This year, I stood as an MEP candidate.
I was tremendously excited – it had been a dream of mine since I was in school to be a politician. The debate on Europe was exhilarating, new parties had entered the fray, and digital platforms meant that engaging the public was easier than ever.
Within an hour of my candidacy being announced, the abuse began.
I had, of course, expected some grief, but what I received was shocking, encouraged by so-called journalists who pointed their followers at me while abuse flooded in.
I had it easy. Within a few days I was forgotten by the crowds, a candidate low on the list and of little interest. Most politicians have it much, much worse.
Heidi Allen, the MP who left the Conservatives to lead Change UK and then moved to the Liberal Democrats, wrote to her constituents last week explaining why she would not be standing in this election. One particular email, attacking her for her decision to have an abortion earlier in life, was so horrific she has decided to exit politics.
She is not alone – many of the 60-odd current MPs who have announced that they are standing down, including Nicky Morgan and Amber Rudd, have cited the sheer volume of abuse they receive as a reason. Others have made the decision to run again in the full knowledge of what they are subjecting themselves to.
Last week, Anna Soubry tweeted out a threatening letter sent to her home from someone suggesting that they would do to her what happened to Jo Cox, who was stabbed to death while campaigning for Remain in 2016.
Jess Phillips, another brave and outspoken MP, told me 2017 that the best way to avoid abuse is to have no social media at all. But she is under no illusion that this is a perfect solution – abusers will still email you, they will stand outside parliament yelling in your face, and will have lost the ability to share your message online and engage with voters.
No side or party is completely innocent. We’ve seen Leaver and Remainer MPs harassed, threatened, and abused by crowds outside parliament. And it’s having an impact beyond the MPs themselves – two female staffers I know are deeply distressed by the experience of walking through these protesters daily and reading the threatening emails. They genuinely fear for their lives.
Men generally get off lighter, as one Conservative MP explained to me last week, but the number of threatening emails to him were far worse now than they ever were before the Brexit referendum.
Yet when MPs complain, they are instructed that they must be made of sterner stuff; you can’t be an MP and not be able to suffer abuse. This is the language used to blame victims for the actions of their abusers – and it is totally and utterly wrong.
MPs, whether they have chosen to stand down or are braving another election, are not at fault for feeling unsafe at work given the torrent of abuse they receive, threatening them and their families. The only people to blame are the ones spewing vitriol, online and offline.
Each of us, whatever our politics, must endeavour to choose our language with care and call out abuse when we see it. The threat to MPs’ safety and security at work is a threat to our very democracy.
Main image credit: Getty