Margaret Hodge: I was told not to be unaccompanied at conference due to security fears

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Margaret Hodge: I was told not to be unaccompanied at conference due to security fears

In wake of the death of MP Sir David Amess, veteran Labour politician reveals she was told 'not to use the front door as an entry' to the event which was 'unthinkable even 10 years ago'

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Dame Margaret Hodge has revealed she was told not to walk around unaccompanied at last month’s Labour Party Annual Conference in Brighton because of fears around her safety.

Speaking following the tragic death of the Conservative MP Sir David Amess, the Jewish Labour Movement’s parliamentary chair said political life for her had “completely changed” since she became an elected representative five decades ago.

The MP for Barking said: “I think of Labour Party conference this year where I was advised,  before I went, that I should not go unaccompanied.

“And that I should perhaps not use the front door as an entry to the conference centre.

“That was unthinkable, you know, ten years ago.”

Hodge said she was left “totally shocked” by the death of Tory MP Amess and added she wished to express “empathy” with his family at a time of terrible grief.

The MP also used the interview with Sky News politics presenter Adam Boulton to stress how she felt it was “important” that MPs remain “strongly connected” with local constituents.

But in the aftermath of Friday’s horrific fatal stabbing of Amess, 69, at a constituency surgery in a church in Leigh-on-Sea in his Southend West seat, Hodge suggested MPs consider other ways of staying connected with constituents.

She revealed that she has “a few years ago” decided to stop hosting open surgeries in his East London seat – not due to safety fears, of which she had several – but because she did not believe this to be the best way to reach a wide range of local voters.

“When I did hold constituency surgeries, which I did for years and years, I had worrying incidents,” she explained.

“I had to change the layout of the room, I had to get a panic button. All of those things we did to try and enhance our security.

“But we can’t totally protect ourselves.”

Hodge then revealed she did not stop doing regular surgeries “because of fear” but because “other ways of working help me connect with more people.”

The outspoken campaigner against antisemitism in Labour under previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, revealed she now preferred to send invitations to 1000 constituents at a time to meet her at coffee and tea events.

During sessions lasting up to three hours, Hodge said she could then get to meet more people than the few who would come to open MP surgeries.

It would also often be the same people coming to surgeries, while the larger invite system enabled her to meet more people.

Hodge also said it was crucial that MPs operated effective case work systems to act on constituents complaints – but she admitted it was up to individual parliamentarians to find ways that best suited them.

Asked about the impact of social media on political discourse, Hodge – who revealed she was the subject of 90, 000 posts during a two-month period at the height of the antisemitism crisis under Corbyn – said she feared online culture had “stifled democracy” rather than enhancing it.

She also called for a return to “high calibre” debate in the House of Commons.

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