Breaking News

Boris Johnson dropping the Mark Field investigation leaves a sour taste | Sian Norris | Opinion


When I watched the video of Mark Field’s actions against the Greenpeace protester Janet Barker, I had a visceral reaction. Tears rushed into my eyes when confronted with the rage in his expression, the shock on her face. I wasn’t alone. Many women I spoke to saw the assertion of a brutal kind of male dominance. Some knew all too well the moment when a man aggressively decides that an outspoken woman must be put in her place.

For those of us who know the reality of male violence against women, this looked like a moment when a pervasive culture of male entitlement escaped into the open.

Just over a month after Field manhandled Barker from a black tie dinner, the prime minister has dropped the Whitehall investigation into his behaviour. The decision came after Johnson sacked Field from his role as a Foreign Office minister, saying the investigation was a “matter for the previous PM”.

An investigation into whether an MP should be a minister when he has already lost his ministerial post is arguably redundant. But Johnson’s actions leave a sour taste. This looks like powerful men closing ranks against women – and not for the first time.

After all, isn’t that just what happened on the night of the incident? While women were reacting online with horror, those in the room were reacting with silence at best, cheers at worst. The well-dressed diners closed ranks against the woman from Greenpeace, and took the part of the man with his hands on the back of her neck. We were told that Field was a “hero” for what he did. We were told to be “thankful that it wasn’t worse”. We were told to “calm down and move on”. Moving on is exactly what this government has now done.

The dropping of the investigation feels like the natural conclusion to that silence, those claps, and those praise-filled tweets. It’s hard to avoid an impression of the powerful protecting one another. And it sends a clear message to men: you can behave with aggression towards women, and so long as it’s politically expedient, eventually no one will care.

Because make no mistake – dropping the investigation is highly politically expedient. The new prime minister has come to power with a wafer-thin majority that’s set to go down to one if the Conservatives lose Thursday’s byelection in Brecon and Radnorshire. Although he sacked Field from the Foreign Office, the reason was more Brexit than conduct. Johnson can’t afford to lose the support of any MPs, and dropping an investigation is one way to bolster goodwill.

This isn’t the first time in recent months that women have been sold down the river for political advantage. In December 2018, Theresa May restored the whip to two MPs facing allegations of sexual misconduct in order to get through her vote of no confidence. One of them, Charlie Elphicke, has since been charged with three counts of sexual assault.

For a leader potentially facing an election who has low popularity with female voters – not least for his jokes that voting Tory could make your wife’s breasts bigger, and that women only go to university to get a man – this could have been an opportunity for Johnson to make a positive stand for women and prove himself the feminist he claims to be.

Obviously Field couldn’t lose his ministerial role twice. But a completed investigation would at least have created an opportunity to hold his conduct to account, and sent a clear message that his behaviour had been taken seriously by those in charge.

The whole sorry situation raises serious questions about the efficacy of parliament for dealing with incidents such as these. Field was only ever at risk of losing his place in the Foreign Office, not his job as an MP. While procedure allows Johnson to decide to drop the investigation, and politically it makes sense, for women watching it feels like yet another kick in the teeth.

Because wasn’t it supposed to be different, by now? When women bravely came forward at the end of 2017, shouting #MeToo in the heart of Westminster, weren’t we promised something better? Weren’t we told the government was going to take male violence against women seriously, and put their house in order? Weren’t we supposed to see an end to the boys’ club that protected their own?

Within 24 hours of the Field incident, President Trump was accused of sexually assaulting another woman. The severity of those two incidents is not the same. But they have something in common. They show that when powerful men are accused of violence or aggression, often nothing changes for them.

Sian Norris is a writer and feminist activist


Source link

No comments