Conservative candidate Nickie Aiken has left Twitter due to abuse from trolls.
In an election build up that saw her party rebrand their CCHQPress Twitter handle to ‘FactCheck HQ’, the candidate for Cities of London and Westminster believes the intersection of social media and political discourse is a long-term problem and a recipe for disaster.
“I’ve been appalled at some of the language and threats that female politicians have received and I’ve experienced some myself,” she said.
“That’s why I’m off Twitter. I find it toxic and the anonymity worries me.
“Twitter should hold its head in shame for the lack of seriousness it takes in many of these cases, they had a cold-shoulder attitude when I took my concerns to them. They don’t care.”
The problem first took centre-stage in 2017 when, in the six months leading up to the 2017 General Election, research by Amnesty International found that Diane Abbot received 31% of the 25,000 abusive social media messages sent to MPs.
Racial slurs like ‘n*****’ and comments on her size such as, ‘fat bitch’ led to Ms Abbott’s colleague Harriet Harman pleading for an end to the unpleasantness that underlied the shocking statistic that women’s average length of service as MPs was about 33% shorter than for men – four to five years less, on average.
But two years on, the relationship between politics and hate-speech remains a fundamental issue that has seen a slew of prominent figures such as Cabinet Minister Nicky Morgan and Heidi Allen make up 18 female MPs to have recently stepped away from the Commons benches.
Ms Aiken believes those on these benches are a large part of the problem.
“There has become a really uncomfortable, perhaps aggressive atmosphere in the Commons across all parties,” she said.
“No party has come out well on this and I expect the new speaker will clean up the Commons behaviour and there need to be fresh faces there.”
The constituency is vacant after its former MP Mark Field stepped down earlier this year citing a ‘fractious and febrile’ atmosphere.
Fighting Ms Aiken for the seat is former Labour MP for Streatham Chuka Umunna who has worn Labour, Change UK, Independent and now Liberal Democrat colours within the space of a year.
At the campaign’s outset, Ms Aiken described Mr Umunna’s chances as ‘farcical’ and claimed he had been ‘parachuted in’ in the hope of causing an upset in the historically-Tory seat.
“In Westminster we have 60 councillors; 41 Tory and 19 Labour, there’s never been a Liberal Democrat in its history,” she said.
“Even when we had our by-election in the most Remain ward in Westminster, the Lib Dems did really badly. I’m under no illusion that it’s a tough battle but it’s a two-horse race and my real opponent has always been Labour’s Gordon Nardell.”
YouGov’s most recent polling indicates that this seems to be the case with Mr Nardell’s 28% estimated vote share coming behind Ms Aiken’s 40%.
Despite being one of the UK’s most recognisable political figures and recent endorsement from Hugh Grant, Mr Umunna’s estimated vote share only numbers 27%.
The Lib Dems’ own polling propaganda sees them in second place behind Ms Aiken.
Should the Lib Dems or Labour clinch the seat, Ms Aiken will be the first Conservative MP to fail at securing the seat since its creation in 1950, a situation Mr Umunna and Mr Nardell are fighting for.
Read more about what’s important to south west London constituencies in our 24-page General Election preview special.