All I wanted from Damian Green was an apology

written for The Sunday Times24 December 2017

Across the world, 2017 was the year of #MeToo. In America, it started with women speaking out against a man’s abuse of power and led to a national discussion about sexual harassment. In October, I told a story that I hoped would bring that conversation to Westminster. Instead, my story was overtaken by two retired police officers, and talk-show hosts spent two months chatting about porn at work and police hoarding private data.

It ended with the resignation of the de facto deputy prime minister, a resignation that I had never publicly demanded, stemming from behaviour for which he could have simply apologised on day one.

On October 31, I asserted in The Times that Damian Green had made sexual advances while offering me career advice and discussing the possibility of helping me become a Tory candidate. Last week Green accepted that, although he did not recognise the events as I had described them, “he clearly made [me] uncomfortable, and for that I apologise”. The prime minister told him he was right to do so.

If he had issued that same, limited apology back then, he would probably still have his job today. It would have been rational damage limitation for any politician. At least, it would have been for any politician who could be confident no other women would emerge with similar allegations.

No woman wants to be defined for life as the complainant in a sexual harassment case. Shortly after allegations about the film mogul Harvey Weinstein broke, CNN asked me to comment on the #MeToo movement. I wrote about how dangerous it is for a woman to be labelled a whistleblower; that I too had stories to tell but would “rather be known for my insights” on other subjects.

Two months later, if you Google my name, you’ll wade through pages of strangers analysing my relationship with Green before you get anywhere near my writing on another subject. My own voice, cultivated over years as a critic and columnist, has been lost in noise.

I knew this was a risk. I had expressed written concerns about going public. And yet eventually I did. Why? There is no way that I would have spoken out against Damian Green if I had not been 100% certain that his behaviour to me was part of an established pattern.

When I first sensed Green was propositioning me while offering his mentorship, I wondered if it was a one-off. That is a normal reaction: women are trained to doubt ourselves. So I told no one, except my parents, who knew him slightly. But then I began to hear stories about Green’s behaviour towards women he employed and about women left damaged by more involved experiences with him.

When I received a text message a year later, in which Green said he felt “impelled to ask you if you are free for a drink” after seeing me wearing a corset to illustrate an article, I knew he was after the same thing he had been before. So did every woman I consulted who knew him.

I took one more step. As I told the Cabinet Office inquiry last month, I spoke to a trusted friend who is a long-serving aide to Theresa May. I asked him if he recognised Damian Green’s behaviour and whether it was a pattern of behaviour of which the PM was aware.

Green was serving in Theresa May’s cabinet as secretary of state for work and pensions at the time. The aide replied that Green’s behaviour towards women was a known pattern. He told me: “The PM knows.” Eight months later, May promoted Green to first secretary of state.

I am not making a new allegation here. The inquiry has already investigated this claim and reviewed supporting evidence. Sue Gray, the civil servant who led it, fully factored in my evidence for this part of the story before she ruled it was my testimony, not Green’s, which she deemed “plausible”.

I am not naming the aide because I believe he told me the truth. The fact that he will never be able to confirm my account publicly is because of the impossible position in which his job places him. When May was asked about this matter last week, she denied advance knowledge of my claims, but she avoided denying knowledge of a pattern of behaviour by Green, or that one of her aides had been interviewed by the inquiry.

For the past eight weeks I have kept my silence, respecting a commitment to Gray not to reveal my evidence publicly until after she had concluded. Unlike the many “friends of Damian Green” who have popped up to complain about the length of her investigation, I never wished to rush or undermine her inquiry.

Sue Gray and her team have treated me with wisdom and respect, balancing the needs of sensitivity and impartiality. There will be those who seek to punish her for ruling against Damian Green and for asserting my plausibility. All those who value our impartial civil service should ensure this does not happen.

Yet it is essential that people understand why I went public with an allegation that is hardly criminal. I am not a prude who calls for the smelling salts at the first sign of an advance. No MP need fear that I am out to expose every harmless flirtation I have witnessed.

Green’s case is different. In the days before I made my allegation public, I became aware of two young women who were considering making allegations against him. Their positions were more vulnerable, their allegations more serious. I knew that people in Downing Street knew my story was true, and I believed that if I was the first to go public, they would ensure Green apologised and made a commitment to changing his behaviour.

Instead, within a day of my article, the Daily Mail launched an attack on my character and my family that was astonishing in the scale of its viciousness.

Nicola Sturgeon wrote on Twitter: “You know, coverage like this just might have something to do with why women are often reluctant to come forward about sexual harassment.” She was right. As a result, the two other women immediately backed out of accusing Green.

This is not a coincidence. Anonymous “friends of Mr Green” and “senior Tory sources” littered an article by Andrew Pierce. I knew there might be a backlash; but I did not know the inquiry would discover that Pierce was in possession of information that only Green could have released. It is my understanding that Green’s involvement in this article was made known to the prime minister by Gray, and played a role in her decision to sack him, even though Downing Street insists the report made no claims about collusion.

The Daily Mail got one thing right about me. I have always been deeply ambitious for my career. Yet I still came forward, knowing how it might be irretrievably damaged. Because some things are more important.

It is also true that I have many privileges that other women do not. That is why I owed it to others to come forward. When we see white, financially secure women saying #MeToo, we should ask: where are the voices that we are not hearing? Not everyone can afford to take on the deputy PM.

What we need is more institutional support in parliament and the political parties. The greater powers mooted for Kathryn Hudson, the Commons commissioner for standards, are to be welcomed, but it concerns me that she reports to a committee of MPs who each have political interests. If this is to work, we need politicians who are prepared to stand up to colleagues to provide support for women who make serious claims.

Nothing has hurt me during this process like the silence of friends in the Conservative Party. When Green was allowed to take prime minister’s questions halfway through the investigation, I had to watch them cheer him on from the parliamentary benches. I have had no support from the Conservative Women’s Organisation or my local party.

I will never forget the silence of the senior Tory woman who told me she hoped #MeToo would hit Westminster. She has my number; she hasn’t called. A few days after I went public, I spoke to my father about her. He sent me a few lines of Bob Dylan:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’

At the close of 2017, an international battle is raging to stamp out the sexual abuse of power. There is still time for Britain’s governing class to heed the call. For the times they are a-changin’.