Boris Johnson has dropped the investigation into Mark Field, the Conservative MP who was filmed violently grabbing a female protester. It’s a telling indicator of where his priorities lie, writes Stylist’s contributing women’s editor Moya Crockett.
Well, that didn’t take long. Less than a week after moving into Downing Street, Boris Johnson has dropped the inquiry into the conduct of Conservative MP Mark Field. Lest we forget, Field is the man who, at a glamorous political dinner in late June, grabbed an unarmed female protester by the throat, slammed her against a pillar and hauled her furiously from the room by the scruff of her neck. Footage of the incident went viral, and Field was swiftly criticised by politicians on the left and right. But apparently, our new prime minister sees no reason to hold him to account.
In a statement explaining the decision to drop the Whitehall investigation into Field’s behaviour, a No 10 spokesman said that Johnson considers the issue to have been “a matter for the previous PM”. In other words, Field’s conduct has absolutely nothing to do with our current prime minister – despite the fact that the MP still represents the party Johnson leads. Case closed. Move on. Get over it.
To be fair to Johnson, he did sack Field from his role as Foreign Office minister almost immediately after becoming prime minister. But it’s decidedly unclear as to whether that move was influenced in any way by the MP’s behaviour towards protester Janet Barker. If it was, Johnson has spectacularly failed to say so.
There are other obvious and far more self-interested explanations for his desire to relegate Field to the backbenches. Field campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum, and was an outspoken supporter of Johnson’s rival Jeremy Hunt during the recent Tory leadership race. He has also argued passionately against leaving the EU without a deal – even saying in March that he would rather cancel Brexit entirely than see the UK crash out with no proper withdrawal agreement. In the Johnson era, with its cabinet packed with hardline Brexiteers and grand pronouncements about the opportunities of no deal, such sacrilege is unlikely to be tolerated.
Johnson may well believe that it’s not his responsibility to oversee an inquiry into an MP who he didn’t appoint, and who he has already removed from government. He may genuinely view the investigation into Field’s conduct as a waste of time, given that Barker has indicated that she’s not interested in pressing police charges. He may also be concerned that if the inquiry continued, it could eventually result in Field being forced to step down as an MP – an outcome that could reduce his wafer-thin majority in the Commons.
But this isn’t just about the dry mechanics of government, the length of Johnson’s to-do list, or the slightness of his majority. It’s also about symbolism and optics – two things that our new PM, with his armour of affectations and penchant for grand gestures when there’s a camera nearby, has always seemed to understand instinctively.
And deliberately or not, Johnson is sending a clear and worrying message about his priorities as PM by dropping the inquiry into Field’s conduct. He is signalling that he doesn’t really care about holding men to account when they behave aggressively, violently or threateningly towards women, and would rather dismiss such incidents as someone else’s problem. Given that his government is now responsible for implementing Theresa May’s landmark domestic abuse bill, this is deeply concerning.
The Women’s Equality Party is currently running a recall petition in Field’s constituency to give his constituents a chance to say that they no longer want him to represent them. Tabitha Morton, spokesperson for the WEP, tells Stylist that “Johnson’s excuse for dropping the investigation into Mark Field demonstrates his complete disregard for women, instead protecting his own position”.
“If Field faced any consequences for his actions, Johnson would risk reducing his already fragile majority in parliament and his chances of pushing through a devastating hard Brexit,” Morton continues. “Once again, women’s rights play second fiddle to political expediency.”
Demands for proper investigations into the bad behaviour of male politicians towards women are often dismissed as partisan smears. (The most glaring example of this can be found in the US, where Donald Trump’s supporters routinely dismiss the many accusations of rape, sexual assault and harassment against him as part of a politically motivated ‘witch hunt’.) But this shouldn’t be a matter of party politics. If a powerful person behaves badly, we should want to hold them accountable, regardless of whether their beliefs align with our own or how it might affect our own political interests.
Johnson, the self-proclaimed feminist, should have wanted Field to face a full and fair inquiry. But instead, his message to women is clear: on this one, you’re on your own.
Images: Getty Images