A gender equality charity reported recently its research on the representation of women in parliament.
Only one third of MPs are women with only three female cabinet ministers.
The reasons for this are many and varied, such as sexism or an absence of maternity or compassionate leave and sexism, but one stands out as something we, as constituents and activists, can all do our bit towards countering: The Fawcett Society found that seven out of ten women would not enter politics because of perceived potential abuse or harassment.
I have witnessed this myself – the anger shown towards our politicians on social media; in town councils where unpaid councillors have been shouted out, belittled and berated.
And this isn’t just words, remember Jo Cox.
What kind of elected representatives should we expect if we subject them to such an environment? Only the ones who can survive a deeply hostile environment and possibly thrive on the drama. Do we only want those sorts of people to represent us? Or do we want kind people, honest people, empathetic people? ‘Soft’ people?
CCL’s key values include respect and gratitude for the work our elected representatives do, regardless of their politics. Our MPs are human beings who are there as our public servant and, as any of us do, respond better to praise.
My MP has stated that his staff go through his correspondence and bin anything offensive – this was after the school meals extension vote (he voted along government lines, ie against) and constituents vented their passion in writing calling him ‘scum’ and the like. Despite my personal feelings on this matter, it’s important to work through those strong emotions before putting finger to keyboard. Your MP will far more likely respond to a reasonable counter argument, or a personal story as to the detrimental affect of such a vote. If you feel your MP is working off duff evidence, then direct them to fresh evidence. If you think their experience does not include the dire experience of not having enough food to feed their children, share that experience with them, kindly, and help build their empathy.
And the best way to build empathy is for you to show empathy.
Even better, write to them and politely ask for their reasons, get their best arguments out so you can respond to them with empathy. Another way to depersonalise an unhelpful stance – say, standing against climate change measures – is to ask them to pass your thoughts to the relevant minister and get back to you with an answer. Usually, if an MP values their position within their party they will vote along party lines, whipped or no, so it’s more relevant for them to pass comment along to the most senior minister with the power to affect policy.
I aim to have a interesting conversation with my MP, one which invites their opinion and which they will be happy to continue.
I hope that our brilliant and respectful members of CCL will be a reason that women (and people of all backgrounds, ethnicity and more) feel able to put themselves forward to do the important job of representing our interests in parliament.
We can all do our bit in lowering the temperature over hot issues whether that’s in correspondence or on social media or personal interactions – increasing trust – but remaining firm – will get the job done faster than shaming and shouting – and help keep our MPs safe from harm.
Everyone should feel able to do their job without fear of abuse and harassment, and that especially includes MPs.
Pictured: Jo Cox
If you haven’t already, I urge you to take part in our Motivational Interview training by Vince Schutt. He coaches us in the art of keeping on top of those reactive actions and how to open conversation up rather than closing it down, persuasion through trust.