Dear West Country Voices,
When the ‘porn in the Commons’ story hit, I felt there was something odd about it. Even with as low opinion as I have of most of our Tory MPs, I couldn’t quite believe someone was sitting on those leather benches wantonly browsing PornHub. It felt far more likely that it had to be someone opening a link and finding pornographic content inside.
Certainly no woman wants to sit next to a colleague with explicit images visible on their phone, and it is entirely inappropriate behaviour in the workplace but I am mindful of how this story has taken off and been leapt on by Boris Johnson. The PM’s criticism has been somewhat uncharacteristic given his ‘watch and wait’ approach to his own alleged misdemeanours or those committed by other (perhaps more devoted) colleagues.
Earlier in the week Green MP Caroline Lucas asked a question in the chamber about the 56 MPs currently under investigation for varying degrees of sexual misdemeanour by the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS).
While I certainly don’t wish to defend watching porn in the workplace, to me in the hierarchy of sexual misdemeanours this is not the biggest or most direct threat. In my early career, I inherited my manager’s PC when he got a new one. On opening the web browser, there were three pornographic sites visible in the address bar, including one alarmingly titled “chicks with animals” – we aren’t talking charming tales of small hens befriending puppies. I was pretty horrified, and it reduced my level of respect for the boss. However, that shock is nothing compared to the feelings of anger, powerlessness and guilt on being touched up by a colleague or fielding inappropriate comments from clients. Knowing my manager had accessed porn on his office computer didn’t make me feel the need to adjust my behaviour or attire in case it was my fault in the way that directly intrusive contact did.
Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish was unmasked on Friday as the “porn MP” and, as I suspected, his initial defence was that he inadvertently opened a video. As I was putting pen to paper, Neil Parish announced his resignation and this will doubtless be trumpeted as evidence that sexual misconduct is a resigning offence and that – just as he assured Caroline Lucas – Johnson stands firm on this issue. But what about the 56 ICGS investigations? And the other Nolan principles? One scapegoat isn’t enough. ‘Pestminster’ badly needs culture change and in particular the Augean stables of the Johnsonian Tory party needs a thorough clean out. There’s a lot worse going on and we should not be distracted by double entendres directed at Parish when there are allegedly far nastier pieces of work still walking the corridors of power.
Postscript – Caroline Voaden’s piece here explores the societal impact of porn.