Liz Truss must act now to clean up Tory record of misconduct in Westminster

<span>Photograph: DIGITEYES/Alamy</span>
Photograph: DIGITEYES/Alamy

Boris Johnson was criticised for many things, but he was often able to deflect them – making grave mistakes seem small.

When it came to his demise, it was not the multiple backlashes to policies or even the denials of Covid rule-breaking that brought him down, but his turning a blind eye to misconduct in Westminster.

The mass of ministerial resignations was triggered when it emerged No 10 had issued untrue statements, claiming Johnson had not been aware of allegations of inappropriate behaviour by the then-deputy chief whip, Chris Pincher, when he gave him the job.

Despite this being the tipping point that ended his premiership, there was remarkably little discussion during the ensuing Tory leadership contest about the murky underside of politics.

Though Rishi Sunak stressed his own personal propriety, little was said about why the Conservatives had experienced such a recent torrent of allegations about their MPs’ conduct, from bullying to sexually inappropriate behaviour.

Last year, Delyn MP Rob Roberts was found to have made “significant” repeated unwanted sexual advances towards a former member of staff and inappropriate comments of a sexual nature.

Somerton and Frome MP David Warburton had the whip suspended in April 2022 after a series of allegations emerged concerning sexual harassment and cocaine use. Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish admitted the same month to watching pornography in the Commons. The Pincher allegations were simply another addition to an unnervingly long list.

Parliament has been through this before. The “pestminster” scandal that exploded in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement prompted many warm words and the positive step of setting up a new complaints and grievance procedure to investigate allegations of against MPs.

But those who have been subject to inappropriate behaviour or comments in Westminster know the process can be tortuously long, and fear that reporting their bosses or colleagues could still spell the end of their own political careers.

Under Johnson, it was said that the culture is set at the top. If Liz Truss wants to clean up her party, she should recognise the power and influence she has – and ensure this issue is not swept under the carpet again.

There are many who have made sound suggestions for how to tackle the pestminster problem – if she wants to draw a line under the latest allegations, she should listen and act.