“People change the way they vote because of abuse”: MPs Jess Phillips and Maria Miller open up in joint interview

2021-10-31 18:22:00 +0000

In a joint interview with journalist Gavin Esler, Labour MP Jess Phillips and Conservative MP Maria Miller have opened-up about life as female parliamentarians, the abuse politicians receive, and the tribalism of modern politics.

The interview is part of a new podcast series from Compassion in Politics called “Across the Benches”. The series will bring together MPs from different parties to discuss the values and experiences they have in common.

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On being a female MP:

Maria Miller MP said:

“I joined parliament in 2005 and I was in shock for a year. What I found most shocking was the lack of women. The joke was that the Speaker would just call us all Anne.

“All MPs get abuse but ultimately women MPs, particularly women from ethnic minority backgrounds, get a particular level of abuse, especially on social media. Unfortunately it puts women off standing for election so we have to challenge the fact it is part of public life - it’s really not a good thing for democracy. I look at my colleagues on the opposition benches and I am extremely jealous of the fact they have half their MPs as female. We have a lot of women in the Conservative party afraid to put themselves forward for election because of the level of abuse. It’s horrible - but it doesn’t stop us doing our jobs.”

On the abuse politicians receive:

Jess Phillips MP said:

“There are almost certainly people who changed the way they voted because of abuse. It is a perversion of democracy. The fear of reprisals of one form or another that make you change your vote - that is perilous.”

“Politics is a brutal game and has been a brutal game but the availability of people to communicate much more readily through many different mediums brings the potential for crowd brutality.”

Maria Miller MP said:

“I think politics has never been an easy option. I think issues around Brexit changed the temperature of the water. It created divisions in friendships, families, in parties. We still see that somewhat played out in the discussions that go on. That difference of opinion turned into hostility. And I lost a lot of colleagues who decided to leave politics. Social media has a role to play too.”

On the divisive nature of politics:

Maria Miller MP said:

“Teaching MPs about parliamentary principles is important. We need to remind MPs about things like probity in public life and the Nolan Principles.”

Jess Phillips MP said: 

“What happens rarely is Ministers being able to come out and say we tried something and it didn’t work because immediately everyone goes ‘u-turn, u-turn’. Everything has to be sold on the basis that it is world-beating and I think a greater honesty could break out where people admit there will be downsides. I think the public like it. The public prefer to be spoken to as adults.

“Sometimes it seems just saying you would never work with the other side is a clever thing to do to speak to your own base and that is all it will talk to. There’s a bit of chest pumping. It will only ever speak to people who support you anyway.”

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