Jess Phillips: ‘Carrie Shouldn’t Have To Answer To Boris’

Last week Boris Johnson faced serious questions about his relationship with Carrie Symonds, after police were called to her flat. Here, Labour MP Jess Phillips explains why the fallout has horrified her...

Carrie Symonds Boris Johnson Domestic

by Jess Phillips |
Updated on

I felt last week as if I have been wasting my breath for a decade, or perhaps I was shouting from behind soundproof glass over the last 10 years I’ve spent trying to improve attitudes towards incidences of domestic violence. Either way, I and others haven’t been heard.

In the wake of the police being called to Boris Johnson’s girlfriend’s flat because of shouting and screaming – Carrie Symonds was allegedly heard yelling ‘get off me’ and ‘get out of my flat’ – some of the public discourse about it has revealed a rhetoric I had hoped was long dead. Quickly, in order to protect their man, Tory MPs lined up to insist that domestic issues were private, that these were simply family matters. The neighbours – both those who recorded the incident and called the police, and others who just heard it – were vilified as nosy and intrusive. There was one particularly stupid comparison to the Stasi, the East German secret service – because obviously recording an argument on your phone which is loud enough that you can hear it in your own home and on the street is just like having a network of spies who use oppression and aggression to keep their political party safe.

None of Boris Johnson’s outriders said the thing that they should have, if they cared more about victims of domestic abuse than their own career progress. They should have congratulated the neighbours who called the police and thanked them for doing the right thing – the thing neighbours should do if they are worried. The way we talk about these things matters, because the oppressed need to hear that if they are being battered or raped in their home, someone might come. And we need to make (usually very cautious) neighbours think that yes, they should intervene in any way they can; that a false alarm is better than a fatality.

One of the worst cases of homicide I have ever known was when a neighbour recorded on their phone the sound of their neighbour being murdered by her partner. They did not know at the time that was what it was and they didn’t call the police: instead, the evidence was later used in court to convict the killer. I am not saying for a single second that what happened in Carrie Symonds’ flat was domestic abuse and there’s absolutely no suggestion that Boris Johnson was in any way violent. I have a rule I wish others would follow: that I only publicly make or back up accusations I have heard directly from victims. So I don’t know what happened, and no one does apart from them. Boris Johnson’s refusal to speak about it means we will probably never know.

There is, therefore, an obvious desire to find out from Carrie what happened. I heard some of Boris Johnson’s colleagues calling for as much, saying she should come out and clear up the allegations. This left the onus on her, the woman not running to be the Prime Minister, to do the heavy lifting. This is always where we end up – we expect women to do all the explaining: it is somehow their job to prove or disprove what happened, and it is they who will be judged no matter what they say. But Carrie is in a catch-22 situation. What are they expecting her to say?

In order to clear up the problem, Boris Johnson’s team released a photo of him and Carrie smiling together at a picnic table (Johnson last week refused to answer questions about it). The photo was then open to much scrutiny about when it had been taken, once again entirely missing the point. Who cares when it was taken? A photo of a happy couple proves absolutely nothing. This line of questioning leans on the nonsensical idea that nothing bad could be happening in the home of someone pictured smiling. This is the kind of thing victims have to face all the time: the idea that because they are sometimes happy that they can’t be a victim or that they are obviously fakers. This is basic stuff that if the public don’t know, those who make our laws should.

That is why the incident itself is not the issue for me. I do think that if you want to be Prime Minister you have a responsibility to be open and honest, and answer questions about the police being called to your home. But, much more, you have a responsibility to measure your words and the words of your army in order not to damage the people of your country. It is not the police call-out I’m worried about any more – I’m worried instead that our leaders don’t understand the lives of women. Either that, or they don’t care. Neither helps the thousands of women in the UK who will tonight be wishing that their neighbour would call the police. There is no such thing as ‘just a domestic’. I’m sorry that any other message got sent. The country deserved better.


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CREDIT: Twitter Danielle Rowley

Danielle Rowley, 28, Midlothian Scottish Labour MP

Speaking about her groundbreaking announcement, Danielle perfectly highlighted just how ridiculous it is that it's even a taboo to mention your period. She said on Twitter:'A lot of unexpected coverage of me talking about my period - which is great, but also highlights the need to talk about periods more openly.A woman mentioning her period shouldn't be such huge news - let's use this opportunity and work together to get to a place where it's not!'

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Jess Phillips, 36, Birmingham Yardley Labour MP

Jess brought social media trolls to account when she called for those who post abusive messages online to lose their anonymity. The MP told parliament that she once received 600 rape threats in one night and is threatened with violence and aggression every single day online. The online community is so hostile towards women that Amnesty International have led a campaign calling for Twitter to take greater responsibility for preventing online abuse. Jess told the House of Commons that people should have to disclose their real identity to social media platforms, with hope that it would not only deter people from abusing women online but also enable us to hold them to account.

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Heidi Allen, 43, South Cambridgeshire Conservative MP

Heidi, alongside Jess Phillips, shared an emotional account of her own abortion with parliament earlier this month. In an attempt to reform Northern Ireland's abortion laws, she told the Cambridge independent that she felt she needed to share her story:'I had intended to say it because I had a feeling nobody else would.'I thought it probably needed saying.'I suppose it is very easy to make issues like that just about procedure and legislation and words and policy but, actually, it is about people's lives.'Jess Phillips too opened up about her own abortion, also sharing harrowing stories from women in Northern Ireland who had terminated pregnancies.

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Stella Creasy, 41, Walthamstow Labour MP

The original lead of cross-party calls for Northern Ireland's abortion laws to be brought in line with the rest of the UK's, Stella received tons of hate mail over her campaign to protect women's right to choose. It was in her call for debate over abortion that Heidi Allen and Jess Philips were able to talk about their own terminations.

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CREDIT: Facebook Penny Mourdant

Penny Mourdant, 45, Portsmouth North Conservative MP

The Minister for Women and Equalities, Penny Mourdant launched the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Securitywhich calls for more women to be at the centre of the DFID's peace, security and humanitarian programmes. As secretary of state for international development, she has attempted to reform the aid sector by creating an independent safeguarding unit that prevents exploitation. This comes in the wake of a series of sex scandals against leading charities earlier this year.

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Wera Hobhouse, 58, Bath Liberal Democrat MP

Wera Hobhouse brought Gina Martin's upskirting campaign to parliament as a private members bill set to outlaw the vile crime. While the bill was subsequently blocked by two male MPs, a third reading of the bill is set to continue on the 6th of July with Gina stating 'the Government Bill will become law as it'll get through the later stages more quickly and won't be objected to.'

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Maria Miller, 54, Basingstoke Conservative MP

It was off the back of the upskirting bill that Maria Miller and Jess Phillips have met with Wera Hobhouse in an attempt to include a revenge porn amendment. It would ensure there was a blanket ban on voyeuristic images regardless of the intention in taking it, as the MPs feared people would attempt to bend the wording of the upskirting law to avoid conviction by arguing they took the image with no intention of causing distress. They also wanted to introduce an amendment that would ban false pornographic images, in which faces are photoshopped onto explicit images. However, they were told it was impossible to introduce further amendments. This comes after Love Island stars Zara McDermott and Laura Anderson became victims of revenge porn this week.

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Mhairi Black, Paisley and Renfrewshire South SNP MP

As part of the discussion about classing misogyny as a hate crime, Mhairi Black spoke out about the misogynistic and homophobic abuse she receives online every day. She also asked parliament to reflect on their own environment, stating, 'Only a few weeks ago I was physically pressed up against a Member (of Parliament) in the voting lobby who is accused of sexual misconduct because there's so little room.'Acknowledging she has the 'same right and influence as any other elected man', she spoke up for the female staff who aren't in her position.

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Melanie Onn, 39, Great Grimsby Labour MP

Leading the charge to make misogyny a hate crime, Melanie highlighted the 'link between low-level harassment of women and more serious sexual assaults' that was found by Westminster's all-party group on domestic violence. In her constituency, the rate of domestic violence is particularly high. As a result, she has called for a law change to have misogynistic acts such as wolf-whistling, leering and sexual comments in public to be made a criminal offence.

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Monica Lennon, 37, Central Scotland Scottish Labour MSP

Monica introduced a Member's Bill into Scottish parliament that would see the creation of free universal access to sanitary products. Proposing also that schools, colleges and universities provide free sanitary products in their toilets, she led the campaign that stands to end period poverty in Scotland.

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