I’ve been around politics long enough to realise that the people on the front line – the politicians who put themselves in the spotlight and court media attention - must expect negative publicity at some point. But what about those of us in the background who merely work for politicians? Aren’t we entitled to be able to get on with our jobs without being considered a weapon with which to to attack our bosses?
If you work for Ukip, as I have done as a press adviser to Nigel Farage, then I am pretty confident that the answer to that is No. I experienced this recently when I was accused of having an affair with Mr Farage. I had to put up with intrusion into my life which included having personal photographs published without permission and being hounded by journalists. And I suffered this because an MEP, Nikki Sinclaire, decided to make use of parliamentary privilege so as to voice this nonsense without fear of legal action. And it meant that the papers could write up the bitchy gossip as if it were an actual story, without ending up on the wrong end of a writ.
My life became extremely unpleasant. I feared the phone ringing. I anxiously wondered what latest accusation was going to be hurled at me by an establishment-supporting newspaper, and I completely shut down my social media pages, wanting to avoid my every word being scrutinised and ending up in print. Even my weight became fair game for political comment.
The general consensus was that I just had to deal with it because it was an election campaign and people were out to get Ukip. Not that I expected anyone to stand up for the rights of a woman to work for a right-wing political party and be left alone to do her job. If I’d been from Labour, then the feminist network would have come out to defend me.
And it’s not just me who has been victim of double standards.
I don’t especially approve of staff being used in campaign literature, for the simple reason that it opens them up to media attention and is unnecessary when a party has thousands of voters to chose from. But in these days of PR, a photogenic woman is a coup for any political party.
In the case of Ukip, this resulted in explicit photos of the featured employee, Lizzy Vaid, being sent to a national newspaper, and they have apparently been uploaded to the internet for any tom, dick or pervert to gawp at.
On what level does appearing in a party manifesto mean that anyone is fair game for what is now known as “revenge porn”?
When Caroline Criado-Perez received threats on Twitter after she campaigned for Jane Austen to appear on the new £10 note, it quite rightly caused outrage. Journalists, politicians and commentators voiced their shock at the rape and bomb threats which the women supporting this campaign received. It racked up column inches in newspapers, filled blog posts and resulted in the “Twitter Silence” in protest.
But how is what Ms Vaid has been put through any less worthy of support from her fellow humans? It is something no person should have to go through. But the silence from the sisterhood has been deafening: I should have thought that those campaigning against Page 3 would also be berating The Sun for even running the story of the photos in the first place. I am unaware that “young woman has breasts” is in any way news.
Where is the “Twitter Silence” for Ms Vaid? Online threats are awful, and words do wound, but what she has had to put up with is real. This was no threat - this actually happened.
The Protection from Harassment Act in UK law can ensure that these people get suitably punished. But of course the damage has already been done. What can help us get through these dark times is knowing that people out there sympathise with us. And with global communication at our fingertips, it’s never been easier to show that support.