Exclusive

'Get back in the kitchen - you don't belong in Parliament': Female MPs speak out over abuse amid safety fears

8 March 2024, 05:39 | Updated: 8 March 2024, 08:29

Caroline Nokes, Dehenna Davison and Florence Eshalomi have spoken out about the abuse they face
Caroline Nokes, Dehenna Davison and Florence Eshalomi have spoken out about the abuse they face. Picture: Alamy
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

Amid growing safety fears, female MPs have bravely spoken out over abuse - and are inspiring in the face of intimidation.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

After catching the train to London from her constituency, as she has every week for more than 14 years, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes received a chilling invitation via Facebook messenger.

"I see you get the 10:28. Would you like to meet for a coffee?"

The message came from a stranger who had looked up her public accounts, which listed the exact time and starting point of her regular commute.

"It's really scary to think that there is somebody out there who knows which train I get most Monday mornings", says the former minister, who is sitting in her Westminster office having driven here. She was advised to mix up her routes in to work to avoid being stalked.

Read more: 'We must take action now': The current discussions on MP safety need to be expanded to candidates too

Read more: Three female MPs issued with 'taxpayer-funded bodyguards and cars' amid growing safety concerns

Caroline Nokes
Caroline Nokes. Picture: Alamy

Nokes says people approaching her in central London, invading her personal space and yelling at her, is not uncommon.

She recalls a recent more public incident, where a man "literally got up in my face telling me that I didn't know anything about harassment of women, and that no woman he'd ever met, or no relative of his has ever been harassed.

"He was stood there in the dark on the street in London, harassing me."

Nokes, who was elected MP for Romsey and Southampton North in 2010, is among a rising number of MPs being offered personal security to deal with the growing threat of harassment and intimidation.

"There is no value in sending a close protection officer to sit with me in the hairdresser - let's be brutally honest about that", she says.

"But I'll get a text message from a friend and they'll say, 'where are you?', and when I tell them I'm in Costa, they'll say: 'You're not sat down there on your own, are you?'

"Suddenly you think 'oh, maybe this isn't the greatest idea.'"

Dehenna Davison
Dehenna Davison. Picture: Alamy

"To all the people trying to intimidate me in to standing down - good luck".

Nokes believes social media is to blame for threats against MPs worsening, and says she avoids sharing personal elements of her life because it's a "vulnerability."

But she is unflappable in the face of threats.

"I see some quite organised groups attempting to intimidate Members of Parliament, particularly female members of parliament, into just standing down. And my message to all the people who are trying to intimidate me into standing down is - good luck.

"The more you send me really vile, bilious emails, the more determined that makes me to prove that you have to stand up for what you believe in, you have to defend democracy. And actually, if we get if good people stand down, if good people are harassed and oppressed into quitting politics, then democracy itself is the loser."

"The brazen nature of those threats... there is an element of misogyny behind it".

Dehenna Davison, the first female Conservative MP for Bishop Auckland, arrives for our interview wearing a bright red suit. She hadn't realised until she put it on that it's the first time in weeks she's worn something like it.

"I've recently taken to coming in to work in hoodies and jeans, just to blend in a bit more", she says. "I think it's a subconscious way of trying not to stick out".

We meet on Parliament Square, on the opposite side of the green to a noisy demonstration taking place, which Davison is keen to avoid.

"I'm a massive free speech advocate working in the mother of all democracies - it's a really great thing that people feel able to come here and share their views. The problem is it does get quite aggressive and targeted", she says.

The 30-year-old, who became one of Parliament's youngest MPs when she was elected in 2019, is standing down at the next general election. She says it's partly over fears for her safety.

"I wanted to have a bit of a real adult life that wasn't in the public eye - that was the major reason. But the abuse certainly had a part to play in that too. I've always considered myself to have a really thick skin like a rhino, most stuff doesn't get to me, but it is that steady, drip, drip, drip, day in day out, that's pretty hard to take."

Florence Eshalomi
Florence Eshalomi. Picture: Alamy

Davison says she receives regular social media abuse, with anonymous users even calling her a 'Nazi'. Another told her: "You're a woman, get back to the kitchen, you don't belong in Parliament."

"Our family members get so worried. I've had my mum in tears over the phone over things that she's read on Twitter. That side of things is really, really dark.

"The brazen nature of some of those threats... it often feels like there is an element of misogyny behind it too."

Davison says she feels "lucky" that she hasn't experienced a more serious incident - "the fact I'm saying that, says it all really".

'We have to create a culture where those who want to go into politics aren't put off by the fear for their family' says Brendan Cox

"No one wants another Jo Cox or David Amess"

Fears about the safety of MPs have grown amid the Israel-Hamas war, and three female MPs have been given bodyguards. Nokes says the "toxicity" surrounding the conflict has resulted in emails from people accusing her of "voting to bomb children".

The Home Secretary has recently announced increased funding to increase MPs security and provide each elected official and candidate with a dedicated police officer to discuss security concerns. It's in addition to measures introduced following the murders of Labour's Jo Cox and Conservative Sir David Amess, who were both killed in their constituencies by lone terrorists.

"Why is £30 million being spent keeping MP safe? Well, I'll tell you why," says Nokes. "Because none of us want another Jo Cox or another David Amess."

"When you have lone obsessives who wish to undermine democracy, they won't go for the high profile target, they will find somebody that we all love and care for and who is cherished by their own constituents, and who works hard every single day."

'It's possible to disagree with someone's political position and want to ensure that they are not abused' says Labour's Jacqui Smith

"We've got to make sure as women in politics we call it out"

Minutes after the news broke of Sir David's murder, Florence Eshalomi MP received a text from her husband: 'Where are you?!'

The Labour MP for Vauxhall says as a black woman, she faces both sexist and racist abuse.

"Unfortunately I have received threats as well", she says, recalling the tragic day the MP for Southend was killed in his constituency. "I've got a nine year old and a six year old... we've got to make sure as women in politics we continue to call it out."

She says traffic on her social media accounts increases whenever she talks about race, because it invites a higher level of abuse. "I get told to go back to where I come from, and I'm like, 'yeah, Brixton, right?!'"

She laughs: "I've lived in Brixton all my life. My family heritage is in Nigeria, but actually I'm not going anywhere - I'm proud, I'm British."

Eshalomi, who is also the Shadow Minister for Democracy, mentors young women who are hoping to break in to politics.

"I don't want them to be put off - there is a fantastic sisterhood of support, and male MPs too", she says.

"Unfortunately, there are a small minority of individuals who are intent on causing hate and trying to sew that division - it's about us standing together and thinking about why we came in to politics."

Eshalomi says she finds strength in inspiring young people, saying "never million years did I think someone like me, from a council estate in Brixton, would sit on those green benches.

"I think about all those other girls on estates across the UK and even beyond who can see and visualise themselves - that representation is really important. It gives me strength to continue."

Speaking of her pride in representing the area of south London she grew up in, she says: "I'm not perfect - but we shouldn't need to bring hate and division in to that. I shouldn't feel fearful. There will be mistakes, we'll have disagreements, but let's do that in a civil way".

Helen Pankhurst was speaking to LBC News
Helen Pankhurst was speaking to LBC News. Picture: Alamy

Speaking to Lisa Aziz on LBC News, Helen Pankhurst, Senior Advisor on Gender Equality for CARE International and great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst said: "When you think about the barriers to women in politics and in fact women leading in anything, increasingly that issue of abuse, violence, online but also spilling over to in real life is a major concern."

"Some get it worse than others. Black women get a lot more online abuse than others do."

"We need a gender-equal parliament and a world in which women are accepted to be in that position and where violence gets treated much more seriously".

More Latest News

See more More Latest News

The scandal surrounding Strictly Come Dancing has deepened after footage showing former professional dancer James Jordan telling his celebrity partner Georgina Bouzova "kill you" surfaced on social media.

Strictly scandal deepens as footage showing ex-pro telling partner he will 'kill her' emerges

Liz Truss

Liz Truss accuses civil service of breaking impartiality rules after King's Speech files refer to 'disaster' mini-budget

Police found "over a dozen" firearms at Crooks' home

Thomas Crooks' father 'called police on the day of the Trump rally shooting'

Cameron Jones left his dying fiancee Demi by the side of the road

Moment driver flees from car wreckage leaving fiancee to die - before he later blames her for horror crash

Kim Johnson wants the two-child benefit cap to be scrapped

Labour MP calls for two-child benefit cap to be axed as she plans King's Speech amendment after policy retained

Adele has played 90 shows in Las Vegas

Adele announces she is stepping back from music after growing to ‘absolutely hate’ fame

Two British travel agents are believed to be the pair found shot dead and their bodies burned in a car in Malmo.

British travel agents thought to be pair shot dead and burned in car in Malmo

Two dead and two children in hospital after house fire in Blackpool

Two die and two children rushed to hospital after house fire in Blackpool

Locals have been warned to avoid the area

Locals warned 'do not open your doors' as huge fire erupts on Birmingham industrial estate

Joe Biden his facing pressure to step down ahead of November's election.

Joe Biden wrongly claims he will cap rent rises at $55 in latest gaffe

A man accused of killing two people and dumping their remains in suitcases by Bristol's Clifton Suspension Bridge and in a flat 116 miles away has appeared in court.

Man accused of killing two and dumping their remains in suitcases on Bristol bridge appears in court

King Charles III has outlined the government's legislative plans for the year ahead

Starmer promises ‘determined and patient’ rebuilding of politics after Charles delivers first King’s Speech

The family of seven-year-old William Brown who was hit by a van and left dying in the road "like an animal" have said they "forgive" the driver as he was sentenced.

‘William would forgive you’: Parents of boy, seven, share heartfelt message as son's killer is spared jail

David Fuller sexually abused the corpses of over 100 women and girls

More than 200 relatives of victims abused by necrophiliac killer David Fuller make compensation claims

Strictly Come Dancing is "struggling to secure female contestants" for the next season of the show following two misconduct scandals involving professional dancers.

Strictly Come Dancing 'struggling to get female contestants' after misconduct scandals

Maya Jama and Stromzy at Paris Fashion Week

‘It just didn’t work’: Maya Jama reveals split from Stormzy