Welcome to the jungle

It's not just French politicians, Westminster is full of priapic predators too

21 May 2011

Shortly after I began my working life, on the edge of the Westminster jungle, I landed a job with a political ‘big beast’; an alpha male, in very much the same mould as Dominique Strauss-Kahn: silver-haired, heavy-set, charismatic. For a few months, he ignored me as I busied away researching stats. Then, during what should have been a routine working lunch, the searchlight

of his wandering eye settled on me and out of the blue he declared passionate love: ‘Say you love me too. I just can’t live without you.’ This was both flattering and confusing. Why now? Why me? This famous man had a devoted wife and a small daughter and at the time that shocked me too. Well, I was young.

In the months that followed, I grew up. I learnt quickly that in the seamy world of British politics — just as much here as across the Channel — the terms of engagement between powerful politicos and young women are a far cry from those we’re taught at school. It’s not the rule of law out there in Westminster: it’s the law of the jungle. And the jungle is full of predators — all different in their manner of pursuit, but all turbo-charged by ego.

The first thing that’s unusual about a political predator is that he’s blinded by conceit. His self-love is so consuming that it’s almost impossible for him to imagine a girl might say no. For my particular big beast, rejection only fuelled his ardour. He showed no fear of law-suits or accusations of harassment. The more overt the put-down, the keener he seemed. Until one day, without warning, he simply lost his cool altogether, pushed me over on the office carpet and lay on top of me, breathing hard. ‘You know you want me!’ he said. I didn’t and kicked him hard.

I was lucky because this big beast was no DSK — nor was he the vindictive type (which we will come to later) who punish rejection by ruining a girl’s career. That kick derailed his pursuit; I chalked it up to experience and moved to a different part of the jungle.


But as DSK mopes on Riker’s island and the press pontificate about sex and the French, I think it worth warning the proud parents of any young woman embarking on a career in British politics that their lovely daughter will be in for a rude awakening. The political neophyte is a gazelle in the great safari park of SW1: surrounded by hungry eyes all watching for weakness. So, with the help of my female colleagues — parliamentary researchers, political advisers and hacks — I have compiled for her this useful compendium of beasts.

The Gorilla Let’s call our first animal the gorilla, because he’s an alpha male who considers the pick of the pack his due, and because like my own big beast and like DSK, he’s often ape-like in appearance: big-headed, heavy-handed, nimble on his feet when a female hoves into view. The most powerful men in politics are often gorillas; great silverbacks, indifferent to the posturing of lesser males, confident that their supplicant mates will stay loyal no matter what. They’re used to capitulation, even adoration, and so confident that public humiliation holds no horror. A friend of mine recalls one gorilla, a former home secretary, first commenting on her bottom, then attempting to seduce her in full sight of a table of other lunch guests. ‘He just didn’t care that everyone was watching,’ she says. Another pal tells a story about a parliamentary King Kong who picked her up in front of a roomful of people, buried his head between her breasts and inhaled loudly before exclaiming: ‘How I love big women!’ Lord Strathclyde, the leader of the House of Lords, may be another classic gorilla. Well — just look at him. Then consider the casual arrogance with which he carried on with Birgit Cunningham, the blonde who eventually kissed and told. John F. Kennedy was a gorilla — charming, arrogant, bullying — whereas both Joe and Teddy were indubitably snakes.

The Snake Now here’s the most insidious predator, the sort who offers to trade information or advancement for sexual favours. Like that very first serpent, he’ll make it seem a reasonable exchange, but you entertain a snake at your peril. There’s no limit to how low they can slither. There’s a cautionary tale doing the Westminster rounds about a former foreign secretary who propositioned a young lady MP in a lift. When she declined, the great man showed his forked tongue: ‘You’ll never make it without me,’ he hissed. Was it a threat? Anyway, the MP soon lost her seat and she now works in a very different field. She can complain to her friends, but nothing is provable. Let’s not pretend that the political press is free from snakes. Another pal who worked with an important TV snake says that he issued quite clear instructions to new female researchers: blow job or no job. Snakes are the most poisonous predators.

The Spider A spider, my girlfriends and I all agree, is usually an older, more experienced predator, who weaves a web around his victim before drawing her in. Let’s take the example of one spidery peer, who has a very distinctive pattern of web. This peer is notorious for complimenting girls on an item of clothing: their boots, say, or a blouse. He’ll then invite the youngster out to lunch and when they accept, send a text suggesting that they wear this particular item — just for him. The young woman sees no harm in this first request and usually complies. A second invitation to lunch is followed by another request to wear something a little more risqué. By the time the hack begins to resist, she is already compromised, enmeshed in her past complicity — and dressed like a tart to boot. You’d be surprised how many girls this noble lord has bundled up.

Another sort of spider weaves a web made of tangled moral threads. The usual rules don’t apply in our lofty world, he insists — only a very bourgeois woman would consider adultery wrong. ‘It’s no more significant than a game of tennis,’ one practised spider insisted to a fly of my acquaintance. Like the spider in the nursery rhyme, the political tarantula will often have a special web away from home, in Piccadilly, say. ‘Come into my parlour,’ he’ll whisper. Don’t. The crocodile Think crocodile tears, and long self-pitying monologues about how Mrs Crocodile doesn’t understand. All the while, one reptilian eye is half open, waiting for the perfect time to snap. Chris Huhne has a Croc-ish aspect. His campaign leaflets claimed proudly that ‘family matters to me so much’ and all the while he was thrashing around with bisexual Carina Trimingham.

Monkey man Well okay, a monkey isn’t a very alarming predator, but nor are our monkey men. There’s no planning, stalking or pouncing involved and often no wives to deceive, rather a compulsive propensity to try it on with almost any lady at almost any time — just on the off-chance they agree. Monkey men are often short and were rarely attractive when young. Just a tiny whiff of power goes straight to their groins. There’s a monkey-like aspect to Sarkozy, in his obvious delight in having snared a desirable wife. A now-married monkey MP was once indiscriminately obsessed with the girls of the press pack. While having an affair with one young reporter, he is said to have proposed to another over lunch. Another monkey man who made it to government used to keep a bowl of condoms on his parliamentary desk. If asked to explain himself, he’d mutter something about Aids and the developing world. In fact, the condoms were just a way of saying: how about it?

So now you’re prepared for the jungle, gazelles. But just one more word of warning. If these political predators are a threat in Westminster, they are doubly so come conference season in a secluded seaside town. Most party animals share the same hunting tactic during conference. They lie in wait until the drinks parties finish and the young gazelles come tottering on to the streets, half-pissed and not yet ready for bed. New girls on the scene are not normally invited to the gorillas’ dinners so the other predators can take their pick. They lure a girl back to their hotel with the promise of a party. But the party is in the predator’s room, and once there he has a killer line: ‘If you leave now, everyone will talk. You’d better stay the
night.’ If you hear these fatal words, get out as quickly as you can.

And the final question: in this era of hyper-scrutiny, where every move is tweeted, snapped or blogged, why don’t these beasts of the jungle get caught? The answer is that they know their prey has too much to lose. ‘If me and four other girls were to put our minds to it, we could bring down a third of the MPs,’ says one of my closest political pals. So why don’t they? Because snitching is a hiding to nowhere. They would be forever known, not for any political feats they may go on to achieve, but for sinking a famous man. Unless it goes too far, harassment is a small price to pay for an interesting career. This would be completely unacceptable in a normal workplace, perhaps, but the Palace of Westminster is anything but normal.

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  • Vulture

    What a pathetic piece : not only is ‘Carrie’ too cowardly to identify herself, but she fails to name any of the beasts apart from poor old Lord Strathclyde who, I understand, is, to quote Blackadder, ‘hung like a baboon’. (An animal strangely missing from Foxy lady’s bestiary).

    Speaking as a mere bird, I can only look on in envy and squawk.

    BY the way, if Miliband wants to claw back a few seats at the next GE he only has to plaster the country with your Strathclyde pic. captioned ‘Typical Tory’ and he’ll sweep the country.

  • Petra Green

    Great article! I wonder how many of the politicians getting hot under the collar about Ken Clarke right now, are the ones Carrie is talking about!

  • Verity

    My God! This snoozerama takes six (or more!) pages to recount the predictable course of any attractive young woman climbing onto the first steps of the career ladder.

    Nothing to see, folks, move along.

    The difference with this IMF sleaze bag is, he picked on the truly weak, like hotel maids.

    Most young women who’ve made it onto the lower rungs of the ladder are quick witted enough to refer to “my boyfriend. He’s going ito criminal law” or similar. A little hotel maid living in a hostel has no defence at all.

    Every woman in the workplace who has been the victim of an uninvited pass by a superior (and I am going to guess that that is most women), will be enjoying this.

  • Recusant


    Oh dearie me:
    “not only is ‘Carrie’ too cowardly to identify herself”.

    Pot? Kettle?

  • Capn Flint

    Hm. I wonder if the ‘former home secretary’ and ‘former foreign secretary’ might by any chance be the same man?

    • Alan Buckingham

      Straw man argument, I think.

  • James

    why is the “bisexual Carina Trimingham” subjected to this bizarre labelling? Not just here, but in almost all the stories I’ve read.

    Heterosexual James.

  • Robert Upfold

    You omitted foxy ladies from your bestiary so here’s one to join the others.


    You know you’re a cut little heartbreaker


    You know you’re a sweet little lovemaker


  • Robert Upfold

    CF: for a few months, he ignored me as I busied away researching stats.

    Q: What do you mean he ‘ignored’ you? Did he not speak at all, or is it that he failed to pay attention to such important work? Your turn of phrase there sounds somewhat peeved, a little aggrieved.

    Researching stats? What, surfing the internet? Tough assignment that.

    during what should have been a routine working lunch, the searchlight of his wandering eye settled on me and out of the blue he declared passionate love:

    RU – It’s hard to believe that the following words could come out ‘of the blue’ or that it was ‘supposed to be a working lunch’.



    ‘Say you love me too. I just can’t live without you.’ This was both flattering and confusing. Why now? Why me? This famous man had a devoted wife and a small daughter and at the time that shocked me too. Well, I was young.



    You sound just like Richarson’s Pamela, poor little helpless virgin! It’s a pretty feeble script but doubtless it’ll make it to BBC 4.

    Could you finish that part of the story. What happens next?

  • D Short

    Young lady journalists also have to watch out for elderly editors in the UK, especially those that are unmarried and have an escort girl habit.

  • D Short

    “This was both flattering and confusing. Why now? Why me?”

    I can remember the story of a former colleague of mine who hit on a younger woman on a press trip. She also asked: “Why me?”.

    She had neglected to observe she was the only female on the freebie.

  • Robert Upfold

    That should be ‘cute little heartbreaker’ of course not ‘cut’, or even half cut.

  • michael crockett


    Surname or Christian name? Less common than Carrie maybe.

  • Yam Yam

    Carrie forgot the most common form of male sexual being: the lemming.

    They’re the ones who are just minding their own business when one day a pretty girl takes their eye (indeed, the pretty girl may even have purposely placed herself when the eye will be caught).

    Thereafter, sound judgement goes out of the window as hormones and a flattered ego take charge. With depressing predictability, it is not too long before a lifetime’s career of dedicated public service – to say nothing of a treasured family life – goes crashing over the cliff called political scandal.

    Most politicians – indeed most men, I would surmise – are lemmings, certainly insofar as they don’t wake up one morning thinking “I must cheat on my wife today”.

    Sinful human nature, I think the Bible calls it (cf 2 Samuel chapter 11).

  • Robert Upfold


    How true!

  • Estel

    I’ve never seen such a cowardly, pathetic pile of drivel as this cringing, whingeing, snivelling piece of victimhood. Good job you gave a false name – the men won’t be after you, but women might want to have a word. Imagine a man writing that he must perform a gross sex act or lose his job! His answer might be a fist in the face, not a disgusting, dishonored grovelling. You women of Westminster are all adults are you not? And supposedly intelligent and savvy? Is there no way of getting together and fighting this, using brains and courage? May God help you otherwise, you deserve all you get, and the scorn of the country to boot.

  • Steve

    This is shocking. Naming and shaming is the only solution.

  • John

    Goodness Estel, in the situation of an employer abusing his position of power to coerce an employee into sex, you pick this person *writing about it* as the part most worthy of censure? Staggering. I hope never to meet the women like you who’d come down so hard on someone for daring to be a victim of sexual harassment.

  • Dave B
  • http://twitter.com/vicarjim4 james cooper

    Sexual harassment is a spin off from the power the predators gained with the introduction of homosexual laws , Why do you think all the laws pertaining to homosexuals have been put through parliament and the lords? to help homosexuals in the community or those in other places? The homosexual community at large have been used and the ice berg is deeper than the one that hit the Titanic. Gay marriage laws put through without notice by Cameron is another requirement of the same people. Our parliamentarians are so obvious it would be funny if it were not serious.IT IS SERIOUS , young men and women be aware , its not just a job you may get but a career , not in politics ,you may end up bed ridden.

  • Storris

    Harassment seems to have been conflated with the rather prosaic nature of men in general. Harassment is a criminal offence, attempting to get your leg over, whilst not always dignified or morally attractive is not a criminal offence.

    Just say no, or yes dependent on your own motives. And where you feel as though you are being blackmailed, harassed or coerced, do the decent thing and make the bastard pay so that others don’t have to suffer.

  • http://twitter.com/ukgoldbug Gold Bug

    Politicians are mostly sociopaths. They do not care about others only about their own advantage, sexual or financial. That is the nature of the job. It requires the people that involve themselves in it to be in favour of violent coercion so a bit of sexual harassment is just an appetizer for the main course.

  • Aled Lumley

    Works both ways, a politician willing to offer sex for promotion is no different to an ambitious member of staff willing to do anything for promotion. I’ll freely admit to some office flirting but I have to be honest I wouldn’t whip my dick out in front of one. Guess there’s a line, although innuendo wise I’ve probably said some hilariously awful things in passing to good friends.

    Excuse me if I am wrong, but doesn’t one of the BBC’s main female journalists have the CV of having slept with both Clegg and Milliband during her terms at university?

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