Online abuse could put women off public roles, says Diane Abbott

Updated: 

Diane Abbott has hit out at "misogynistic" comments about her by Cabinet minister David Davis and the racist and sexual abuse she receives online.

The shadow home secretary warned that the "politics of personal destruction" could put women off seeking a role in public life. 

She warned that sexism towards female MPs is still commonplace after Brexit Secretary Mr Davis appeared to say he would not try to kiss the Labour politician because he is "not blind".

Writing in The Guardian, Ms Abbott, who became the first black female MP in 1987, said: "Suppose that someone had told me back then that 30 years on I would be receiving stuff like this: 'Pathetic useless fat black piece of shit Abbott. Just a piece of pig shit pond slime who should be f***ing hung (if they could find a tree big enough to take the fat bitch's weight)'.

"I think that even the young, fearless Diane Abbott might have paused for thought.

"And this is not an isolated example. I receive racist and sexist abuse online on a daily basis. I have had rape threats, death threats, and am referred to routinely as a bitch and/or nigger, and am sent horrible images on Twitter. The death threats include an EDL-affiliated account with the tag 'burn Diane Abbott'."

She said the Article 50 Bill for Brexit in Parliament - when she was absent for the vote on second reading but backed the Government legislation at its final Commons hurdle - was a "perfect storm", including "a crescendo of blatantly racist and sexist abuse online".

"Just when I thought the worst was over, there was horrible coverage in a Sunday tabloid of a misogynist text exchange about me sent by a Cabinet minister."

Mr Davis reportedly clashed with Ms Abbott in a Commons bar following the vote on his Article 50 Bill, when she told him to "f*** off" after he seemed to lean in to try to embrace her.

The Mail on Sunday reported that after the incident a friend texted Mr Davis, saying: "Cannot believe you made an attempt to give DA (Diane Abbott) a hug!"

The Cabinet minister replied: "Didn't, but the myth grows. I whispered in her ear 'Thanks for your vote' hence the 'F off'. I am not blind."

Ms Abbott said her decision to write about her experiences was not about how she was treated as an individual but a culture which could deter women from entering politics.

"Once, the pushback was against the actual arguments for equality and social justice. Now the pushback is the politics of personal destruction.

"This is doubly effective for opponents of social progress. Not only does it tend to marginalise the female 'offender', but other women look at how those of us in the public space are treated and think twice about speaking up publicly, let alone getting involved in political activity."

She said it is important to address the issue following the rise in racist incidents since the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump in the US. 

She said: "If online commentary and the rise in racist incidents are anything to go by, there is a danger that Brexit could give some people permission to express sentiments that are anything but progressive and internationalist. And as the world adjusts to a Trump presidency there is also a danger that his misogyny and virulent anti-immigrant narrative will become normalised."