By Kate McIntosh
Nadim Zahawi is a man who generally manages to avoid scandal. The Conservative MP for Stratford-upon-Avon gained notoriety last for his condemnation of President Trump’s ‘travel ban’, he himself born in Iraq. He has faced scrutiny for substantial expenses claims, but as newly appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children and Families, and a pro-Brexit campaigner, his future in the party seems assured. That is of course until last month, when it was revealed that he attended the disgraced Presidents Club dinner, a charity event which has attracted national attention.
The President’s Club Charitable Trust has now closed, such was the outcry at the nature of the men-only event, in which the all-women staff were made to sign non-disclosure agreements. They then faced a barrage of sexually motivated harassment and assault from the 360 guests at the dinner, effectively used as bait to encourage donations to the Trust.
When asked for comment, Mr Zahawi condemned the behaviour of his fellow guests, called the report ‘truly shocking’, and that he had left by 9.35pm. ‘I will never attend a men only function again ever,’ he tweeted.
The minister, who allegedly attended the event as early as 2010, has faced calls for his resignation from a newly won post at the Department for Education. When Prime Minister Theresa May heard about the nature of the event, which occurred at the Dorchester Hotel, she said she was ‘appalled’. May excused Zahawi’s attendance on the grounds that he ‘left early’, when asked about why attended at all. Maria Miller, who chairs the Select Committee for Women in Equalities said Zahawi should not have accepted the invite.
Anger from the conservative benches was met with calls for resignation from Labour activists. Constituents organised a protest outside Zahawi’s office in Stratford-upon-Avon, and Emma Bradley, the vice chairman of Stratford Labour Women who lead the protest, commented on the fact that their MP seemed to have ‘gone to ground’, and not been available to meet with constituents. ‘He needs to answer these questions,’ she told reporters, after she delivered a letter to Zahawi from Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner. ‘We posted Angela Rayner’s letter through the letterbox so hopefully, it will be on his desk tomorrow morning,’ she explained.
The letter from the Shadow Education Secretary, which has to date not received a response, asked if Mr Zahawi used a ministerial – and therefore publicly funded – car to get to the dinner, and crucially, if he was surprised at the nature of the event, given that he has attended it before. The question of how Mr Zahawi did not know this event’s mainstay was harassment of women employees, given its reputation in the service industry, and the fact that he has been on the invite list previously, is also yet to be answered.
Photograph: No. 10 via Flickr