The Waugh Zone Friday March 9, 2018

1 CLERKS’ SHOES

Newsnight last night finally lifted the lid on what many in Westminster have felt is the really big untold story about life in SW1: bullying by MPs of staff is even more prevalent than sexual harassment. And the bullying isn’t always by male MPs, there are some senior women guilty of it too. I know of one frontbencher whose staff have all left, some to work for their party leader. What Newsnight revealed was the kind of treatment Commons ‘clerks’ – working for select committees, but also in other roles – have had to endure over the years.

Speaker John Bercow has declared that he wants a “zero tolerance” of bullying and harassment in Parliament and yet he himself faces claims about his conduct. The programme (watch in full HERE) reported that his former private secretary Kate Emms suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after working for him, citing witnesses who saw him undermine and shout at her. The Speaker’s spokesperson responded that he “completely and utterly refutes the allegation that he behaved in such a manner, either eight years ago, or at any other time”. A House of Commons spokesperson added it “does not tolerate bullying or harassment of any kind”.

Labour’s Paul Farrelly and Tory Mark Pritchard were also named in the report and will now have questions to answer to their own parties (though both deny misconduct). Farrelly’s case in particular raises the problem with the Commons’ complaints procedures and the way MPs have the final say over staff allegations. There is a bigger issue of whether, as with IPSA taking control of expenses, an independent body should oversee allegations of mistreatment of staff. Instead of relying on whips to ‘have a word’ with a member, or referring the matter to the Standards and Privileges Committee or the House of Commons Commission, it feels as though staff are now demanding an HR system that is normal for any other workplace. Trade unions like Unite and GMB have long demanded better protection and the civil service First Division Association…

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