Women at the centre of the sexual harassment scandal in Westminster have raised concerns that political parties will not do enough to rid Parliament of abuse.
Tory activist Kate Maltby, who accused former Cabinet minister Damian Green of inappropriate behaviour, Ava Etemadzadeh, a Labour supporter who made allegations against MP Kelvin Hopkins, and former special adviser Bridget Harris, one of Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard’s accusers, warned that efforts to tackle endemic abuse and harassment were unlikely to succeed.
Leaked plans to bolster the complaints procedures and toughen up discipline were met with disappointment by campaigners, who said the proposals were “too vague” and left too much power with the party whips.
A cross-party working group has been looking into the issue after claims of sexual harassment rocked Westminster, leading to the suspensions of a string of MPs.
Ms Maltby’s complaint that Mr Green had made inappropriate advance towards her triggered a Whitehall probe, which eventually resulted in his resignation as First Secretary of State, where he was effectively Theresa May’s deputy.
He denied making sexual advances towards her but the Cabinet Office inquiry found her to be a “plausible” witness, although it could not reach firm conclusions.
“I don’t have faith that the working group will be given the power or the support to change anything,” Ms Maltby told The Guardian.
Several other women contacted her for advice after her case hit the headlines, but Ms Maltby said she felt powerless to help.
She said: “What’s really scary and something I feel guilty about is that I don’t have an answer for them. I’m just a woman who made a complaint.”
Ms Maltby said she had lost faith in the Prime Minister “as a woman and a leader”, adding: “I need a lot more evidence that she is going to support the people in the party who do want to make a change.”
Her concerns were echoed by Labour activist Ms Etemadzadeh, who accused the Luton North MP of sexual harassment and sending inappropriate text messages.
Labour MP Kerry McCarthy also made a complaint about the conduct of the MP, who is currently under investigation by the party.
Ms Etemadzadeh said: “I felt powerless and isolated when I saw nothing was done initially, and now I feel the party is trying to whitewash the case and only acting because it doesn’t want to get a bad reputation.”
She described Labour’s procedures as “opaque” and claimed she was kept up to date on her case by the media, rather than by the party.
She added: “I don’t really trust political parties to deal with these cases.”
Ms Harris, a former aide to Nick Clegg, was among several women to accuse the peer Lord Rennard of inappropriate behaviour in 2013. He denied any wrongdoing.
She said: “After the very public case we went through in 2013 when we put the Lib Dems through the wringer and they were exposed as having no policies, you would have thought the other parties would have been on red alert for this.
“But there was no learning from it.”
Labour has appointed independent organisation Rape Crisis to support people affected by sexual harassment. A spokesman said disciplinary action would be “taken in line with the party’s rule book and procedures”.
A Conservative Party spokesman said the party had introduced a new code of conduct and any complaints would investigated in confidence.
A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said complaints were taken “very seriously” and efforts had been made in recent years to improve complaint procedures.