Diane Abbott speaks out on online abuse as female MPs step down

Shadow home secretary calls for action as more women say they will not stand in election

Diane Abbott has spoken out about how she deals with online vitriol after a growing number of female MPs announced they would not be standing in the general election, with some citing the abuse they faced in public office.

The shadow home secretary, who was found by a study to be subject to nearly half the abusive tweets sent to female MPs, said she coped with it by “putting one foot in front of the other”.

Abbott wants social media companies to record the real identities of people using their platforms in order to tackle the problem.

She was speaking after the cabinet minister Nicky Morgan said she would not be standing as a candidate, with one of her reasons being the abuse she had received.


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


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


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


John Bercow Buckingham

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

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”.

Asked about online abuse, Abbott told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “A lot of people try to make party political points or factional points about this. What I say is the huge rise in online abuse – and obviously it’s addressed more to women than anybody else – has to do with anonymity online, and my view is we should make it harder for people to be anonymous online.

“They can have an anonymous identity, but the website, Twitter, Facebook, should have their real name and address. I believe that the fact that people are completely anonymous has made this problem worse.

“When we try, when the police try and track down people who are abusing me, they find they can’t identify them. If Twitter, Facebook and online had the people’s real name and address, I think you’d be able to crack down on this.”

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, tweeted his sadness at the number of MPs who were stepping down after citing abuse.

Heartbreaking to see the number of colleagues stepping down because of the daily stream of online abuse.

No one, in any job, should be abused in this way. Surely we as a society can be better than this.

— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) October 31, 2019

The Conservative party chairman, James Cleverly, had appeared to downplay the issue as he retweeted the Conservative commentator Tom Harwood’s remarks about the proportion of female MPs standing down.

19 out of the 59 MPs standing down are female.
That's 32%.

32% of all MPs at the moment are female.

The media narrative that there is a disproportionate exodus of women from this Parliament is simply not true.

By all estimations the next HoC will have the highest ♀% ever.

— Tom Harwood (@tomhfh) October 30, 2019

The Lib Dem MP Sarah Wollaston, who defected from the Tories, said she disagreed with Cleverly’s analysis. “If you look at the nine Conservative women who are standing down who are part of the 2017 women elected to the Conservative party, five of them are aged 50 or under,” she told the Today programme.

“But two of the 20 men are 50 or under so there’s a difference in terms of the age breakdown and the proportion, so I think James [Cleverly] should be taking this far more seriously. You look at 67 women and 249 men elected as Conservative MPs in 2017, and he should be looking very carefully at why women are stepping down at a younger age and having served for far shorter time in [arliament.”

Cleverly later tweeted that it was “heartbreaking” to see so many colleagues, particularly women, leaving parliament.

MPs need to be resilient, we understand that a political life is unpredictable and very often stressful.


Hearing so many good colleagues, particularly women, leaving parliament because of online and physical abuse is heartbreaking.

— James Cleverly MP (@JamesCleverly) October 31, 2019

Meanwhile, Abbott called for the Labour MP Keith Vaz, who offered to buy drugs for sex workers, not to stand as a candidate for the party in the general election.

Vaz, who was among the first ethnic minority parliamentarians when he was elected alongside Abbott more than 30 years ago, was the subject of a tabloid story that claimed he offered to purchase cocaine for male sex workers while posing as a washing machine salesman.

An official inquiry by the Commons standards body this week recommended he be suspended from parliament for six months, after finding there was “compelling evidence” he offered to pay for the class A drug and had paid-for sex in August 2016.

But after the MP received support from his local constituency association in the event that he decided to stand again, Abbott urged Vaz to consider his position.

“I’ve known Keith for a very long time. We were young people together looking to go forward in the Labour party. I think he should consider his position and I think he himself should agree not to be a candidate,” she told the Today programme.

The general election campaign has begun on the day Boris Johnson had pledged the country would be leaving the EU “do or die”. Jeremy Corbyn will outline Labour’s vision for the country by promising to side with the public against a “corrupt system” run by those with vested interests.

Earlier this week, the EU granted the UK a Brexit extension until 31 January. Asked whether the prime minister would be apologising for failing to deliver on his promise that the country would leave the EU on 31 October, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, told the Today programme: “I think most people listening to this are thinking, actually, it’s quite clearly parliament that has failed to deliver it. After all, he did absolutely everything in his power to get parliament to come to its senses.”

Asked again whether Johnson would apologise, Shapps replied: “I think the clear thing is parliament is not going to let it happen, then we’re going to have to have this election that nobody particularly wanted.”

Shapps also downplayed concerns about the number of prominent female Tory MPs not standing for re-election.


Simon Murphy

The GuardianTramp

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