Alarm over number of female MPs stepping down after abuse

Women’s organisations say extent of problems they have faced is ‘extremely worrying’

Women’s organisations have expressed alarm at the number of female MPs standing down at the upcoming general election who have cited the abuse they face in public office.

Figures suggest female MPs are retiring from parliament prematurely. Of the 58 politicians who have announced they will not stand again, 18 are women and 41 are men, which is roughly proportional to the current makeup of parliament.

However, since cohorts of retiring MPs usually reflect historical intakes, the expectation would be that the number of outgoing female parliamentarians would be lower.

Among Tory ranks, the female MPs stepping down are on average 10 years younger and have spent a decade less in parliament than retiring male MPs.

The cabinet minister Nicky Morgan has said she will not be standing as a candidate, with one of her reasons being the abuse she has received. The former home secretary Amber Rudd is also among the moderate Tory MPs who have said they will not fight the election on 12 December.

Heidi Allen, the former Conservative MP who defected to the Liberal Democrats via Change UK, also said she would not stand, highlighting “the nastiness and intimidation that has become commonplace”.

Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said it was extremely worrying that so many women were leaving parliament at the election and had cited “either the abuse they have received or the pressure it has put on their family life”.

“We have to confront the fact that our toxic politics is driving good women MPs away. In 2019 it is still a hostile environment for women,” she said, adding that the figures should particularly worry the Conservative party, where only one in five MPs are women. “I fear that we will see the number of women MPs fall after this election. We are going backwards,” said Smethers.

If you want to vote in the general election on 12 December but haven’t yet registered – bad news. It is too late.

However, you can still register online so you don’t miss out next time. And let’s face it, if the election results ends up being close, we could be having another one sooner than you think. Here’s how to get yourself registered for next time.

To vote in a UK general election you must:

  • Be 18 or over on the day of the election.
  • Be a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen.
  • Be resident at an address in the UK (or a British citizen living abroad who has been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years).
  • Not be legally excluded from voting.

You also need to be on the electoral register. You only have to register once, but will need to re-register if you have changed your address, name or nationality.

The forms can be completed online. You may need details of your national insurance number and your passport if you’re a British citizen living abroad, and want to vote in England, Scotland or Wales.

If you need help, you should contact your local Electoral Registration Office. You can use this service to find the address if you live in England, Scotland or Wales. If you live in Northern Ireland you need to contact the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland (EONI).

Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality party, said the abuse and intimidation female MPs were subjected to was one of “the most insidious effects of the toxic Brexit debate”.

“Politics has become a hostile environment for women – in which we are harassed, demeaned, and threatened as a matter of course,” she said. “Not only does this affect the individual women targeted, it also contributes to a culture in which women’s voices are not welcomed or respected.”

In a letter to her South Cambridgeshire constituents explaining her decision to stand down, Allen said she was exhausted by the invasion of her privacy and intimidation. “Nobody in any job should have to put up with threats, aggressive emails, being shouted at in the street, sworn at on social media, nor have to install panic alarms at home,” she said.

Sarah Wollaston, the Lib Dem MP for Totnes in Devon, who resigned from the Conservative party over its position on Brexit, said her fellow MPs were standing down because of a combination of abuse and the two main parties moving to extremes.

“Why would you put up with all that abuse, if at the same time you’re unhappy about the direction of travel?” she said. “People are thinking, ‘If I’m going to take this abuse, I want to do something I’m proud of,’ and they’re just not.”

Wollaston, who is chair of the health select committee, said: “I look around my select committee table and you’ve got [Labour MP] Rosie Cooper, who had an actual plot to murder her. You’ve got [Lib Dem MP and former Labour MP] Luciana [Berger] who has seen a total of six different people convicted for threats to her and her family.”

Conservatives

Alistair Burt North East Bedfordshire; Keith Simpson Broadland; Nicholas Soames Mid Sussex; Michael Fallon Sevenoaks; Nick Hurd Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner; Jo Johnson Orpington; Caroline Spelman Meriden; Claire Perry Devizes; Richard Benyon Newbury; David Jones Clwyd West; Mark Prisk Hertford and Stortford; Bill Grant Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock; Hugo Swire East Devon; Jeremy LeFroy Stafford; David Tredinnick Bosworth; Glyn Davies Montgomeryshire; Mark Field Cities of London and Westminster; Seema Kennedy South Ribble; Sarah Newton Truro and Falmouth; Richard Harrington Watford; David Lidington Aylesbury; Patrick McLoughlin Derbyshire Dales; Alan Duncan Rutland and Melton; Peter Heaton-Jones North Devon; Nicky Morgan Loughborough; Margot James Stourbridge; Mark Lancaster Milton Keynes North; Ross Thomson Aberdeen South; Henry Bellingham North West Norfolk; Nick Herbert Arundel and South Downs; Ed Vaizey Wantage; George Hollingbery Meon Valley; Charlie Elphicke Dover; David Jones Clwyd West

Labour

Kevin Barron Rother Valley; Paul Farrelly Newcastle-under-Lyme; John Mann Bassetlaw; Kate Hoey Vauxhall; Teresa Pearce Erith and Thamesmead; Stephen Pound Ealing North; Geoffrey Robinson Coventry North West; Stephen Twigg Liverpool West Derby; Jim Cunningham Coventry South; Ian Lucas Wrexham; Albert Owen Ynys Môn; Roberta Blackman-Woods City of Durham; Gloria De Piero Ashfield; Ronnie Campbell Blyth Valley; Jim Fitzpatrick Poplar and Limehouse; Ann Clwyd Cynon Valley; Owen Smith Pontypridd; Adrian Bailey West Bromwich West; Helen Jones Warrington North; Tom Watson West Bromwich East

Independent

Philip Hammond* Runnymede and Weybridge; Justine Greening* Putney; Rory Stewart* Penrith and the Border; Guto Bebb* Aberconwy; Oliver Letwin* West Dorset; Ken Clarke* Rushcliffe; Jared O'Mara** Sheffield Hallam; Louise Ellman** Liverpool Riverside; Amber Rudd* Hastings and Rye; John Woodcock** Barrow and Furness; Kelvin Hopkins** Luton North; Ian Austin** Dudley North; Sylvia Hermon North Down; Nick Boles* Grantham and Stamford

Liberal Democrats

Heidi Allen*** South Cambridgeshire; Sir Vince Cable Twickenham; Norman Lamb North Norfolk 

Independent Group for Change

Ann Coffey Stockport; Joan Ryan Enfield North  

Democratic Unionist Party

David Simpson Upper Bann

Speaker

John Bercow Buckingham

* Formally Conservative party 
** Formally Labour party
*** Originally elected as a Conservative

The MP said male politicians experienced threats and abuse too – Labour’s Luke Pollard has been the target of homophobic graffiti, and Stephen Timms was stabbed by a constituent in 2010. But, said Wollaston, the experience seemed to be universal among her female colleagues.

Louise Ellman, the MP for Liverpool Riverside who quit the Labour party last month over what she said was its failure to tackle growing antisemitism in its ranks, said she was not surprised that her female colleagues were deciding to stand down.

“Politics has become increasingly personalised and abusive and I’m not surprised that many women MPs have decided they don’t want to be part of it,” said Ellman, who will also not stand in the upcoming election.

Contributors

Frances Perraudin and Simon Murphy

The GuardianTramp

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