Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Threats to MPs can’t go on: they are an attack on democracy - Times Red Box Article

We all saw the TV clips of thugs shouting abuse in Anna Soubry’s face and blocking her way to parliament from a media interview over the road. Everyone agreed it was awful. It’s her job to have opinions. She’s elected to speak up not keep her head down. Everyone said it overstepped the mark.

We have been here before (remember the harassment of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s children). About every six weeks there’s an ugly incident and we all gather in the chamber to wring our hands and do nothing.

Attacks on, and threats to, MPs are commonplace. Jo Cox was killed, Rosie Cooper could have been killed and others are threatened with death. This is serious and we don’t know the half of it.

Most assaults or threats against MPs are not even reported, for a whole range of reasons. We are hardwired to present ourselves as tough champions of others — not victims. We don’t want to make the assailant even worse. We don’t want to look like we’re using up scarce police resources when families on our council estates complain to us that their community police are vanishing.

We’re afraid of being called a “snowflake”, who doesn’t have what it takes to be an MP.

Way back when I was a new MP with three young children at home a violent ex-offender threatened me, waited outside my home, came to my surgery, wrote hundreds of lying letters to MPs and ministers. For years I buried my head in the sand.

There were enough people saying that parliament was no place for a young mother of three children. They’d say if I couldn’t stand the heat I should “get out of the kitchen”. It was only when the Maudsley hospital insisted I tell the police as he was telling them he was going to kill me and they believed him, that I faced up to it.

Daily I hear of MPs beleaguered by threats at their home, in their constituency office, in the street and online. Some report and some are driven to taking out injunctions. But we don’t have the official overall picture as no one collects this information.

Parliament is keen to get on with tackling other people’s problems but notoriously slow to address our own, fearing accusations that we’re feathering our own nest. (We’ve been legislating for maternity leave for decades but still don’t have any baby leave for MPs!).

And we’re rightly even more wary if it could be alleged that what we’re doing is against the public right to demonstrate, their freedom of expression and protest.

But we can’t have a situation where MPs are looking over their shoulder, keeping their head down, restricting their advice surgeries, reluctant to go on public transport on their own at night. Yet that is what is happening.

Supposing it had been Tulip Siddiq MP (eight months pregnant and 5ft nothing) rather than Anna Soubry? Would the police still have stood by?

Many different people and organisations need to be thinking about this. The police, the CPS, the leader of the House, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and many more.

We need a process to look to bring this together and consider the balance between the competing rights of demonstrators and the right of MPs to get on with the job for which they were elected. We need to make sure that MPs are not at risk.

Ken Clarke MP (father of the House) and I, (mother of the House) are jointly calling for a Speaker’s conference to look seriously into all this and make proposals. And no one would dare call Ken a snowflake!

Link to story as it appeared on the Times Red Box here.


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