I don’t like calling for people to be sacked. It isn’t nice when people lose their jobs; and in any normal walk of life due process and fair practice should be followed. But cabinet ministers are not in normal jobs. Their “job” is that of a Member of Parliament – and it is for the electorate to decide whether or not they should keep their job. Being a cabinet minister is different: it is a position of honour, and of power and authority. And people exercising power and authority need to be able to handle it without abusing it.
This morning, Michael Gove made a “joke” on BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme. He was abetted by former Labour leader Neil Kinnock.
But it wasn’t a joke. It was a calculated and deliberate tactic. It was an abuse of his position of power and authority; and an abuse of the invitation to appear on a live BBC broadcast. If I am wrong, then Michael Gove isn’t the highly educated intellectual that he tries to portray himself as being. For he should have known the context in which he made his comments; and he should have known the effects of his comments on some very vulnerable people.
The context is this: There are claims of sexual assaults and abuse by MPs – including cabinet ministers – and other senior officials at Westminster. It has been reported that female members of staff have created a Whatsapp group to warn each other about people who are “very handsy” and of a minister who was “not safe in taxis”.
This is a serious matter. And not one for party politics. Fortunately, the leaders of the two main parties are not playing politics over it. The Prime Minister, Theresa May said that the allegations were “deeply concerning”. A Number 10 spokesperson is reported as saying: “The Prime Minister was very clear, when we responded to the reports about Harvey Weinstein in the last few weeks, that any unwanted sexual behaviour is completely unacceptable, and that is true in any walk of life – including politics.
“Any allegations that may come to light will be taken extremely seriously and we would advise people to contact the police if there is such an allegation so that it’s fully investigated.” Where the conduct is said not to pass the threshold of criminal activity, Mrs May’s spokesperson encouraged victims to complain to House of Commons authorities.
For his part, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking on LBC, said that he agreed with Theresa May, adding: “Where there is an unequal power relationship in the workplace and women became vulnerable because of it, they have to be supported and they have to be protected.” He is expected to reinforce that message in a speech today.
So in a nutshell, the context is this: victims of sexual abuse and assault in Westminster – including where the alleged attacker is a cabinet minister – are being encouraged to report the activities to the police or House of Commons authorities and are being told that they will be taken seriously.
And here is a senior cabinet member – a former Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice – making light of sexual violence and trivialising it. His message to victims is that the whole thing is a joke.
He is undermining efforts by Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to encourage victims to report what happened to them. He is making it more difficult for victims to receive justice. And in doing so, he is making it easy for abusers to get away with their crimes.
On his website, he lists “championing the victims of crime” as amongst his activities.
Not on today’s showing.
The victims of sexual violence and abuse in Westminster have received a damaging message from Michael Gove that the whole thing is a joke.
Theresa May now needs to send them a more hopeful message: that the matter isn’t a joke, and that those who think it is have no place in Her Majesty’s Government.
Michael Gove should go. And he should go soon. Now is the time for Mrs May to act decisively.