04:12, December 22 275 0 theguardian.com

2017-12-22 04:12:03
First thoughts  
 Damian Green’s sacking won’t change abuse at Westminster. But what will?

Seven weeks after it was set up, the Cabinet Office investigation into Damian Green’s conduct has finally reported, resulting in what is in effect his sacking. Not as a result of allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards Kate Maltby, a Tory activist and commentator 30 years his junior. But for lying about the presence of porn on a parliamentary computer in his office – a breach of the ministerial code. Because this was formally a resignation, it looks like Green will walk away with a £17,000 payoff.

In his correspondence to the prime minister, Green at last apologised to Maltby for making her feel uncomfortable (though he maintains he does not recognise her account), and expressed regret about the way she has been treated in the press. But it should not have taken a formal investigation to get him to do either.

Regardless of what he says happened between them in person – and the investigation found Maltby’s account “plausible” – he sent her a text admiring how she looked in a corset and asking her for a drink. Receiving that sort of text from a senior professional contact would make many women feel deeply uncomfortable. Maltby said it did that to her; and for that, she deserved an apology. End of.

Likewise, the reaction to her speaking out was appalling. Some parts of the press sought to trash her reputation, implying she had only made these claims about Green to further her own career, and quoting sources that her family were “aghast” at her behaviour. (Her parents’ statement yesterday expressing pride in their daughter shows nothing could be further from the truth.) We’ll perhaps never know whether Green’s supporters were involved in the briefing behind this coverage. But it shouldn’t have taken weeks for him to express regret about it.

What’s so striking, sad and predictable is how much Maltby’s story and treatment has become a sideshow. This quickly morphed into a tale not about a woman speaking out at great personal cost, but about police impropriety, and what Green knew about the porn found on a computer in his office.

Like I suspect many women – indeed, probably Kate herself – I don’t think that what she said transpired between her and Green had to be a resigning matter. But the way he handled it – including aggressively trying to shut it down by reportedly instructing libel lawyers – has made it much worse. Not to mention the fact that his allies have been saying in the press that he had “nothing to apologise for” while a formal investigation was going on.

No one, least of all Maltby, is accusing Green of being the Harvey Weinstein of Westminster. Predatory behaviour exists on a spectrum. Weinstein’s alleged behaviour, including serious sexual assaults and ruining the careers of women who turned him down, appears to put him at the extreme end (albeit these are charges that he denies). But, giving them the benefit of the doubt, some men who inappropriately proposition women whose careers they hold sway over might be so blinkered as to have no idea of the impact of their behaviour on others. A-type personalities, drunk on power, surrounded by yes people who treat them like mini-gods, it might not even occur to them that a woman might turn them down.

But the point is that the person being propositioned has no idea if the propositioner is a Weinstein sort, or someone who’s so emotionally thick they fail to understand the impact of their behaviour, but wouldn’t behave vindictively in the event of rejection – or something in-between. That’s the power dynamic that makes this behaviour so insidious and inexcusable.

The scale and speed of the #MeToo movement triggered by the brave women who first spoke out about Weinstein is heartening. But I’m pessimistic about whether it will lead to real change. Two months later, we’ve seen a raft of women speaking out about the harassment and worse they’ve been subjected to in the corridors of Westminster and in and around party politics. The scandal has claimed two high-profile political scalps.

But women don’t want political scalps. We want, and deserve, the cultural change that means men in senior positions don’t feel able to sexually harass others. The fact that we are talking about the police and porn in the wake of Green’s departure – and not Maltby’s disgusting treatment in the press – shows how far there is to go. This isn’t just a Hollywood problem, or a Westminster problem. It’s an everyday problem: in a TUC survey, more than half of women said they have experienced sexual harassment at work, rising to nearly two-thirds of women between 18 and 24.

Maltby’s treatment was part of the inevitable backlash against women speaking out. Another aspect of that is the undue emphasis the media have given to police failures to disclose evidence in rape cases, in a way that fits the myth of women falsely accusing men to bring them down for their own ends – despite the fact police disclosure is a problem across all types of serious cases. There will be more to come.

Some have raised a cautionary note about due process. They are right to: due process is critical. But women speaking out cannot be held accountable for the sometimes tragic consequences when due process is not followed, or when men who have been accused, and may have mental health problems, aren’t given the support they need. And we shouldn’t forget there is still a shocking lack of support for women who come forwards to report rape and assault.

The very reason we are where we are is because due process hasn’t worked for women. Not in our legal system, where there remain huge problems in the way rape is investigated and prosecuted, and not in many workplaces, where women still suffer the consequences of making a complaint. It shouldn’t have to come to sharing stories on social media, but that’s what women have been driven to, as one of the only options left. And so the fight for due process must continue.

Sonia Sodha is chief leader writer for the Observer and a Guardian columnist