Why We Can’t Ignore Violent Language Towards Anna Soubry And Kim Leadbeater

Following verbal attacks on politician Anna Soubry, Kim Leadbeater, sister of the murdered MP Jo Cox, tells Anna Silverman why she fears even more violent rhetoric around Brexit.

Anna Soubry

by Anna Silverman |
Updated on

Another week edging us closer to 29 March, when the UK will leave the EU – another wave of abuse directed at women in the public eye. Last week, Conservative MP Anna Soubry – a prominent Remainer – faced chants of ‘Soubry is a Nazi’ from Brexit protesters in yellow vests outside Parliament. In an interview with The Times, she admitted she no longer stands at the edge of the platform on the Tube because she worries somebody will push her on to the track.

The atmosphere of intimidation in Westminster has become so bad that she also admitted she uses a side entrance into the House of Commons, constantly looks over her shoulder, and wears shoes she can run in. ‘These are my Brexit bovver boots,’ she said. She’s not the only one. Sky News journalist Kay Burley has said she has security to escort her around Westminster after thugs pelted her with sexist abuse and threats of violence; and BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg is accompanied by security at party conferences. The trend echoes the nastiness that dominated politics around the time of the Brexit referendum campaign in June 2016: violent threats snowballed and resulted in the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox.

Far-right terrorist Thomas Mair repeatedly shot and stabbed Jo as she was on her way to meet constituents in West Yorkshire, shouting, ‘This is for Britain’ and ‘Keep Britain independent’. Her sister, Kim Leadbeater, says what’s happening at the moment feels horribly familiar. ‘People dismiss this stuff as “just being words”, but actually, we end up on a slippery slope and, as we know to our cost, it only takes one individual,’ she says. In the weeks following Jo’s murder, Kim says there was a sense that things would change. ‘People said all the right things – understanding we have to treat each other in a civil manner – and there was a short period of time where things did change. But right now, it’s potentially worse than ever.’

Jo Cox

Now, police stand outside Parliament as thugs hound politicians and journalists with misogynistic and threatening chants. Burley said last week, ‘Unless something happens this will escalate into violence.’ Soubry says she’s received so many death threats she can’t keep track any more. The MP adds, ‘There does seem to be a strong flavour that this is anti-woman and anyone who is not white.’ Kim worries the abuse will deter women from entering politics, or silence those already in the public eye. ‘We don’t want the threat of violence to stop people doing their jobs. The last thing Jo would have wanted is a culture of fear stopping people speaking freely. If Jo was here today, she’d show a huge amount of solidarity with anyone being abused. I imagine she’d say, “Don’t let this intimidation sway you from the path you’ve chosen; don’t let this scare you into not staying true to your beliefs.”’

Kim recalls the abuse Jo received on social media six weeks before she was killed. ‘We’d gone away for my 40th birthday and we had a really frank conversation about it. Jo said, “I need to become more thick-skinned.” She was such a kind, caring, considerate person. The fact she felt she had to become some tough iron woman is really sad. You should be able to carry on being who you are – that was what made her so good at what she did.’ She often thinks back to their happy childhood together, growing up as not only sisters, but also best friends and going on family holidays – and then to what a brilliant mother Jo went on to be.

Now, she can’t bear the thought of Jo’s two children growing up in a world where aggressive and confrontational language and behaviour is deemed acceptable. ‘Something has gone wrong with the way we conduct our democracy for us to get to this point,’ she says. ‘People are clearly angry and we need to look at where that anger has come from,’ Kim continues. ‘The vast majority of people are probably just expressing their anger and frustration at the Brexit process, which I agree has been very frustrating. But it only takes one person to use the current climate as an opportunity to unleash their own dark views.'

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