Abuse survivors to take on five MPs at next general election

Emma Graham-Harrison
Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA

Five members of parliament accused of assault or sexual harassment will face survivors of violence and abuse on the stump at the next general election, with the new candidates representing the Women’s Equality Party on an anti-violence platform.

The WEP is pushing for stronger action nationally, after years of cuts to vital domestic violence support services, and in Westminster, where they claim there is a culture of impunity.

“If parliament won’t hold these men to account, then we will hold them to account at the ballot box,” said Serena Laidley, WEP candidate for Luton North. She will stand against Kelvin Hopkins, a Labour MP suspended from the party while under investigation for sexual harassment allegations.

No MP has stepped down because of sexual violence or abuse of women, although some have lost their party whip. A recent survey found one in five people who work in parliament reported they had been sexually harassed in a single year.

Jenn Selby, WEP candidate for Cities of London and Westminster, said that violence cannot be tackled while men suspected of violence remain in positions of power. “As long as they continue to influence legislation that affects the lives of women and girls across the country, we cannot hope to create a more equal future or one that is free from violence,” she said.

Selby will stand against Conservative MP Mark Field, who was caught on camera grabbing a woman by the neck. He was fired from his ministerial role over the incident, but prime minister Boris Johnson dropped the investigation into Field’s actions when he took over from Theresa May.

Boris Johnson dropped the investigation into Mark Field’s actions when he took over from Theresa May. Photograph: Reuters

Field said in a statement in June he had reacted “instinctively” to an intruder and “unreservedly apologised” to the woman.

The WEP has launched its new policy now because Johnson is expected by many to call an election within weeks or months.

Three other MPs will also face survivors. The first is Jared O’Mara, ex-Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam who was accused of sexual harassment. In a statement in July O’Mara, now an independent, admitted he sent messages during a mental health crisis that were “not of a sober or rational mind”. He was arrested last week on suspicion of fraud, the BBC reported.

The others are Charlie Elphicke, Conservative MP for Dover, who has been charged with three counts of sexual assault, and Ivan Lewis, independent MP for Bury South. He quit the Labour party last year before an investigation into sexual harassment allegations had been completed.

Elphicke, Lewis and Hopkins have denied any wrongdoing.

The WEP wants changes to the law governing when MPs can be recalled, and an independent investigations system for allegations of violence, harassment and assault. They also want to reverse years of cuts to refuges and other support for domestic violence survivors.