WOMEN angry at Nadhim Zahawi’s attendance at the now notorious Presidents Club dinner where scantily-clad hostesses were reportedly sexually harassed and groped have protested outside the MP’s constituency office in Stratford.
Mr Zahawi – who is not subject to any of the allegations – said he had left the men only event at London’s Dorchester Hotel early because he found it ‘bizarre’ and felt ‘uncomfortable’.
But that has not prevented calls for answers from the recently appointed minister for children and families, who admitted he had previously attended the event before he became an MP in 2010.
A Department for Education spokesman confirmed Mr Zahawi had attended in a “personal capacity” and was not on “official departmental business”.
The protesters descended on the Trinity Street office on Sunday where they delivered an open letter written by Labour MP and shadow education secretary Angela Rayner. In it she raised questions including how many times, and when, Mr Zahawi had previously attended the black tie event; how he came to be invited; how it was included in his ministerial diary; and whether he use a ministerial car to travel to and from the glitzy charity gala.
The protesters – carrying banners which read ‘No ifs, no buts, we want answers’ and ‘Size up your life, how do you measure up?’ – maintained ‘serious questions remained unanswered’.
The ‘Women’s Protest’ was organised by mother-of-two Emma Bradley, who is also the vice chairman of Stratford Labour Women.
She said: “Mr Zahawi needs to answer these questions. In true fashion he has gone to ground.
“We posted Angela Rayner’s letter through the letterbox. We understand someone was in his office but they chose not to engage with us.
“This is not a political issue, we are constituents who are demanding answers.”
A petition launched by the protesters, calling for Mr Zahawi’s removal as a minister, had over 1,500 signatures this morning (Tuesday).
Eleanor Whitehead, women’s officer for Stratford Labour Party, added: “We are outraged that the MP who purportedly represents us would even contemplate going to a men only event in the first place.
“He has serious questions to answer. At the very least it calls his judgement into question and we believe his position in the government is now untenable.”
But although Mr Zahawi was summoned to explain his attendance to chief whip Julian Smith, a spokesman for Prime Minister Theresa May said she had no plans to speak directly with him.
Mr Zahawi has not commented, other than issuing a couple of tweets saying he condemned the behaviour reported at the event, and to confirm he had left the event at 9.35pm.
Environment Secretary and friend Michael Gove was quick to defend him, tweeting: “My friend Nadhim Zahawi is a really decent and honourable guy who’s in public life to help others – part of a great team at DFE”.
Labour peer Lord Mendelsohn, the party’s spokesman on business and international trade in the House of Lords, was also on the guest list, and was ordered to step down from the front bench by leader Jeremy Corbyn.
One of the organisers, David Meller, quit his post on the Department for Education board.
TV star and children’s author David Walliams, who was hired as host on the night, was also quick to distance himself from the scandal broken by Financial Times undercover reporter Madison Marriage.
She was hired as a hostess at the event, attended by influential figures from the world of politics, business and finance.
Her report said the 130 women hired as hostesses – who were mostly students – were told to wear skimpy black outfits with matching underwear and high heels. They were paid £150 and were allegedly hired because they were ‘ tall, thin and pretty’.
Ms Marriage said she was groped several times and was ‘appalled and shocked’ at what she saw, and even cried about the experience the following day.
The event’s brochure is even understood to have contained a warning that no attendees or staff should be sexually harassed.
And hostesses at the event in previous years have since come forward and spoken of similar sexual harassment.
It was announced in the wake of the scandal that the Presidents Club, which had been running for over 30 years, would be closing.
Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, which was to be one of the beneficiaries, announced it would not be accepting any donations from the event, and the charity stressed it had no part in organising it.