Minister blames long hours for misbehaving MPs as Starmer calls for ‘top down’ culture change

MPs must not hide behind excuses about long working hours and work pressure to explain misogyny and misbehavior at Westminster, Keir Starmer has said.

The Labor leader welcomed the resignation of Tory MP Neil Parish, who resigned on Saturday after he was spotted watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons.

But he said the parliament needed a “culture change…led and shaped from above”.

Sir Keir was speaking amid fresh allegations of misconduct in the Commons, with reports of incidents such as MPs licking the faces of researchers. More than 50 MPs are said to be investigated under parliament’s complaints procedure for sexual harassment.

The Labor leader told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: ‘There is a cultural problem that we need to tackle and culture change needs to be led and shaped from above.’

The government has repeatedly shown that when a Tory colleague is in trouble, ‘Ministers’ first instinct is to push him back into the tall grass, to hide what is going on,’ Sir Keir said.

And he added: “It’s a political problem because the fish rots from the head…

“I’ve had to deal with cultural changes before – I had to do that in the Crown Prosecution Service. I learned that it must be driven from a model from above.

“You look at political leaders, see what approach they take. And without that, I think it’s very difficult to make changes.

Tory Cabinet Minister Kwasi Kwarteng denied there was a general culture of sexism in Westminster, but said Labor pressures were pushing some MPs to cross the line.

“I don’t think there’s a culture of misogyny,” Kwarteng told Sophy Ridge.

“I think the problem we have is that people are working in a really intense environment. There are long hours. I think in general most people know their limits. They know how to act with respect, but there are times when people honestly don’t act according to the highest standards.

But Sir Keir said that view was disputed by female MPs he had discussed the issue with over the past few days.

“We can’t make that argument about this ‘high pressure culture,'” he said. “Take responsability.

“Neil Parish chose to watch porn in parliament. Tory MPs chose to make derogatory comments about Angela Rayner. They must take their responsibilities. »

Mr Kwarteng insisted that parliament is a safe place for women to work despite some “bad apples”.

He told the BBC’s Sunday morning show: “I think so. I think you have to distinguish between bad apples, people behaving badly and the general environment.

“There are bad apples, there are people who have done very wrong, and they should be held accountable.”

He said it would be ‘excessively puritanical’ to shut down bars in Parliament in the hope of ending sexual misconduct and foolishness.

The Business Secretary told Ridge: ‘No, they shouldn’t all be closed, I don’t think we should have a harshly overly puritanical regime in this regard.

Mr Kwarteng also did not support shortlists of women for parliamentary candidates, saying: ‘I have never been a fan of quotas, but I think we should do everything we can to encourage more women to come in. in politics and from various walks of life.”

He said the complaints system set up in 2018 following the Pestminster scandal “needs time to really get going”, but said it was clear that currently it “is not working well enough”.

James C. Tibbs