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JENNY HJUL: Politicians like Joanna Cherry need protection too

Joanna Cherry has spoken about the abuse she receives. Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Joanna Cherry has spoken about the abuse she receives. Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The outrage expressed by politicians of all parties over the murder of Southend West MP Sir David Amess was justifiably heartfelt.

Among the warm tributes to a much loved member of the House of Commons, there was a renewed focus on the safety of MPs, particularly when they are in their constituencies, as Sir David was when he was knifed to death.

The same was true for the MP for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox, when she was killed in the street five years ago.

While these tragic events are rare occurrences, it is sadly a feature of political life that many of our elected representatives are subjected to a degree of abuse most of us would find unacceptable in our daily lives.

In the wake of Sir David’s death, several politicians have admitted receiving death threats in the past, which they chose not to publicise at the time for fear of sparking copycat attacks.

The open season on politicians is mostly online but there have been terrifying incidents of real-life encounters between MPs and those who intend to cause them harm.

One victim of such an ordeal is Joanna Cherry, the SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, a respected QC and until earlier this year, her party’s justice spokesman at Westminster.

Abuse has taken its toll on Joanna Cherry

Cherry wrote in a newspaper this week that she had contemplated leaving politics due to the abuse levelled at her.

Although the murder of Sir David has been declared an act of terrorism, his death has prompted all people in public life to think about safety and the way debate is conducted, she said.

“I am acutely aware from my own personal experience of the threats to the safety of MPs and our staff,” she wrote.

“On one occasion I required a police escort at my constituency surgery because of a death threat considered credible.

“On another occasion a constituent behaved in such a menacing and threatening manner I and my office manager were in fear of our lives.

“We were so terrified that after he left, we pushed all the furniture against the door of the room in the suburban library where my surgery was being held while we waited for the police to arrive.”

This episode resulted in a conviction as did another, earlier this year, when a man pleaded guilty to threatening Cherry with sexual violence.

In the second case, the perpetrator was a fellow member of the SNP yet Cherry said her party has yet to publicly condemn him.

Joanna Cherry at odds with party leaders

The SNP is a party riven with divisions and Joanna Cherry is unpopular with the ruling hierarchy, as evidenced by her sacking from her frontbench job.

She is also outspokenly out of step on major policy, especially on gender recognition reform.

She may have fallen foul of her party’s prevailing orthodoxies but she should still be deemed worthy of the same protection as her peers.

In February, Cherry said she had been targeted for 18 months by “mainly young men within the party who seem to have a problem with middle-aged lesbians who support women’s sex-based rights”.

Nicola Sturgeon was quick to condemn the killing of David Amess.

But when urged in a letter organised by the SNP’s Women’s Pledge group to condemn the harassment suffered by Cherry, she was less forthcoming.

Her response referred to the abuse she received herself, “on a daily basis”, as First Minister.

This is not only poor leadership but a reflection of the double standards that rate victims according to their status, with some apparently more deserving of support than others.

Women targeted by hateful abuse

Joanna Cherry has said “concerted efforts” are being made to remove women like her from public life.

And there is no doubting the hate that is directed against other women who share her views.

Labour MP Rosie Duffield was too scared to attend her own party conference in Brighton because of her defence of women’s rights against militant transgender activists.

And Sussex professor and feminist Kathleen Stock has been advised to get a bodyguard to go about her academic duties following sinister threats on campus.

Cherry said all threats against people in public life must be taken seriously, “even if made against those with whom we disagree”.

And, she might have added, given her SNP foes, those whom we just don’t like.

That support for victims of abuse be non-conditional should not need to be spelt out in a so-called tolerant society.

Joanna Cherry has decided to stay on in politics, refusing to be silenced by bullying and intimidation.

We will see whether her plea for an end to the demonising of politicians, often by other politicians, is heard or whether it too falls on deaf ears.

Politics is a brutal business. But confronting the monstering of women will make it a little less dangerous.

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