breasts and slapping their backsides. Sexual harassment as a “necessary evil” for young staffers. Aides ordered to vacuum and tidy up their bosses’ apartments for private parties.
Those accusations, contained in a blistering report on Britain’s Parliament released Thursday, offered lurid details and descriptions of rampant rule breaking in a picture of the working lives of 3,200 staff members in the House of Commons.
Ordered up in October, as British officials picked through an avalanche of stories about misbehaviour in Parliament amid the #MeToo movement, the report and a twin released a day before about the House of Lords describe a universe in which lawmakers wielded virtually absolute power, and the rules and practices of the outside world had little relevance.
Because they directly employ their aides, lawmakers have long been virtually immune to charges of sexual harassment or bullying and most other oversight. They openly recruit friends and relatives, discriminate in their hires and force aides to campaign during what is supposed to be government time, the report said.
Parliamentary leaders have made some changes in the past year, creating a more explicit code of conduct and supposedly independent channels for filing complaints. But those changes were criticised in the report as underfunded, widely ignored in Parliament and too feeble to rein in lawmakers.
Far too easily, according to the report, career-making jobs in the seat of government can turn into experiences out of television shows like “Veep” or its British predecessor, “The Thick of It,” which satirize lawmakers’ cruel, unhinged antics.
Or much, much worse.
The report, written by Gemma White, a lawyer, quoted one parliamentary aide saying: “I don’t think of myself as a particularly soft individual, but there were occasions I found myself crying on the way to work, the only time I have cried since I was a child.”
Many aides, the report said, spiraled into “significant mental and/or physical illness.”
“One contributor described being sick every day on the way to work, crossing the road thinking if they were run over they would not need to go in to work,” the report said.
And while the report did not name any offenders or go into detail about the most alarming accusations, it said some behaviour by lawmakers could “only be described as very serious sexual assault.”
A new grievance process was introduced last summer, but filing a complaint still amounted to “career suicide,” aides told White. She outlined a series of recommendations for that process, including opening the door to old complaints. Some parliamentary aides on the verge of quitting had recently been told that the only way to get a complaint heard was to stay in their jobs.
Responding to the report, the leader of the House of Commons, Mel Stride, told lawmakers that the government would ask them to vote to allow old complaints to be considered under the new grievance process.