Women's Equality party stands aside for Lib Dems in two seats

Exclusive: deal to adopt some of WEP’s policies could influence result in London seat

Candidates for the Women’s Equality party (WEP) are to step aside in two constituencies where they were standing to highlight the treatment of women, as part of a pact in which the Liberal Democrats have agreed to adopt some of the party’s policies.

The seats include one in central London vacated by the Tory Mark Field, where the Liberal Democrat Chuka Umunna is now being endorsed by the WEP after his party agreed to push for amendments to laws to give the public powers to eject MPs guilty of harassment.

Jenn Selby, a survivor of rape and one of five survivors of abuse or sexual violence who had been standing for the WEP in constituencies where the previous elected male MP has been accused of misconduct, hailed the pact as a victory achieved before polling day.

“Getting our red lines on sexual violence into the manifesto of the party that could hold the balance of power is like getting the justice which we did not have,” Selby told the Guardian during an interview alongside Umunna. “It’s obviously been traumatic reliving our stories over and over again to highlight the human aspect of this but it does mean a lot personally.”

Support from the WEP, which went as high as 15% in local election wards, could make a difference in the Cities of London and Westminster constituency, which is potentially a tightly fought three-way marginal that has long voted Tory but is largely remain.

Field announced in October that he would not be standing due to the “fractious and febrile” political atmosphere over Brexit. He caused controversy this summer after he was filmed grabbing and manhandling a female environmental protester at the chancellor’s Mansion House speech. Field has said he “deeply regrets” the incident.

As part of the same agreement, the WEP is backing the Liberal Democrats in Sheffield Hallam, where Labour suspended the MP Jared O’Mara after the emergence of a series of sexist and homophobic online posts written before he was elected. He later announced his resignation.

However, the WEP is continuing to stand candidates in three other constituencies. They include Dover, where the former Tory MP Charlie Elphicke lost the Tory whip in 2017 when allegations of sexual assault – which he denies – were referred to the police.

The other two are in Luton North, a seat where Kelvin Hopkins was suspended from the Labour party after sexual harassment claims, and Bury South, where Gemma Evans, a domestic abuse survivor, is running for the WEP against Ivan Lewis.

Hopkins, who denies any wrongdoing, is standing down. Lewis said last year that he was quitting Labour over the party’s failure to deal with accusations of antisemitism, but his resignation means that a long-running party disciplinary process following allegations of sexual harassment can no longer conclude. He denies the accusation.

Selby, a journalist, said she was “astounded” that no MPs had lost their jobs when the #MeToo movement hit Westminster two years ago, adding: “Our campaign is making it untenable for politicians to simply shake off allegations of harassment or violence.”

As well as Field’s departure, she referenced the suspension of Steven Saxby, who had been Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the constituency but who was suspended after allegations of sexual harassment, which he denies.

Describing Selby as an “inspirational campaigner”, Umunna said he was pleased to commit to the WEP’s call to amend the Recall of MPs Act 2015 and a number of other measures including expanding the number of refuges and rape crisis centres to meet demand.

“I don’t think there is any argument that can be advanced with credibility against amending the Recall Act in this way. If you oppose doing so you are effectively saying that sexual violence and harassment against women is somehow less important than if you have abused the expenses regime,” he said.

Contributor

Ben Quinn

The GuardianTramp

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