Scotland’s Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has called out the extent of “locker room culture” in “overwhelmingly male-dominated professions” in the UK.
She added that, in light of the escalating Westminster sex scandal, the “dam has broken” on the problem, and that now is the time for it to stop.
Her comments come as accusations and revelations continue to emerge this week, levelled at politicians from all parties and all levels of British politics.
“The dam has broken on this now and these male-dominated professions, overwhelmingly male-dominated professions, where the boys own locker room culture has prevailed and it’s all been a bit of a laugh, has got to stop,” said Davidson on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
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“It is clear that there has been, not just in our trade, but in other trades … that there has been this sense that people can use positions of power to demand things from others and that has got to stop,” she continued.
But she added: “The way that it has manifested itself is with sexual impropriety, misconduct, and, in some cases, assault. But it isn’t actually about sex. It’s about power. It’s always about power. We as elected representatives have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.”
Dozens of claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour have come to light in recent days, implicating politicians across all parties.
It began with accusations made against a list of 40 Conservative politicians early this week but, as more allegations have been made, the full extent of the cross-party problem is becoming clear.
Meanwhile, Labour has launched an investigation after party activist Bex Bailey said she was raped at a Labour party event in 2011, when she was 19, by someone senior to her within the party but who was not an MP.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saying that she showed “incredible bravery” in speaking out, and that she has his “full support and solidarity.”
Speaking out about rape and sexual harassment takes enormous courage. Bex Bailey has shown incredible bravery. https://t.co/ODpCIQMbfC— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) October 31, 2017
Bailey said that she hadn’t felt able to reveal the alleged rape for two years after the event, and that when she did tell a party official she was encouraged not to report it as it could “damage” her.
Davidson highlighted that a hierarchy leaves those in less senior positions feeling that they can’t speak out or complain for fear of negative consequences for themselves.
“We are in positions of power so that we can make things better for who comes after, not so that we can exert that power in a nefarious way.”
She added: “When you put people in a position where they feel they can’t speak out because they’re on a ladder and the person that is exerting power and influence over them is a few rungs further up that ladder then we absolutely fail as leaders.”
Davidson was speaking just hours after Sir Michael Fallon resigned as defence secretary, saying his conduct had “fallen short” of the required standards.
Fallon apologised earlier in the week, after he was accused of putting his hand on a female journalist’s knee.
But he announced his departure on Wednesday night, saying that behaviour that was acceptable 10 years ago now no longer is.
Meanwhile, the former political editor of the Guardian, Michael White, has come under fire for calling female lobby journalists “predators” who trick “poor old ugly” MPs in order to get stories.
As if it's not hard enough to be taken seriously as a woman working in politics without senior male journalists saying this stuff. Furious.— Kate McCann (@KateEMcCann) November 1, 2017
“The power doesn’t all lie on one side,” he said, in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Media Show. “Clever, attractive young women looking for stories, they can play the power game to poor old ugly backbenchers.”
When asked if he was saying that female journalists were to blame, he said: “I didn’t say [it was their] fault, I said they were the predators — of course.”
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