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Local Politicians Comment on House of Commons Culture – Anne Milton Says It ‘Smells of Boys!’

Published on: 4 May, 2022
Updated on: 6 May, 2022

By Martin Giles

Who better to give a local view on the recent behavioural problems that have emerged from the House of Commons than three local women politicians? They have three distinct perspectives: Anne Milton as a former MP and deputy chief whip; Angela Richardson our MP with experience of the situation as it is today; and Zoe Franklin who has her experience of local politics as she views the House of Commons as a possible future workplace.

Anne Milton the former MP for Guildford

Anne Milton, interviewed over the weekend [April 30] on the BBC’s Today programme said she feels the laddish culture seems to have got worse since she left in 2019.

In her interview with Radio 4’s Martha Kearney, Anne Milton said: “I think that although it’s over two years since I left politics, it feels like it’s got worse. It feels it’s very laddish. You don’t see women being put up for the press conferences or doing a media round. There are a lot of people running around with high vis jackets, and making allusions to rugby scrums. So it feels very laddish.

“I think what’s more important than anything else at the moment, and I actually feel quite angry about this, is that everybody in leadership positions should demonstrate by example high standards of behaviour. And you need to constantly remind people that you expect those standards of behaviour at all times. It is really shocking and depressing what we’ve been hearing over the last four weeks.

…it’s over two years since I left politics, it feels like it’s got worse”

In answer to Radio 4’s Martha Kearney’s question on whether she had direct experience herself of misogyny or sexism? Ms Milton replied: “I’ve had – of sexism – a little bit. Not that direct. I think that’s the trouble. It’s rather bleak.

“I think Caroline Nokes [chair of the Women and Equalities Select committee] in an article today, talked about it being institutionally sexist. I think that’s probably quite a good way of describing it. You know, you make a speech in the House of Commons, and an arm goes around your shoulder from a man. And he says that was really very good in a rather patronising way. There is there’s no doubt about it. The place smells of boys!”

Angela Richardson MP

Guildford’s current MP Angela Richardson says she too has not suffered much, if at all, from the behaviour of her parliamentary colleagues: “Any misogyny directed at me, along with my predecessor Anne Milton and many Conservative female councillors, is almost solely from social media and anonymous, politically-motivated, blogging sites.

“However, yes, there is a small degree of laddish behaviour from a tiny number of individuals who I would describe as being immature.  My predecessor didn’t put up with any nonsense and neither do I.

“The vast majority of my colleagues are polite, kind, respectful and many go out of their way to make sure they behave in accordance with the ‘valuing everyone’ training we received when I first arrived and all colleagues are expected to have undertaken.

“We have seen swift action in the resignation of my former colleague Neil Parish.  Neil was well-liked, respected by colleagues and his constituents and my genuine response is one of deep sadness.

My predecessor didn’t put up with any nonsense and neither do I.”

“The outcome of his totally unacceptable activity of watching pornography in the workplace is the right one.  There are instances of egregious behaviour by colleagues on both sides of the aisle and many feel others should have resigned too.

“From an HR perspective,  I would not like to see my ability to hire my team removed from me as an employer.  I set the culture within our team and our priorities.  Given the sheer scale and variety of the work we undertake on a daily basis, outsourcing hiring and accountability, on the staffing budgets we have, would likely see a real decline in my ability to serve Guildford and solve urgent issues.  It would be better if MP’s office struggling with HR issues is given targeted support.

“I hope that these last few difficult and frustrating weeks of news headlines being dominated by the behaviour of individual MPs rather than the important work we are trying to do, will be a catalyst for all colleagues to evaluate their own behaviour and/or their response to the behaviour of others and make adjustments if needed.”

Zoe Franklin

Zoe Franklin the prospective Lib Dem parliamentary candidate, has no direct experience of working in the House of Commons but aspires to be Guildford’s next MP and is in regular contact with Lib Dem MPs.

She feels that the House of Commons, and Parliament more widely, should be leading the way on addressing misogyny and sexism. But instead she complained “Over the past month, the depth of its problem with sexist and misogynistic behaviour has been starkly highlighted, most recently with the MP Neil Parish watching porn in the chamber.

“Frankly it is appalling that so many MPs seem to feel that this kind of behaviour is appropriate towards colleagues and staff – behaviour that in most other settings would see them lose their job.

“Personally, I am grateful that I have rarely experienced either from anyone in the Liberal Democrats during the nearly 15 years I have been involved in politics. Having said that, I am aware that there are plenty of women in my own party who have faced sexist and/or misogynistic behaviour – no political party is immune.

Frankly it is appalling that so many MPs seem to feel that this kind of behaviour is appropriate towards colleagues and staff”

“I have personally experienced sexism and misogyny though from a small number of the opposition and members of the public. For some the idea of a woman in politics, particularly a young woman with a baby and pregnant with another, as I was when I first got involved at 26, is uncomfortable and they do not seem to know what appropriate behaviour is.

“Radical action is indeed needed. No one should experience discriminatory, abusive or intimidating behaviour in the workplace (or anywhere).

“In terms of dealing with the issue in Parliament, I do question whether Parliamentarians have the relevant skills and independence to be able to provide such action. I would far rather see external experts brought in to address the HR issues, provide training and so forth with the hope that this can be addressed swiftly, firmly and independently.”

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