We must acknowledge the culture of contempt towards women in the Labour Party
The targeted bullying and harrassment of women MPs in the Labour Party is an attempt to silence us and keep us out of the public sphere, writes Helen Jones MP.
It’s no surprise to anyone that the first two Labour MPs to face trigger ballots are women nor is anyone really shocked that this has happened to women who are highly regarded in Westminster.
For the truth my Party ignores is that women Labour MPs, however well-respected they are, often face bullying and harassment in their constituency parties and many of us feared that the new re-selection process would be used by some to try to get rid of women MPs.
We have long put up with behaviour which would not be tolerated in any workplace. After I was selected in 1997, a person I had never met went on “Election Call” to complain, threats of legal action were made in the local papers and false stories were planted in the press. Many of my election leaflets were dumped at the side of a motorway.
After my election, council officers were told not to bother responding to my letters as I would “only be a one-term MP”.
That was followed over the years by a “Wanted Dead or Alive “ poster through my door, poison pen letters sent to me and others, including one circulated to council leaders when I was part of the local government team, a councillor writing critical letters to the press under a false name and yet more untrue stories.
There were continual threats of deselection as well as a bombardment of abusive texts and emails from one individual. I have a whole file of them.
These incidents are not unique or even the worst examples of what some women have to put up with. There are plenty of examples of male council leaders who will work with male MPs in the borough but exclude a woman MP. I know of one who would not even speak to a woman MP when they were in the same station waiting room.
Then there is the bullying.
One woman was bawled at during a meeting simply for making a suggestion. Apparently this was “a threat”. Another was shouted at for “writing too many letters” to the council, otherwise known as doing her job.
I have one colleague who has been bullied unmercifully by the men who run her constituency who shout at her in meetings, undermine her campaigning and refuse to contribute to funding the General Election.
When she did a mobile surgery in an area where very little work had been done, the local councillor rang her office and said, without preamble, “Tell that f*****g b***h to keep out of my ward”. Of course no action was taken against him.
Sometimes families are targeted.
Relatives have been sacked by the local council on some spurious pretext and complaints made against members of the family who happen to be members of the Labour Party. When these complaints are found to be groundless nothing is done. Often there is a stream of complaints about the MP too, just to keep her ground down.
It’s all part of an effort to silence women and to keep us out of the public sphere.
Submitting a bullying and harassment complaint leads nowhere. I put in a complaint against one man in 2016 and it was mysteriously “lost”. I re-submitted it and am still waiting.
I have a friend with a long-standing complaint which has never been dealt with. Instead, the Party triggered her re-selection procedure, to be presided over by the same bullies.
In echoes of Gilead women are often asked what they have done to provoke such behaviour or else they are asked to sit down with the bullies for “conciliation”. Yet the Party should not be neutral between the bullies and the person being bullied.
It’s time to call out this culture of contempt for women and for the Party to start by acknowledging it exists.
If not, there will be more attempts at de-selection, fewer women wanting to stand and our attempts to achieve equality will fail.
Helen Jones is Labour MP for Warrington North.
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