Female councillors, including Cornwall Council’s leader Linda Taylor, have said abuse and harassment is putting women off standing for election. Cllr Taylor told a meeting of the full council this week that such behaviour “cannot and will not be tolerated” to cross-party applause.
Cllr Thalia Marrington (Liberal Democrats, Mousehole, Newlyn & St Buryan) told the meeting at New County Hall / Lys Kernow in Truro on Tuesday that she had recently held a women in politics event. “I was sat with a group of women and when I asked would any of you think about stepping forward [into politics], the same things came up like ‘oh my goodness, I couldn’t even think about it’, ‘toxic environment’, ‘you’re fair game for everything’.
“I also went to a Home Office meeting where 11 councillors across England were discussing harassment, abuse and intimidation, and two of the councillors – women – weren’t going to stand again. One of the men on that course then wrote to everyone involved saying there’s a disproportionate amount of abuse of women in politics.”
She asked Cllr Taylor: “Do you think there is something wrong here and what do you think we as a council can do about it?”
The Conservative leader of the council responded: “The subject that you’re raising is something I’ve experienced. I would say it’s actually not just females within this chamber, but it has had an impact on elected male members. I would have to say quite clearly that this behaviour has to be called out.”
She said it was a problem both within the council and in the public arena.
“Where we have abuse and it is coming as a direct result of incitement from some members within this chamber then their peers must call them out and that goes for all parties. I think there has been some considerable work done recently within democratic services where they are recognising that unfortunately this appears to be an acceptable standard for some people to challenge elected members.
“We have to change the behaviour. We have to make sure that it is not acceptable for anybody outside of this chamber to treat elected members with such disrespect and to be so horrible and harmful.”
Cllr Taylor added: “It is a shame that it does impact on more women than it does on men. It’s because of this that we are seeing some females are choosing not to stand again or even thinking of coming forward for election. I’m hoping that the work that we can do within this chamber, supported by our democratic services and legal team, will start to make a difference.
“I think the fact that we are calling it out has got to be the first steps forward in acknowledging that this is not acceptable behaviour, especially to women but also male elected members of this chamber.
“I ask for every elected member to stand firm, work together, call it out and make sure that everyone knows this is not acceptable and we are not going to tolerate it. Anyone who is standing for election in 2025, I want them to stand knowing there will be support from all parties to ensure this behaviour cannot and will not be tolerated.”
Her speech was greeted with a round of applause from all members.