How Not To Get Fired: Lessons From Conservative MPs
The Debrief: We asked a careers expert whether she thinks of the proven - and alleged - things Conservative MPs have been up to would get the average person the sack...
International Development Secretary Priti Patel has handed in her resignation to Theresa May after she had several meetings with several high-ranking Israeli officials while on holiday, and then back in the UK, without informing Number 10. Trust Priti to work hard, after all, soon after her election to office as the MP for Witham in Essex, she was part of a team of Conservative MPs - including Dominic Raab, Kwasi Kwarteng, Liz Truss and Chris Skidmore - who said that ‘Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world’.
Though presenteeism - staying switched on for work all the bloody time, turning up when you’re ill, checking emails late at night - is hardly eschewed by Parliamentarians, who regularly have to sit in on late night debates and votes, Patel crossed a line. She admitted it in her resignation letter, which Theresa May promptly agreed with: ‘my actions fell below the high standards of transparency and openness that I have promoted and advocated.’
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This resignation comes almost a week to the second that Sir Michael Fallon resigned from his role as Defence Secretary. And we couldn’t help but wonder - would the things that Conservative MPs have - or have allegedly - been up to over the past few weeks get you sacked, or forced to resign if you were working outside of Westminster? Does one rule apply to MPs and not the rest of us? Are they allowed to get away with far more than we are, or are they under far more scrutiny than us normals? We asked careers expert and executive coach Zena Everett what she thought.
Watching porn at work
A former police officer has claimed that during an investigation in 2008, he found porn on the computer of Damian Green, First Secretary of State. He denies this, saying it’s a ‘political smear’, but it this, and allegations he was inappropriate with a much younger Conservative activist, are being investigated by a Cabinet Office inquiry.
But let’s say your boss was watching porn at work. Would he get in trouble? Zena says: ‘Watching pornography which is undoubtedly demeaning to women is absolutely not right. It puts people in a frame of mind that is completely inappropriate in a work situation. You’re not alone in the office there’ll be somebody who will find that it’s slightly threatening, and it’s not part of your job. Go home and watch porn!’
Trying to kiss someone much younger, who you work with
Michael Fallon was Defence Secretary until he resigned following allegations that he had tried to kiss a much younger female journalist while in Parliament, and made lewd comments to fellow cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom. Fallon’s resignation letter read that he had ‘fallen below the high standards we require of our Armed Forces’, making it hypocritical for him to lead the military. But out in the ‘real’ world, would making a pass at a junior who you occasionally work with get you the sack?
Zena says: ‘Flirting at work is absolutely fine. But here, there’s a power difference, it’s not two equals. You would never think of this older man in a sexual way, so you put yourself in a situation where you trust them, they’re almost a parental figure. Then they’ve made an approach, thinking this woman is coming onto them. It’s not an equal power it’s fools taking advantage of their situation or it’s more sinister, and either way, they’re in the wrong role.’
Sexting someone who applied to work for you
Stephen Crabb, an MP who previously stepped down as Work and Pensions Secretary after extra-marital sexting, is being investigated by the Conservative party after he admitted sending ‘outrageous’ texts to a then-19-year-old who had applied for a job in his office when he was Welsh Secretary in 2013. Let’s say a real-world Stephen Crabb, called, perhaps, Stephen Drabb, texted ‘outrageous’ things to a young woman who’d applied to work with him. Would he be able to keep his own role?
Zena says: ‘What part of that is right? If she’s a young girl coming for a role…just no it’s not the appropriate context.’
Landing someone an extended prison stay
Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary. This means he’s meant to play well with his overseas cohort and to defend the best interests of Britons overseas. Shock, then, but perhaps not surprising, when his loquacious tongue got a British woman into more trouble than she was already in.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been in prison in Tehran since April 2016, after travelling with her infant daughter to visit her parents. The Iranian government accused the charity worker of attempting to topple the government and she’s 18 months into a five-year jail sentence. Zaghari-Ratcliffe hasn’t seen her husband Mark in 18 months and their daughter is living with her parents. It’s about to get worse, though.
When speaking, he hoped, in her defence, Johnson remarked that all Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran was ‘simply teaching journalism’. Within three days, Zaghari-Ratcliffe was summoned back to court and Johnson’s comment was used as evidence to confirm Iran’s suspicions of her. She now faces 16 years in jail.
Johnson has apologised, saying 'Of course I am sorry if any words of mine have been so taken out of context…as to cause any kind of anxiety'. And his defenders have been quick to point out Iran are the real bad guys here. But surely Boris knows how tricky the country can be, and how powerful his words are?
There’s nothing to compare it to, really. But let’s say you work in a role where you’re responsible for someone else, and that person is in trouble, and you get them into more trouble. What then?
Zena says: ’Liam Fox put up a very good defence saying Boris has been quoted out of context. For me, though, he hasn’t got enough detail. He’s this caricature of blustering Boris and you wouldn’t get away with that in other sector. Maybe on The Apprentice where you can bluster, but he’s the Foreign Secretary. There comes a stage where you just can’t bullshit. It wasn’t funny when you put the wrong numbers on the side of a bus and it’s not funny now.
The conclusion? Zena explains: ‘All of these MPs have broken trust. Priti has broken the rules so we don’t trust her, the other guys have allegedly misused the trust that people put in them because of their senior roles and Boris seems to get away with it.
'This is only what we’re seeing, too. Just imagine the day to day discrimination elsewhere that we’re not seeing, and the subconscious stuff the words that people use around women in their appraisals, it's things like ‘you’re pushy’ - would they say that to a man? No, they wouldn’t.’
It’s easy to say we hold MPs to higher standards, that we put them under a microscope to magnify their tiniest issues and expect them to be superhuman and show no weakness. But though nobody’s perfect, it perhaps wouldn’t be asking too much of an MP - or anyone, in any industry - to not harass people they work with. Plenty of people, after all, go about their daily lives not harassing their colleagues. And if, like Priti and Boris, they are required to do adhere to specific rules because of their role, then maybe they should? And perhaps, they should be sacked for breaking them...?
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