Tory staffers have come under pressure not to sign a letter calling for more stringent checks on those wishing to become an MP in light of the ongoing “pestminster” scandal, Sky News can reveal.
The letter, organised by Angus McVean and Henry Dixon-Clegg, is addressed to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden and Speaker of the House of Commons Sir Lindsay Hoyle and calls for changes to the ways in which parliamentary candidates are selected.
Sky News has seen exclusive evidence of staffers being pressured by CCHQ (Conservative Campaign Headquarters) not to sign the letter as it would put a “black mark” against their name.
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Sky News has also seen messages sent from MPs to staff warning them that the chief whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, was aware of who had signed the letter ahead of it being sent to the prime minister.
One message read: “Just wanted to make you aware that the chief whip knows who has signed yesterday’s letter. I’m not sure what that means but I thought you should know – it’s clearly not a private thing.”
This is, however, disputed by the letter’s organisers who say that it is untrue the chief whip had seen the names of those who had signed the letter ahead of publication.
In exchanges seen by Sky News, staffers reveal that CCHQ, having not yet seen the letter, were calling round staffers – in an attempt to find out who was behind it and who had signed it, and they were said to be petrified by the prospect of such a letter.
It is believed more than five staffers did not sign the letter due to pressure from either the whips or CCHQ, and some members of staff were told by CCHQ that it would be better to meet directly with the party to raise such concerns rather than sending a public letter that may attract more media attention.
In the letter, Mr McVean and Mr Dixon-Clegg said “major allegations of illegal behaviour are treated as mere gossip” and that “a culture of gossip and rumour has enabled the toleration and acceptance of abuse for too long”.
The pair go on to say a “culture of indifference and fear” is the root cause of abuse in parliament.
One senior Tory MP told Sky News they had “heard countless stories of MPs bullying their staff” and that “there is a culture where junior staff are treated like rubbish” because of some MPs’ sense of entitlement.
Another Tory MP told Sky News they were amazed more staffers had not signed the letter and that it was “shameful” and “horrendous” they were being pressured not to sign.
Chair of the GMB union branch for MPs’ staff Jenny Symmons told Sky News: “This is a significant step for Conservative staffers to take. This letter shows that challenging the culture in parliament is a cross-party issue and people across the political spectrum are demanding better from our politicians.”
This comes as Westminster has become saturated with stories of sleaze and sexual misconduct affecting not just the Tory party but parties across the political spectrum.
Most recently, a Tory MP has faced allegations of drink-spiking in order to sexually assault their victims, a Conservative MP was recently arrested for rape, another Tory, Imran Ahmad Khan, was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in jail for sexually assaulting a child, and former Conservative MP Neil Parish was found to have watched porn in the chamber of the House of Commons while at work.
These revelations call into question the culture within parliament and whether enough is being done to protect those who work there.
A spokesperson for the chief whip said: “The chief whip has met with the Conservative staffers who have organised the letter and offered to work with them.
“The Whips Office values the work that all parliamentary staffers do and will always work to ensure they are looked after in parliament.”