Parliament is back in business, which means I no longer need that Netflix subscription. For anyone looking for drama, male-on-female aggression, misogynist abuse and blood-curling tension, BBC’s Parliament channel is all you need.
Although I much prefer comedy, I couldn’t tear myself away from the tv screen last night. I watched in horror as the prime minister and senior cabinet members openly mocked female members of the opposition who called for the government to refrain from using inflammatory language.
Addressing the prime minister, Labour MP Paula Sherriff spoke of death threats made against her and other female MPs:
“Let me tell the Prime Minister that they often quote his words – ‘surrender’ act, betrayal, traitor – and I, for one, am sick of it. We must moderate our language, and that has to come from the Prime Minister first…”
Feigning outrage, the prime minister dismissed Sherriff’s heartfelt plea as “humbug.”
Since the murder of Jo Cox in the lead-up to the EU referendum, female MPs across the political divide have received death threats and threats to their families. Last night, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson told MPs that she’d just reported to the police a threat against her child. Later, Anna Soubry stood up, her eyes red from crying and spoke of her distress at the angry scenes in the House of Commons:
“I am 62, I’ve been around, and I’ve seen quite a lot of stuff in my life. It takes a lot to reduce this Honourable Member to tears.”
Whatever your views on Brexit, there’s no denying that female MPs are especially exposed to threats of violence, merely for speaking up for what they believe in.
Not only politicians are affected, however. Gina Miller, the businesswoman who twice took the government to court over its handling of Brexit, had to install 24-hour security in her home and hire security guards after receiving physical threats. In July, Rhodri Philipps, a British aristocrat, was jailed for three months for directing extreme racial abuse against Miller and for offering £5000 to anyone who would run over and kill her.
The press plays a part in this as well. The Daily Mail this week published a profile of the supreme court’s president, Lady Hale, in which it referred to the 74-year old legal superwoman and defender of democracy as an “ex-barmaid.”
In light of the appalling behaviour of members of the government last night, as well as the bullying tactics of the tabloid press, I can’t help but worry about the future of my daughters’ generation. How can we ask children to ‘behave’ and ‘be nice’ to each other, when adult leaders of the country are openly sowing discord in order to get their way? As Kirsty Blackman, SNP, said when speaking in parliament today:
“Young people are watching our parliament today; they are watching and learning that in order to get to the top, all you need to do is break the law and shout people down.”
Speaking earlier, Labour’s Jess Phillips invited the prime minister (who was not present) to reflect on his choice of words last night and called out his deliberate strategy of dividing the country for his own benefit.
As one MP after another got up to speak, urging a more conciliatory tone in parliament and speaking of intimidation and bullying, what struck me was just how visible the feelings of worry, sadness and fear were on their faces. These women are not just politicians, they are also mothers, grandmothers and aunts, and for them, this is so much more than a sinister political game.