Calls for change in Westminster culture

Houses of Parliament Image copyright AFP/Getty

In the last few days there has been a frenzy in Westminster about a dodgy dossier, a list, all manner of claims about ministers' and MPs' bad behaviour.

(For what it's worth, the list which we have seen contains both a mixture of unsavoury allegations, reports of well-known relationships, and some claims that are furiously denied. There is just no way of knowing frankly, how much of it is true).

But until now, there hasn't been anyone willing to come forward to speak candidly about their own experiences to illustrate the culture in some corners of politics that is the root of the problem.

That might just have changed. Bex Bailey, a well-known and well-respected Labour activist, has had the courage to tell her story, to waive her anonymity as an alleged rape victim. What stands out from her claims is sadly not the suggestion that a teenage political activist was the target of an older senior party member.

But that when she tried to seek help and advice, she says she was told that it would be better for her to keep quiet, and not risk the damage of making such an allegation.

She told the BBC, "It took me a while to summon up the courage to tell anyone in the party. But when I did, I told a senior member of staff who told me - or it was suggested to me that I not report it. I was told that if I did it might damage me and that might be their genuine view… in which case that shows that we have a serious problem in politics with this issue."

We have no way of independently verifying her story. But it identifies precisely the problem heard time and time again at Westminster. Young men and women, who care about their political parties and quite understandably also their own careers, often fear the consequences of making a complaint, or being seen as a troublemaker.

Loyalty is a precious commodity in Westminster, but it has also for many been a trap, or a tool that's used against them. It is one of the powerful elements of culture here that has allowed some cases of harassment, bullying or sexual abuse to go unreported. That's also why it has been so hard to ascertain accurately how widespread the problem truly is.

For Ms Bailey, who has pressed the Labour Party for years to improve its processes, to make it possible for people to report abuse independently, it is however now time to speak up.

Acknowledging how hard it may have been for others she says: "You're just as brave if you don't speak out. And I know that there are a lot of women who will be struggling with all of this that's going on at the moment. But for me it was the right thing to do."

The question that will be asked across Westminster tonight is whether others are brave enough to follow.