AFTER years of political uncertainty, the news that we are to have an early General Election on December 12 felt comforting for its predictability.

The impasse in Parliament over our exit from the EU, coupled with Boris Johnson’s non-majority meant that this outcome was somewhat inevitable. While the Government and Opposition parties argued over the precise date that we go to the polls, incumbent MPs have had plenty of time to ponder their own futures. And it seems many have decided that their future lies outside the House of Commons.

Rory Stewart is off to launch a bid to become London Mayor. Labour MP John Mann has taken a seat in the House of Lords. Many long-standing MPs, such as Father of the House Ken Clarke, will be retiring from public life after decades of service. So far, more than 50 MPs have announced their intention to quit Parliament. A notable group among them are several female MPs who have cited threats and personal abuse as a key factor in their decision.

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In her resignation letter, former Conservative MP Heidi Allen said she had become “exhausted” by the invasion into her privacy and “the nastiness and intimidation that has become commonplace’’. She spoke of the “utterly dehumanising’’ abuse she has faced in recent years. Cabinet minister Nicky Morgan noted the impact on her family of the “abuse for doing the job of a modern MP", while Dame Caroline Spelman mentioned the “intensity of abuse arising out of Brexit’’ in her resignation statement.

Social media means that our MPs are more accessible than ever. It is a relatively new way for the public to interact with elected representatives and for politicians to get their message out. But it has its downsides, not least the anonymity it can afford the most hateful recesses of our society.

Since the EU referendum we have witnessed the poison of intolerance and hatred spread far beyond the internet. The over-hyped rhetoric and demonisation of MPs has had real-life consequences, the most devastating of which was the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox. And yet, since that tragic day, it seems few lessons have been learned.

MPs tell us they feel for their safety. Their concerns are genuine but solutions are scarce. Strategies have been put in place by the House authorities to reduce the risk of MPs coming to harm. They have access to panic alarms and other home security measures. But while these reactive practices might be necessary, too little emphasis has been placed on the toxic culture that has led us to this dark place.

There has been no serious effort made among political parties to tone down the reckless language that has many people believing that our representatives in Parliament are enemies and traitors. Brexit will dominate UK politics for years if not decades to come. So too will the legacy it has left behind. That legacy is one of intemperate debate, the polarisation of politics and the normalisation of abuse.

And yet, it’s not enough to dismiss the people who abuse MPs online as bridge-dwelling trolls who operate to different norms than the rest of society. They are a by-product of the wider Brexit debate and our macho, intolerant politics.

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You will struggle to find a politician who condones the personal abuse of their opponents. They often condemn it publicly and tell us they abhor such viciousness in our public discourse. The problem is, too many at the top do this while giving a nudge and a wink to their dutiful social media foot soldiers. While they are making public pronouncements on the right of MPs to do their jobs without fear or threats, they continue to stretch the parameters of what is acceptable even further.

We can’t discuss the coarsening of our public discourse without mentioning our prime minister. When it comes to trolling, Boris Johnson is the most knowing and purposeful of them all.

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When he likened veiled Muslim women to “letter boxes’’ there was a 375% increase in anti-Muslim incidents in the week that followed, according to figures compiled by Tell MAMA.

On each on every occasion he has used the phrase “Surrender Bill’’ to describe the Benn Act, and inferred that MPs holding the executive to account is akin to “thwarting the will of the people’’ he’s known what the likely outcome will be. He cannot claim ignorance when so many MPs have addressed their concerns directly with him. Their worries have thus far fallen on deaf ears.

If there was a moment for him to show some care and moderation in his language, it would have arrived when Labour MP Paula Sheriff tearfully pleaded with him in the House of Commons recently. She said MPs were scared for their safety and all but begged him to tone down his Brexit rhetoric. She spoke movingly of her murdered friend, Jo Cox, and appealed to the prime minister to help cool the temperature of debate.

In response – and to the fury of the chamber – Boris Johnson said he had never heard ‘“such humbug’’ in all his life. I wonder if that was the moment many realised things weren’t going to get any better under this new prime minister. It felt like a tipping point and so perhaps now we shouldn’t feel surprised that so many women are turning their backs on political office and the toxic atmosphere that surrounds it.

A quick search on Twitter shows how gendered the abuse towards female MPs is. The language used is often misogynistic and threats of harm sit alongside references to sexual violence. While undoubtedly perpetrated by a minority and not commonplace – one threat of death or rape is one too many.

There are those who claim that female MPs need to have a tougher skin. Asking women to be a bit more resilient in the face of relentless abuse – online or offline – ignores the scale of the problem.

So, where does this leave us, as we enter into what could be the most bitter and divisive General eEection campaign of our lifetimes?

Women already face structural barriers to entering public life. The level of abuse that is now commonplace adds yet another obstacle.

We are yet to see the full breakdown of who will fight to replace the MPs that are standing down.

In a Parliament where women are historically and persistently underrepresented, one of the unintended consequences could that gender balance remains an unattainable goal.

As we look towards a new Parliament with new priorities, we can only hope that responsible politics will soon be back on the agenda.