The Greens are right to call for consent lessons for MPs

Many in Westminster don't understand the power dynamics at play between male MPs, senior political party figures and other staff like assistants and researchers.

The Green Party has called for MPs to be given consent lessons, as allegations of sexual harassment and assault threaten to engulf Westminster. 

You’d think it would be difficult for anyone to criticise this proposal, given the apparent prevalence of sexual harassment, assault and rape in both major political parties.

Earlier this week, a list of allegations against 36 Tory politicians was leaked to journalists and later shared in full on social media. The list has prompted other women to come forward, alleging they were harassed or assaulted by politicians or senior party figures.

Yesterday, Michael Fallon quit as defence secretary saying his behaviour had “fallen short” of the standards expected, after it emerged that he made unwanted advances towards journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer fifteen years ago.

But when Green Party co-leader Caroline Lucas went on Talk Radio today to debate the idea of ongoing and compulsory lessons for politicians, covering consent, appropriate language and professional boundaries, her plan was attacked by Hartley-Brewer.

The journalist — who has said she was not remotely distressed by Fallon’s behaviour — said of the Green’s proposal:

“I find that frankly almost as offensive as asking university students to be taught not to rape.

“We’ve got a few people who harass women and then we’re going to accuse effectively all men of it.”

Hartley-Brewer seems to have missed all but the most sensationalist headlines from the debate over ‘I Heart Consent’ training in universities, which has raged sporadically over recent years as the NUS-run lessons have been rolled out in more and more institutions around the country.

Far from accusing all men of being rapists, consent training aims to clarify what consent means and tackle pervasive myths that contribute to rape culture, which is defined as an environment in which prevailing social attitudes normalise or trivialise sexual assault.

According to Green Party deputy leader Amelia Womack there is little understanding in Westminster of the power dynamics at play between male MPs, senior political party figures and other staff like assistants and researchers. Teaching men what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour is therefore imperative.

Womack said:

“As the number of sexual harassment and assault allegations grows, it becomes more and more apparent that many have no idea what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace.

“Westminster is far from unique in its failure to tackle harassment, and these measures will not protect women in other workplaces, but it is a step in the right direction.”

The Green party also want to Introduce consent lessons as part of compulsory PSHE in schools, which they say would make a wider impact and help keep the next generation safe from harassment.

But for the time being, Westminster should be leading the way, Womack said, by introducing “mandatory training to prevent sexual harassment and assault in the first place, alongside robust reporting procedures where perpetrators will be held to account when it does occur.”

Charlotte England is a freelance journalist and writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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2 Responses to “The Greens are right to call for consent lessons for MPs”

  1. Misha Carder

    Good idea. MPs are supposed to practice exemplary behaviour. But what about all the other large corporations -where abusing power is prevalent without checks from journalist? Maybe they don’t have subsided bars and restaurants. The drink obviously lowers MP’s inhibition threshold, and encourages nostalgic pub-talk about Agincourt and the days when we Ruled the Waves. Also: subsiding catering gets them even more out of touch with the everyday reality of the cost of living for basics. I would suggest a regular spot check to test MPs knowledge on how much food and rent actually cost. It would improve the lives of the 95% – who don’t have capital and assets earning them high interest rates. How can those with a sense of entitlement, who have nannies and stay-at-home partners who are therefore unaware of life outside the Westminster Bubble; possibly represent the majority of their constituents?

  2. Chester Draws

    Why not give MPs compulsory economics lectures too? After all that has more long-term effect on our lives than any personal issues. I’m much more worried about MPs who think communism has some useful ideas on organising an economy than I am about how lecherous they are.

    The reality is that the MPs aren’t doing it because they are ignorant. Lessons won’t solve the problem. It will, however, give the Greens some more people to scold.

    Can we also please stop making schools indoctrination factories for the little, and let teachers teach their subjects as the main priority. The Soviets had all sorts of lessons on social issues in their schooling system and people ignored them — because societal pressures are important and what teachers say isn’t.

    The same Greens who think everyone needs consent lessons, because we are little babies who can’t think for ourselves without their beneficial guidance, are also trying to press for lowering the voting age to 16. Because apparently such children are simultaneously able to make mature decisions about voting.

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