IF you really want to know which Tory MPs have been “fornicating” with their staff, by now you can easily find out. But if you think whoever leaked a spreadsheet of sleaze allegations is bravely striking a blow against sexual harassment, think again.

The language used in the document – that of fornication, impregnation and “odd sexual penchants” – reveals as much about the person or persons who compiled it as it does about those named. About half of the MPs listed are accused of “inappropriate behaviour”, but in other cases the details are even more vague, or appear to refer to consensual sexual activity.

It’s claimed the list was compiled by former Tory party staff in the wake of the flood of allegations against Harvey Weinstein. When it was first leaked to a political website, it appeared in the form of a Have I Got News For You missing-word round, with black bars masking identities. Then, inevitably, these were stripped away.

Perhaps the document’s publication will prove to be a catalyst for victims of sexual harassment and assault to come forward, confident they’ll be taken seriously, regardless of which party or parliament is involved. Perhaps it will serve as a wake-up call for some of those listed – and others who aren’t – that their behaviour must change. Perhaps there will be disciplinary action, or even prosecutions. But it’s greatly concerning that the names of alleged victims, as well as alleged perpetrators, have been shared. What reassurance does this provide that any new Westminster grievance procedure will preserve the anonymity of those making complaints?

Then there’s the collateral damage to those listed whose alleged crimes are consensual relationships with colleagues, or merely some kind of sexual activity that Tory party gossips consider “odd” or sensational. Conflating consensual sex with unwanted touching, lewd comments and blatant abuses of power only serves to legitimise the claims from some quarters that a witch hunt is under way.

Of course, the main difference here is that witches do not actually exist whereas sexual predators do. And that the spotlight is on powerful men rather than disenfranchised women. And that no-one will be hanged once the investigations are concluded. So actually, all things considered, this isn’t very much like a witch hunt at all – but it’s still not helpful to lump together a diverse collection of lurid claims and cite them all as evidence of “inappropriate behaviour”. Doing so risks drawing attention away from allegations of abuse and harassment and, above all, the wider political culture that has allowed them to go unchallenged until now.

Yes, it’s far from ideal when an MP or MSP gets romantically involved with a junior colleague, but it’s also impossible to prevent such relationships. If you’re a politician then your entire staff is made up of junior colleagues, and if you’re working long hours, travelling up and down the country and living in two different homes, options to meet and get to know other prospective partners must surely be limited. A 2016 survey by the TUC found one in three adults had had a relationship with a colleague, and one in five met their spouse at work. Is it realistic to expect politicians to be different, or for single men and women to take vows of celibacy upon taking office?

Legislating against workplace relationships is tricky: blanket bans or disclosure requirements are difficult to enforce and conflict with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which enshrines the right to a private life (something the Tories who wish to scrap it should perhaps bear in mind). Rules against relationships where there is an imbalance of power might seem

sensible, but it’s hardly reasonable to expect break-ups to follow promotions, or resignations to follow first dates.

In her speech to the Commons on Monday, Harriet Harman noted that “no-one voted for me to come to this house to engage in hijinks”. She’s no doubt correct, but she was married in the same year that she was first elected, so one might reasonably assume her days of hijinks were already behind her by then. She went on to state: “No-one elected any of us to engage in sleazy, oppressive behaviour.”.This, surely, is in quite a different category, and blurring the distinction between hijinks and harassment risks fuelling the spluttered suggestions that stony-faced feminists are seeking an all-out ban on colleagues joking, socialising or even smiling at each other lest a misunderstanding arise.

It is of course right that those elected to parliament face scrutiny – of their business interests, their expenses claims, their social media comments – but if we include what they get up to behind closed doors with other consenting adults then we risk narrowing the field of candidates too far. What single person would risk going into politics if they thought dating a co-worker might have them declared a sex-offender bogeyman (or bogeywoman) on a par with a serial groper or a leering drunk?

It’s absolutely none of our business if a gay MP wishes to keep his sexuality private, whereas it should be of huge concern that a male MP can “woof woof” while a female MP is speaking (as Tory Sir Nicholas Soames did to the SNP’s Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh), then issue a non-apology and carry on regardless. Investigations into harassment claims cannot ignore the context in which it occurs: a context of braying, jeering, outdated traditions and utterly insincere references to honourable ladies and gentlemen. If this is how our parliamentarians are allowed – indeed encouraged – to behave when they are in the House of Commons, in full view of their colleagues and the cameras, can it honestly come as a surprise to anyone that the conduct of some of them behind the scenes is awful?

The challenge here isn’t to detect and bin a few bad apples, along with some perfectly edible ones of slightly irregular shape. What’s required is a root-and-branch reform of the whole tree.