Live on air, a Tory minister defends the indefensible

Nadhim Zahawi
Fréa Lockley

Police are currently investigating rape allegations against a Tory MP. Calls are rising for the MP to lose the whip and face suspension while the investigation takes place. But on 3 August, business minister Nadhim Zahawi defended the lack of suspension. Meanwhile, evidence suggests that senior Tories knew of the allegations in April but took no action. And it also comes at a time when rape prosecutions and convictions are at an all-time low, yet cases continue to rise.

“Utterly abhorrent”

On Sky News, the anchor asked:

Last week we heard from the Director of Public Prosecutions that just 1.4% of rape cases ended with a successful prosecution. Why has the MP who has been accused of rape not been suspended, why has the whip not been withdrawn?

Zahawi refused to answer; he simply repeated the fact that the case is under investigation. Even when pushed further and reminded that, in “any other place in the public sector”, suspension is the norm when such serious allegations exist:

a doctor, if he’d been accused of rape, would not be back on the wards. A teacher would not be back in the classroom. A policeman would not be back on the beat. So why is a parliamentarian still a member of the party?

Again, Zahawi wouldn’t answer this direct question. When pushed further, he dodged answering a third time.

Zahawi gave a similar interview on BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme.

Perhaps Zahawi’s response should come as no surprise. In 2018, he attended an elite male-only charity event called the Presidents Club. An undercover reporter revealed that female hostesses at the event “were groped, sexually harassed and propositioned”.

“It’s insulting and shows they never cared”

The alleged survivor told the Times that she first raised the allegations with Conservative chief whip Mark Spencer in April. He reportedly took no action, and didn’t encourage her to go to the police. Dorset Eye, meanwhile reported that Jacob Rees-Mogg also knew about the allegations. According to the Times, the survivor is “devastated” and:

criticised the party’s failure to take action despite being aware of the allegations. [Saying] “It’s insulting and shows they never cared”

Allegedly, Spencer didn’t “believe that a sexual assault was reported to him… but he acknowledges that she reported abusive behaviour and threats”.

However, this led to “serious questions” about senior Tories’ failure to act:

But this case shines light on the way that this government consistently fails to support women:

Another serious issue is the utter disregard for any women still working with the MP under investigation:

“Utterly shameful”

On 30 July, news emerged that in 2019-20 police recorded 55,130 rapes in England and Wales. But this only led to 2,102 prosecutions and 1,439 convictions. This is a lower level of successful action in rape cases “than in any other year where data exists”. According to the Guardian, Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, said this “new low in CPS figures meant at least 1,000 fewer rapists were being prosecuted than two years ago, a fact that was ‘utterly shameful’.”

Meanwhile, director of the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition Sarah Green stressed that these figures:

show starkly that we are right to say rape has been effectively decriminalised. What else can you call a 1 in 70 chance of prosecution?

Women’s Aid also challenged these “devastating statistics” and called for the government to deliver “a fully-funded, comprehensive new strategy to prevent violence against women and protect survivors”.

Zahawi’s disgusting refusal to answer serious questions about Tory inaction in this case shows the huge challenges that survivors still face in securing justice.

Featured image via Flickr – Policy Exchange

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  • Show Comments
    1. A prosecution rate of 3.8% and a conviction rate of 2.6%. Does this suggest ‘Institutionalised Rape’ in UK? Certainly there appears to be a serial offender among Tory MP’s. Perhaps the ex-public schoolboys in the Judiciary fear becoming victims in their own minds if they were unable to find legitimate reasons for a non-consensual sex act imposed on the vulnerable? ‘Take it like a man. Even if your a boy. Stiff upper lip and all that, what.’

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