Sexual harassment takes toll on UK politics

British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has announced his resignation as a consequence of the debate over sexual harassment and abuse. Other members of government and Tory MPs are also suspected of sexual harassment. What does this mean for Prime Minister May's government?

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Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

A major blow for the prime minister

The resignation of British defence secretary Michael Fallon and concerns that he is not the only politician guilty of sexual abuse are the last thing Prime Minister Theresa May needs now, Hospodářské noviny comments:

“The secretary's departure leaves Theresa May with a massive problem. More than that: rumours are circulating in Westminster that Fallon's case may not be a one-off and that several dozen MPs as well as other ministers may also be facing such embarrassing revelations. And the second reason for May's headaches: Fallon was one of the pillars of her cabinet. Several times he appeared before journalists and calmed tensions when scandals were breaking. Now he's gone, and with him she loses an important anchor of stability among the advocates of the various versions of Brexit.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

May suffering because of MeToo

Fallon's resignation prompted by the MeToo movement comes at a particularly inopportune moment for British Prime Minister Theresa May, De Volkskrant believes:

“The British government is still divided over Brexit, and Fallon - one of the most experienced ministers in the cabinet - will be sorely missed. ... It's not inconceivable that the May government will suffer a similar fate to 'House of Cards'. The production of the series was stopped due to Kevin Spacey's sex affairs. ... And in the meantime Jeremy Corbyn is getting ready to take over.”

The Evening Standard (GB) /

Sexism debate will improve society

The debate about sexism and sexual harassment now raging in many places will ultimately benefit women, The Evening Standard believes:

“The storm that began in Hollywood, and is now sweeping through institutions here from Parliament to the BBC, will inevitably feel like a witch-hunt to many caught on the wrong end of it. No one can feel entirely comfortable with mob rule by social media. But if the end result is a cultural change where women are not just better protected but positively empowered in workplaces across the country, then much good will come from it.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Presumption of innocence must still apply

Society must avoid rash judgements at all costs also in cases involving sexual harassment, historian Maxime Tandonnet writes in Le Figaro:

“The presumption of innocence is a timeworn principle but it still lies at the foundation of our democracy and human rights. Is it enough for someone to be suspected or accused for him to become the ideal culprit and pay with his honour or his career on the basis of nothing more than an accusation? ... In our democracies the police are tasked with investigating and the judiciary with establishing the facts, assessing them, and punishing offences. No one should resort to vigilante justice: that is one of the basic principles of our democracies. Sullying the honour of a man or a woman on the basis of nothing more than an accusation makes a mockery of this principle.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Don't treat all men like suspects

Depicting all men as offenders won't help the cause of women, lawyer Katharina Braun observes in Der Standard:

“At this rate normal communication between the sexes will soon become impossible. And I wouldn't be surprised if we ended up in the kind of circumstances we frown upon in other countries, namely stringent segregation of the sexes, separate times for taking meals, women-only swimming pools and hotels with segregated facilities. In the US, men are afraid of getting into elevators with a woman on their own and doors are left open when conversations take place between a man and a woman. ... For the sake of humanism we women and men should collaborate to ensure that discrimination and violence have no place in our society. Whether it's against women or men.”

The Times (GB) /

Narcissistic politicians prone to misconduct

Too many MPs don't feel obliged to respect basic social rules, columnist Rachel Sylvester complains in The Times:

“Some of the rumours may be unfounded or driven by a desire for revenge. Perhaps a few women are overreacting to an innocent compliment or flirt. Most MPs are more interested in casework than canoodling, but there is a genuine cultural problem at Westminster where the hierarchy of the party system mixes dangerously with late-night sessions and cheap bars. Often politicians are compulsive risk-takers, who merge narcissism with neediness. Too many of them think they are above the rules and, of course, they are not.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Call each individual to account

The parties must crack down harder on transgressors within their own ranks, the Daily Telegraph comments:

“There is a risk that the current wave of sexual harassment charges becomes regarded as a cultural problem in politics that's too big to be blamed on individual MPs, with collective responsibility effectively letting some off the hook. That happened towards the end of the expenses scandal: some MPs resigned, some even went to prison, but many stayed put and were re-elected in 2010. ... As a general principle, it's up to the voters to decide whether or not they want to keep an MP accused of misbehaviour, but that doesn't mean all the parties cannot operate a tighter ship when it comes to those who take their whip.”