On Sunday, 1 December, I’ll be visiting the cathedral city of Canterbury – and I’d like to invite two men I’ve never met to join me. A pilot for a new comedy show? No, this is as serious as it gets. Along with campaigners, survivors and Women’s Equality party activists, I’ll be knocking on doors to urge voters to back a truly inspirational woman, Rosie Duffield.
That’s right: the Women’s Equality party will be out in force to support a candidate from another party, Labour. Duffield’s is the most perilous of precarious of precipitous of marginal seats, with a majority of just 187. We offered our support to her as soon as the election was called and we applaud Liberal Democrat candidate Tim Walker, who yesterday defied his party and stood down to give Duffield a better chance of re-election. We also salute his colleague Guy Kiddey, candidate for High Peak, in Derbyshire, who is threatening to resign from the Lib Dems unless they drop disciplinary action against Walker.
Tim, Guy, come to our Canterbury canvass. Because you’re right: people are more important than parties, always and especially now. We need good people in parliament to ensure good outcomes for people.
Duffield is a good person to have in parliament. She has represented the people of Canterbury for two years. In that time she has consistently voted against austerity, against a disastrous Brexit and in favour of equality. She has pushed for proportional representation and collaborative politics.
She also did something huge for women everywhere. She stood up in the House of Commons and told the story of how she had experienced and survived an abusive relationship. She showed us that it is possible to heal. She showed survivors across the UK that they have someone in parliament who will speak up for them.
The House of Commons cannot be an easy place to feel vulnerable, any more than the media is. We have all seen the slanging matches and heard about the avalanche of abuse that is driving women out of politics. It is something of an understatement to say that none of the mainstream parties has a good record when it comes to tackling harassment or abuse within their own ranks.
That is why the Women’s Equality party is also fielding candidates. We initially announced five phenomenal women, all survivors of rape or abuse, to challenge sitting MPs facing unresolved allegations of harassment or violence. Three of those MPs have now stood down. That makes us the only party to see our goal achieved in three-fifths of our target seats before any votes are cast. We’ve also had a galvanising impact far beyond those seats. The Lib Dems have agreed to take into their manifesto our key policies to enable voters to get rid of MPs found guilty of abuse and ensure that services for survivors are properly funded. Labour has expanded its offer on childcare and echoed our longstanding commitment to make flexible working the default. Amid all the focus on Brexit, our candidates have carved out space for issues that are as vital, but all too often overlooked.
So we’re pleased with what we’ve achieved so far and what we can achieve with our remaining candidacies, but let’s face it: there are no perfect outcomes possible in this election, just less damaging ones. The worst outcome would be victory for the regressive Conservatives, shed of their moderates and buoyed by the Brexit party. The best would be a government made up of talented, dedicated, honest individuals from the so-called progressive parties. I say “so-called” because of their mixed record on tackling inequality or dealing with poison in their own ranks, whether misogyny, Islamophobia, antisemitism or other prejudices. This is an election to support the best people for the best outcomes.
A new domestic abuse bill will be coming back to parliament after the election. If Brexit goes ahead, it will push more women into poverty. Vital votes will take place on housing, childcare, benefits and funding for services. Women suffering abuse or violence will be deeply affected by all of these decisions and they need champions in parliament.
Duffield has proved that she is more than capable of being one of those champions. If you agree, please join me in Canterbury too.
• Sandi Toksvig is a comedian, author and broadcaster. She is also a co-founder of the Women’s Equality party