Jess Phillips doesn’t feel safe at ‘work’…
One of the doorways which leads straight from the chamber of the House of Commons demands that you stand in a very narrow winding stairway waiting to descend in to the packed lobby. Six or seven people can fit uncomfortably on these stairs, nine or 10 would have to be friendly.
Last week I was squished on one of those stairwells, forced into almost full bodily contact with a man I know horrible stories about. A man about whom I have listened to someone crying on the phone.
Every fibre of my body feels repelled, I close my eyes, hold my breath as if preparing to dive into deep water. I manage to surge forward quickly into the safety of the scrum. But it’s not safe. In that scrum I am again presented with others who don’t want to catch my eye, or those who don’t give a toss if they do because they have grown used to making people feel uncomfortable.
Oh, you poor darling! Let me dry your tears. And play you something soothing…
When I’m surrounded, I feel like Whoopi Goldberg in the film Ghost as she fights through the clamour of the needy dead. I break free of my own lobby into the scrum of all the members of parliament and push through the crowd in the chamber to head back to my office. I’m forced to bow my head, to push through in a way that means I don’t encounter the men from the other side whose skeletons are jangling in my mind.
You’re beset on all sides, aren’t you?
My god, we praise the bravery of the men who stormed the Normandy beaches, but they are nothing compared to you! How many medals would you like?
As I walk down the corridors, I have to slow my pace to avoid people who have been referred to the police. I wait for the next lift, find a different table to sit at and ultimately stay in my office as much as possible.
Perhaps you aren’t cut out for politics, love? Maybe try something safer, like deep sea oil exploration, or Canadian ice road haulage?
The irony that I am the one who alters her behaviour is not lost on me. I notice Damian Green still firmly in his seat by the prime minister in PMQs, as she dares to say: “I want a world in which women and girls have the confidence to be able to be what they want.” It seems some of us don’t need to find somewhere else to sit.
Yes, how dare she expect women to have confidence. Far better to take to one’s fainting couch (or write a CiF column, it often amounts to the same thing) when confronted by someone you’ve heard some gossip about…
To quote Mrs May again, “nothing has changed”. Except this time when I say nothing has changed, I’m not lying. Last week, a young woman told me that that week a senior special adviser in the government she met at a lobby event had drunkenly asked her if she had a boyfriend, and when she replied no, he asked: “Are you a lesbian, what’s that like?”
Oh no, drunken banter! I’m sure that never happens anywhere else! It must be the special beverages they serve at HoC events.
When I look down the list of Hollywood directors, British TV and radio stars and US politicians (with a notable exception), I see people forced to resign or sacked because of their alleged behaviour. British politics has no intention of following suit.
Good. Because the Mother of Parliaments clearly believes in innocent until proven guilty. It scorns the mob. As it should do.