Chris Pincher raises chilling questions about Tories’ ability to tackle sexual harassment

Today, I spent a lot of time thinking about a man named Alex Story. A former Olympic rower, he once looked like a rising star in the Tory Party. Then in November 2017, Story gave an account of an encounter he’d had with Tory MP Chris Pincher when he was 26 years old.

Any echos come to mind? – Owl

Kuba.Shand-Baptiste (Extract)

Story alleged that after an afternoon of political canvassing – a common way MPs spend time with young activists – Pincher had suggested the two grab dinner. Pincher then directed a taxi to take them both to his home, instead of – as Story had expected – a restaurant. “The deceit employed to get me to his flat went beyond misreading the signs”, Story later claimed.

Pincher allegedly poured him a whisky, upon which Story “suddenly felt a bit woozy”, only to find Pincher untucking the back of his shirt, massaging his neck, and whispering: “You’ll go far in the Conservative Party.” Despite Story’s refusals, Pincher then changed into a bathrobe “like a poundshop Harvey Weinstein”, before Story escaped.

When he went public with this claim in 2017, Pincher insisted that “I do not recognise either the events or the interpretation placed on them.” He continues to deny them. He resigned as Assistant Whip and later referred himself to the Conservative Party’s own complaints procedure and to the police, neither of which found enough evidence to pursue the case. The Conservative Party later found that he had not broken their Code of Conduct.

Pincher rose back up the party, later becoming Deputy Chief Whip as a reward for loyalty to Boris Johnson. Alex Story left politics. His career had already been damaged when he was mysteriously blocked from an expected nomination for a European Parliament seat in 2016; friends allege this was because he’d already complained about Pincher.

Naturally, Pincher continues to deny this old story. But in the 24 hours since he was witnessed drunkenly groping two different men in the Conservative-affiliated Carlton Club, numerous MPs and Tory staffers have spoken to journalists (including me) about rumours that have circulated about Pincher’s pattern of behaviour. When asked directly, the Prime Minister’s spokesman could not deny that the PM was aware of “unsubstantiated” allegations about this behaviour before appointing him Deputy Chief Whip – he simply denied knowing of specific allegations. Against that background, the rest of us can make up our own minds about whether Story was telling the truth.

What breaks my own heart is that he went public on 4 November 2017, just as the #MeToo movement was spreading across the world. Inspired by the women who spoke out against Harvey Weinstein, a number of young women and men working in politics came forward to tell our own stories about sexual harassment in Westminster – myself included.

In that giddy week, with the sheer number of us speaking out, it seemed Westminster might finally face up to the endemic problem of sexual predation amongst its power brokers. The problem was widespread across all parties, but the Tories had a particular problem because they had been in power for a long time, where executive power breeds entitlement and enables cover-ups. That was nearly five years ago…..