A female Welsh MP has accused a member of the shadow cabinet of lewd sexism by stating she would be successful because men wanted to sleep with her, as the attorney general accused some male MPs of acting “like animals”.
After the latest allegation of misogyny to hit Westminster, Labour promised to launch an investigation if a complaint was made.
But the MP told BBC Wales that identifying herself and making a complaint was not in her best interests.
She alleged an unnamed member of Labour’s frontbench described her as a “secret weapon” because, he said, women wanted to be her friend and men wanted to sleep with her.
The Welsh MP said the remark was made at an event when she was praised as a “rising star” of her party. She alleged that before she could reply the shadow minister intervened with the “secret weapon” remark, and added that she was a “vote winner” because of her looks.
A Labour spokesperson said: “The Labour party takes all complaints extremely seriously. They are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate action is taken.”
The Women’s Equality party tweeted: “It’s no wonder violence and harassment pervades society when MPs fear reporting misogynistic behaviour more than being an actual misogynist.”
The shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, suggested Labour should investigate even if a complaint was not raised formally. Speaking to BBC Breakfast he said: “I have literally just heard about it as I was walking into the studio. Obviously this has to be investigated. We need to find out who these people are. I would now expect the Labour party to look into that.”
He also criticised the sexist culture in the Commons. Ashworth said: “All these claims that we are hearing about – it is shocking, foul, disgusting. But it’s also utterly depressing. All these stories reveal a misogyny and there’s actually also a bullying culture in that place as well.”
The Sunday Times reported that 56 MPs had been referred to parliament’s independent complaints and grievance scheme over sexual complaints, including three cabinet ministers and two shadow cabinet ministers.
And on Tuesday, a Conservative MP was alleged to have been seen looking at pornography on his phone while sitting in the Commons chamber.
The attorney general, Suella Braverman, said it was only a “very small minority” who “fall short” and brought their profession into disrepute. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour she said: “On no occasion have I been made to feel uncomfortable and all the men that I’ve worked with have been respectful, courteous, and supportive. There is, however, a very small minority of men, and it is men, who fall short and there are some bad apples who are out of order who behave like animals and are bringing parliament into disrepute.”
When it was pointed out the 56 complaints of sexual misconduct were being investigated, Braverman said: “There’s a very big difference between investigations and actually proven complaint … 56 out of 650 MPs is a minority and 56 out of the number of male MPs is a minority.
“We must be careful that this isn’t about demonising all men, this isn’t all men. This is a minority of, as I say bad apples, who are ruining it for everybody else. I don’t think we should be saying there’s a pervasive culture. That’s not my experience.”
Braverman said she was appalled at reports of a colleague watching porn in the Commons chamber, and had spent the past 24 hours thinking about how and why someone would be “so brazen, so reckless, so stupid, so appallingly badly behaved.
“I hope that if this is proven to be true, then we will see the most severe reprimand. I think we would really need to see a situation where the whip should be removed. I’m ashamed that this person is carrying the Conservative rosette. And I think they really do need to be subject to a recall and no longer be holding their privileged position as an MP.”
Downing Street admitted there was “a lot to do to improve the culture in parliament” and that the latest shocking allegations showed that improvements to the culture and reporting systems were “obviously not good enough”.
The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, said: “There is no place for pornography in the workplace. It’s really that simple.”
The interviewer, Mishal Husain, asked Wallace what action should be taken against the MP if the allegation was proven. Wallace replied: “I certainly think they should lose the whip.”
He also urged witnesses to call out inappropriate behaviour. Wallace said: “I would absolutely encourage all people to come forward whether they are bullied, whether they’ve been victim of inappropriate behaviour, or indeed this type of example.”
During and after the interview Wallace was criticised for repeatedly calling Husain “Martha” in a mistaken reference to another Today programme presenter, Martha Kearney.
LBC producer Shivani Sharma tweeted: “Can someone tell Ben Wallace he is speaking to Mishal Husain today. He’s called her Martha twice now, whilst talking about respect for women in the workplace.”