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MP’s astonishing attack on local members of her own party

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WARRINGTON North Labour MP Helen Jones has delivered an astonishing attack on local members of her own party during a House of Commons debate on intimidation in public life.
She claims to have been subjected throughout her 22 years in Parliament to bullying, harassment and intimidation from people in her own party in Warrington who did not want a woman MP.
“There are still people who believe that women do not belong in the public sphere and, if they are to be there at all, they are there to do as they are told,” she said.
Ms Jones said she had not spoken of the matter before but had decided to do so because she had seen some of her “younger sisters” going through the same thing.
“If someone like me, who has been here for a long time, does not call it out, who will? If not now, when?
The MP said the problem was not in Parliament. She had received sterling support from male and female colleagues over the years.
But while the culture in the Commons had changed, with the arrival of more women MPs, the problem in political parties had not been sufficiently tackled.
“There were people in my constituency who did not want a woman MP. They considered the seat the rightful property of some favoured son. I have never come across a favoured daughter, by the way; it is always favoured sons. “It started immediately. A man I had never met went on ‘Election Call’ to denounce me. Untrue stories were fed to the press and I was labelled a militant, which at least gave my union colleagues a laugh because their nickname for me was ‘the hammer of the Trots’. “I was accused of gaining the seat by some carefully unspecified chicanery, despite the fact I won on the first ballot and the count was supervised by the regional director of the party.
“One semi-literate bully even said that he was thinking of taking legal action; I responded that legal action cannot be taken simply because someone has more votes than their favoured candidate.
“However, what did my party do? It invited these people in and recounted the ballot in front of them. You do not treat bullies in that way; if you keep paying the Danegeld, the Danes keep coming back.
“After I was elected, I found that council officers had been given an instruction not to bother too much responding to my letters, because I would be a one-term-only candidate. That instruction could have come from only the leader or deputy leader of the council. Even worse, the officers accepted it, rather than saying it was an improper instruction, which it was.
“I found that my next-door neighbour was frequently invited to council events in my constituency, but I was not. Each time they apologised, and said it was a terrible mistake, but they kept doing it.
“I discovered that there was a little clique in Warrington of the self-appointed great and good, who decided most things between them—usually with little reference to the people I represented.
“I found that people had been told not to contact me about their problem, because I was not any good.
“A ‘wanted: dead or alive’ poster with my picture on it was put through my door and I received a number of pretty vile anonymous letters.
“By themselves, these events may seem slight; it is their cumulative effect that is the problem. They are not unique. If we are honest, there seems to be a problem with some male councillors who are used to being big fish in a little pond, and do not like having a woman MP. I know of several council leaders who deal with the male MPs in their borough, but not the woman.
“I had a council leader who would not speak to me. Once, when I dragged him to a meeting, he sat in his chair tapping on the arm and refusing to engage.
“I have an ex-parliamentary candidate in my area—not in my constituency—called Nick Bent. He is the outwardly respectable chief executive officer of a charity called the Tutor Trust and a trustee of the Oasis Academy. He has sent me so many abusive texts and emails that I have a thick file of them.
“Among his little gems—there are a lot—were ones calling me ‘poisonous and useless’ and ‘not fit to tie my bootlaces’ – not that I would want to.”
Ms Jones said Mr Bent had told her she should step down as there were plenty of good candidates, that she was almost certainly going to be de-selected and it might be the only way to preserve a bit of dignity.
“This man has not only abused me: he has abused my staff, my family and my constituency chair, who is well-respected in the area and has done a lot locally.
“Women councillors in his constituency have been on the receiving end of abusive emails and messages from him. He reduced a young woman organiser to tears during a general election.
“In 2016, I submitted a bullying and harassment complaint; I had been pretty patient for six years. What happened? It was mysteriously lost. I resubmitted it, but I am still waiting.
“Last week, I learned that a whole cache of emails and letters, which are stolen data, have been selectively leaked to the local press. The leak is selective: they have put in the complaints that were made, but not the fact that they were dismissed. People like this constantly make complaints about women MPs; they are spurious, but they do it to try to grind them down.”
The MP said she did not know who was responsible for the leaks. But she knew why.
“It is payback, because I have been supporting constituents trying to defend the last green space in north Warrington from development, and because I have said that the local council was wrong to buy a business park through an offshore trust that meant it avoided paying tax.”
Ms Jones referred to many other instances of women MPs suffering similar problems and claimed they were an attempt to ensure their voices were not heard in the public sphere at all.
“Why do we carry on doing it? In my view, we do it because my constituents deserve it—they deserve my standing up for them. They have returned me at six general elections, so I think I must be doing something right. We should never, ever accept this behaviour as normal, in the same way that we should never accept threats of violence as normal. It is part of a continuum aimed at women MPs. It is time it stopped and it is time political parties made sure it is stopped.”
Nick Bent, who unsuccessfully stood for Labour twice in Warrington South and is now a member of Stockton Heath Parish Council, said: “Abuse of public figures, especially women, is abhorrent and getting worse. Sadly, I saw this myself during my time as Special Adviser to Tessa Jowell MP in Westminster, particularly when I worked on her Women and Equality portfolio in Cabinet.”
“I am proud of my record on supporting and promoting women, both in politics and at work, and I have done vastly more than Helen Jones to promote diversity and female equality in Warrington Labour.
“Bullying and harassment by MPs, whether male or female, is also unjustifiable.
“The Labour Party has a duty of care to members, to stop them being abused by MPs, and it’s time for the NEC to re-open its inquiry into Helen Jones and her family, to put an end to it.”
“It is suspicious that Helen Jones is hiding behind parliamentary privilege to tell lies and to try to silence her critics. When I have legitimate concerns about politicians of any stripe or gender, I raise them openly and in a measured way. Important questions about Helen Jones’s parliamentary expenses, her use of House of Commons resources, her other paid work and so on are all matters of interest to Warrington voters. She should be giving honest answers, not making false allegations.”
The full debate, including Helen Jones’ speech, can be seen at the following link:
https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2019-05-21/debates/19052166000001/IntimidationInPublicLife

Nick Bent
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4 Comments

  1. She spent years ignoring the people of Warrington. Reports people for handing in a petition. She says it’s harassment. Needs to work much harder to keep her seat as most people seem to have her deselected.

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