In September 2015, a young Conservative political activist named Elliott Johnson took his own life. In a letter found after his death, Johnson made allegations of bullying against the former Conservative parliamentary candidate, Mark Clarke, and others within the party (Clarke strongly denies these allegations). Sadly the culture of politics can be toxic, and many people continue to be harmed by it. One would hope that Johnson’s case would have changed the bullying and harassment across politics, but this pattern of behaviour is enabled, practiced and sometimes encouraged by politicians. Politics has normalised this culture. This has to change if we want people, particularly young people, to have faith in politics and Westminster.
Politics should be setting an example, but it is not. John Bercow is still Speaker of the House of Commons, even after Laura Cox’s damning report on Westminster harassment, and despite repeated calls by the MP Maria Miller and others who have made allegations against him to stand down – Bercow has repeatedly denied these claims.
Too often politicians exploit current affairs as an excuse to not punish outrageous behaviour. Jeremy Corbyn’s self-preservation instincts kicked in during the summer of 2016, leading him to promote ally Kelvin Hopkins to the shadow cabinet despite full knowledge of my complaint against him(Hopkins has denied any inappropriate behaviour). It was a selfish and outrageous act by the Labour leader. Likewise, the chair of the women and equalities select committee, Maria Miller, was absolutely right to state this week that the recommendations of the Cox report should be implemented, and that Bercow must immediately resign – and that he shouldn’t be allowed to just carry on because of Brexit.
The behaviour in politics is grown so far removed from what is acceptable in wider society, it’s no wonder the public is disengaged with it. The stellar work of Andrea Leadsom in the Conservatives and Jess Phillips within Labour has allowed for substantial and important policy changes to occur. However, in order for real progress to take place we need to see a new culture emerge: that means encouraging a new generation of compassionate politicians to get involved and change the rules of politics for the better, and hopefully for ever.
• Ava Etemadzadeh is on the Young Fabians national executive