A TRULY handsome man is as rare as a flawless emerald. The man trying to kiss me was not a gem. His hair formed a greasy cap on a scalp scarred with pimples.
His hyena breath was rank with cheap champagne and his eyes were fish-belly pale and bulging.
He had me pinned against a lift door in Buenos Aires. As he pushed up against me, I remember thinking, with distaste, that his tie was made of polyester. He was a married Tory MP in his 50s and I was 23.
Seeking and finding a surprising bugle of courage in my blood, I kicked him in the groin (he whimpered like a hog) and sought the safety of my room.
Hardly a laser light of sensitivity, his attempts to seduce me continued, however. It was nearly midnight and he began to ring my phone incessantly, saying that if I didn’t let him in he would batter down the door.
He was as good as his word, or tried to be. He must have banged till his fists were raw as blank terror and rage vied for my emotions. Eventually, the noises ceased.
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This unsavoury incident occurred in the early 1990s, when I was a young journalist. The past is supposed to be another country. They do things differently there. Yet, to me, it seems more like Groundhog Day.
This week a Tory MP was arrested on suspicion of rape, and in the past year Labour MPs have also been accused of impropriety, though it seems to be more of a Tory province. (Former Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke was released from prison in September after serving half of a two-year prison sentence for sexual assault.)
In total, 53 MPs and three Cabinet ministers are being investigated for sexual misconduct.
The Tory who assaulted me was not alone in his endeavours.
If I had had as many pricks sticking out of me as I had propositioning me, I would have looked like a porcupine.
My father, Woodrow Wyatt, a former MP, had recently been elevated to the House of Lords. In those days, I came into contact with politicians frequently.
While their behaviour generally stopped short of assault, it was occasionally unconventional. Often I was propositioned by married men old enough to be my father.
A threesome in Paris was suggested by one Conservative minister. The Ritz hotel was mentioned, but even The Ritz failed to make the idea more appealing.
Then there was the Tory peer who, after meeting me at my parents’ house where I was then residing, telephoned my father to ask me for a date. A picture of mildness and forbearance, my father pointed out that the peer was married.
I must explain that the 1990s had a sort of desperate sexual avarice to it that sometimes made London seem like a glittering bordello.
Girls came and went. No one asked many questions and there was an unspoken rule with regard to complaint or redress. Good-natured tolerance was favoured over protest or scenes.
Young women fell into two categories; good sports or those who refused to play the game. The latter went on blacklists.
Despite falling into the “good egg” category, I couldn’t shake the memory of my experience in Argentina, and tearful insomnia became my bedfellow.
On my return to London I spoke to the organiser of the trip, seeking his protection and his sympathy.
A decent man with a jolly smile, he listened to my story, his bushy eyebrows rising and falling like the wings of an eagle.
Yet having listened, he failed to comprehend my distress. It was as if I was speaking to him in an arcane and long-forgotten language.
I recall feeling a stab of pity for the old man, as he dismissed it all as “high jinks”. “A bit of fun: Too much champagne.” “A misunderstanding.”
I forbore to point out that when a man has a girl pinned against a wall, and she is kicking him between his legs, there is little room for misunderstanding.
Recognising defeat, I let it drop. As a result, doors were opened. It was a bit like Hollywood, only nobody looked like Cary Grant. Yet somehow the see-saw had upended and a transfer of power had occurred.
My eyes glazed and gilded elsewhere.
For being “a good sport”, I was told that if I had political ambitions and wanted to become a Conservative MP, the process would be made easy.
The Tory party needed women like me. After considering this for some months, I decided I didn’t need the Tory party.
It would be wrong, however, to say these men were moral reprobates. It was another era. The era of a man having the right to try, even if he did attempt to break down your door in the process.
I can say with surety there were other young women like me who balked from penetrating this ugly imposture.
Tory party conferences consisted of running the gauntlet of groping, sweaty hands. Sometimes there was something comic to it all. Tory wives do not resemble Sienna Miller in Netflix’s Anatomy Of A Scandal, coincidentally about an MP accused of rape.
They resemble Lotte Lenya on an off day, or a starched hockey captain with large feet.
Labour women are generally worse. They look like leaders of Soviet tank corps.
In truth, Westminster is starved of beauty. If a passably attractive young woman enters its orbit, MPs behave as if the said woman had the qualities of Ava Gardner, Cleopatra and Mata Hari combined. But the real problem is a cultural one.
In their hermetically sealed world, many MPs fail to grasp that what once was acceptable is anathema in the 21st century.
Harvey Weinstein, #MeToo and the recalibration of sexual relationships between adults seems to have passed them by; while the notion that the public and the media hold MPs to higher standards of behaviour leaves many as inert as a deaf person at a concerto.
This is not to say that I hold with wokeness, founded as it is on a hatred of people who seem to be having a better time.
There is only one honest impulse at the bottom of these movements and that is to punish the individual with a superior capacity for happiness and to bring them down a peg or two, preferably in public.
Having said this, there are caveats. I cannot laugh when I hear of young women, or young men, who work as MPs researchers being subject to harassment — be it sexual or otherwise.
As my memory gropes back to my own youth, I was fortunate. My father was prominent and well connected, a turn of the cards dealt by the kindly fates which saved me from worse indignities than the ones I have described, and out of situations that might have led to the horror of actual rape.
My would-be seducer of Argentina was doubtless brought up sharply by the thought of assaulting a peer’s daughter, as the morning after the event he apologised to me.
From then on, he sought his female quarry elsewhere. But this only begs the question of what might have occurred had I been a person with no connections and of even less consequence.
Consider the average young woman who becomes an MP’s researcher. Green from university, their ages generally range from 21 to 27.
They are not chosen by the House of Commons, but by individual MPs, who also determine their miserly salaries and have the sole power to fire them.
Immediately, an unequal and unethical environment is created. Recently, one 23-year-old female researcher told me her married employer was “asking me out all the time, and I’m scared to refuse in case he doesn’t give me a raise or fires me”.
Unique in British offices, MPs control those who work for them like Medieval barons controlled their indentured servants.
Thus Westminster maintains a casting couch mentality, albeit unconsciously. Nor does it help that MPs take frequent alcoholidays in the Commons’ numerous bars, often in the company of those whom they should be protecting.
Sometimes, I feel guilt myself. In the bleak reaches of the early hours I have worried that my own silence has made me complicit; that women like me, who had the ability to act but failed to do so, were enablers in return for a certain largesse and a quiet life.
Perhaps I am too hard on myself. But, as Scarlett O’Hara says in Gone With The Wind, it is no longer to be borne. Caliban must face himself in the looking glass and Westminster needs to clean its house.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the House of Commons, comprehends this with some sagacity and is considering safeguards to protect the young people who work there. Opportunity makes the thief, according to the saying.
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For too long, many MPs have believed themselves to be god-like, superior beings. It’s time to call Gotterdammerung, gentlemen.
Time for the twilight of the gods.