Last weekend, a long-standing Westminster rumor finally went public. A short article in the Daily Mirror reported that a senior Conservative M.P. has gained a reputation for the disturbing habit of plying those around him with date-rape drugs. A Labour M.P. claims to have fallen prey to this man, while a fellow Conservative politician has alleged that he awoke post-drugging to discover the unnamed accused licking his nipples.
It’s a shocking story, but one that quickly faded from the news cycle. This could have happened for any number of reasons. Perhaps the public was put off by the report’s lack of tangible details—aside from the nipples—or concrete sources, or maybe the M.P. in question used his power to squash attempts at a follow-up. However, the more likely reason is that, when the story dropped, everyone was still reeling from the news that a different Conservative M.P. had just been arrested on suspicion of indecent assault, sexual assault, rape, abuse of position of trust, and misconduct in public office.
This second M.P. has yet to be named, although the trickle of details surrounding the arrest—the accused is in his 50s and hasn’t been present in Parliament for two weeks—has helped to narrow the focus down to a covey of men. And since he is currently awaiting trial for these alleged crimes, it would be wrong to suggest that the modern Conservative Party is a hotbed of untethered sleaze.
That is, until you remember the events from two weeks before that, when Conservative M.P. Neil Parish was forced to resign after two female colleagues complained that they’d caught him watching pornography in the House of Commons. Before resigning, Parish claimed that he had viewed the smut accidentally, having unsuccessfully attempted to Google a type of tractor, but, as he admitted himself, that didn’t stop him from sneaking a second peek at the porn a little while later.
Again, you might be forgiven for writing all this off as the actions of three creepy outliers operating within a larger and more innocent workforce. But that would be to discount Tory M.P. Imran Ahmad Khan, who resigned last month after being convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy at a party. Or the clutch of M.P.’s who spuriously claimed that Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, had attempted to distract Boris Johnson by crossing and uncrossing her legs like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.
Or, for that matter, the 56 M.P.’s who have been reported to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, a parliamentary watchdog that handles allegations of sexual misconduct, since it launched in 2018. Or the parliamentary report that initiated the I.C.G.S., which revealed that almost one in five people at Westminster had either been sexually harassed or witnessed sexually inappropriate behavior in the previous 12 months. No matter where you look, it is all too easy to uncover mounds and mounds of sexual impropriety at the hands of the people in charge. This might also explain why it’s become standard practice to refer to Britain’s seat of government as “Pestminster.”
Not that the term is particularly new. The name blinked into being five years ago as the British government found itself swept up in the tidal wave of #MeToo. So cathartic was the outpouring of rage that followed Harvey Weinstein’s downfall that women in British politics, as with every other profession in the world, quickly found the strength to broadcast their own shoddy treatment at the hands of powerful men. A spreadsheet of parliamentary impropriety—later nicknamed the “dirty dossier”—quickly found its way to the media, listing 36 (since redacted) Conservative M.P.’s who variously used prostitutes, paid off accusers, and were known for being “handsy.”
A senior Conservative M.P. has gained a reputation for the disturbing habit of plying those around him with date-rape drugs.
The cards soon began to fall. In 2007, Conservative M.P. Charlie Elphicke was found guilty of sexual assault after being accused of chasing a woman around a house, Benny Hill–style, chanting, “I’m a naughty Tory, I’m a naughty Tory.” Defense Secretary Michael Fallon resigned in November 2017 after being accused of putting his hand on the knee of a journalist at a party, and “lunging” in for a kiss with another. Next up, Secretary of State Damian Green was sacked from the Cabinet after being accused of sexually harassing an activist and viewing pornography on his work computer.
Nor is this foul behavior limited to the Conservative Party. Labour activist Bex Bailey told a newspaper that she had been raped by a senior Labour member at a party event, and was advised by her superiors not to report it, while M.P. Ivan Lewis was suspended by the Labour Party after accusations that he’d harassed a 19-year-old at another party event.
It would be equally naïve to assume that this is purely a British phenomenon. France has a former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (accused of sexually assaulting a hotel maid); Germany has lawmaker Christian von Boetticher (had a relationship with a 16-year-old girl); Italy has four-time former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi (paid for sex with an under-age nightclub dancer); Canada has former member of Parliament and current Brampton, Ontario, mayor Patrick Brown (accused of exposing himself to a teenager); Australia has former minister for Families, Communities, and Disability Services Gareth Ward (charged with sexual intercourse without consent); and America has ex-president Donald Trump (where to start).
Nevertheless, there’s something depressingly familiar about the situation in the U.K. The flood of reports about Conservative M.P.’s hearkens back to the last time the party found itself at the back end of its time in power. In the 90s, you could scarcely move for a political blunder. There was Conservative M.P. David Mellor, who resigned after his affair with an actress was leaked to the press. There was Conservative M.P. Alan Amos, who received a warning from police after cruising around Hampstead Heath looking for sex. Conservative M.P. Tim Yeo fathered an illegitimate child; Conservative M.P. Steven Norris reportedly had three affairs on the go simultaneously; and Conservative M.P. Stephen Milligan was found dead at his kitchen table—wearing only stockings and with an orange segment in his mouth—after a celebratory bout of autoerotic asphyxiation went tragically wrong.
Back then, Prime Minister John Major was forced to counter all this sleaze by launching a high-profile “Back to Basics” reset, focusing on traditional family values. It didn’t work, and the Conservatives lost the subsequent election. But, given this new flurry of allegations made against his M.P.’s, could we expect something similar from Boris Johnson? It’s doubtful, not least because he appears to operate within such a moral vacuum—just look at all his extramarital affairs, which have gone messily public in recent years—that nobody alive could possibly take him seriously if he tried.
It’s worth noting that there are positives to be taken from this latest raft of accusations and arrests—#MeToo has become a rallying cry, and victims are now less likely to be intimidated into silence—but it would be foolish to assume that everything is fixed and this is the end of it. As long as there are politicians waking up to find their nipples being licked by their peers, the Pestminster tag looks here to stay.
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL and the author of Bedtime Stories for Worried Liberals