THE BLOG

There Is Something Rotten In... The State of Our Politics

11/07/2016 16:30 | Updated 12 July 2016
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So Andrea Leadsom is the latest in a line of politicians to fall at a self-inflicted political hurdle. Perhaps it's not surprising given what she said and the way she said it. The most forensic analysis I've see is this from Helen Lewis for The Times. I won't dwell on it again here.

But in all the feeding frenzy that characterises our political media and reporting I think we also have to take a moment to reflect on what the recent campaigns tell us about the state of our politics and in particular the way we still treat our female politicians. Now, given Leadsom's offensive motherhood remarks you can argue, well if you live by the sword...but there is something more going on here that I think we have to understand if we are going to begin to repair our broken, dysfunctional, misogynistic politics.

Still a numbers game

As we mark the arrival of our second female PM, we have to remember that women are still more absent than not. Only 29% of our MPs are women and 18% of all on those quoted our TV screen and in our press and just 1 in 10 of the politicians quoted in the media during the EU Referendum campaign were women. They were marginalised and generally drowned out by a macho campaign which left many of us cold.

Imposter syndrome

The treatment of our female politicians has to lead us to the inevitable conclusion that they are still regarded as imposters on the political scene. Theresa May herself was famously subject to it as the media obsessed about her choice of footwear rather than her choice of words. It led to Fawcett's #viewsnotshoes campaign. And remember the obsession with Jacqui Smith's cleavage at the despatch box? It's a form of reporting which is all about reducing women to what they really are - their bodies. Anything else they are pretending to be is just that, not the real thing. It's a boys' club you see and you can't come in.

Abuse of a different order

The death and rape threats many MPs, particularly women MPs, receive on daily basis have to be taken seriously. Even if 99.9% are nasty but empty threats, it only takes one and we have already seen Jo Cox MP brutally murdered for her political views. Jess Phillips MP recently reported that she received 600 rape threats in one day as a result of her highlighting the Reclaim the Internet campaign. Of course it isn't only women MPs who are targeted. But be in no doubt this is misogyny writ large and made easy. Any woman who speaks out is fair game.

Our social media platforms enable and allow it to happen, our laws offer inadequate protection and our police are ill-equipped to deal with it. So is the answer simply to develop a thicker skin?

As Leadsom shows, even those who would be PM struggle to bear the attacks, so what hope for women who want to run a local campaign or promote an online petition? Too many will be silenced by their treatment or intimidated from ever speaking out at all. Dr Amanda Foreman eloquently spoke about this in the recent Fawcett lecture. The patriarchy is all about silencing women.

A renewed focus and a new approach

So what is the way forward? We have to start with a clear statement of what is and isn't acceptable. Misogyny is a form of hate crime and should be treated as such. Currently our laws do not offer any protection from hostility or abuse is based on the sex of the victim. This must change. Secondly we have to stand together, women and men, and from across all parties to support the Reclaim the Internet campaign and to say enough is enough. Thirdly, social media platforms must take responsibility for what happens on their watch. We need a technological solution to this and they have the resources to develop one.

Finally - we have to treat this as a rallying call. We need more women in politics now than ever before. We need men to sponsor and support women to stand and we need women to encourage and support other women. It is the only way forward. The alternative is more rank, dysfunctional broken politics.

Sam Smethers is the chief executive of the Fawcett Society