Liberal MP Nicolle Flint (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

Chances are, Liberal MP’s Nicolle Flint’s speech announcing her departure from politics won’t be one for the ages, as was Julia Gillard’s “won’t be lectured” moment, or Julie Banks’ chamber-clearing moment.

Fighting back tears, the departing member for Boothby denounced the harassment and stalking she had been subject to, and being “screamed at” by Labor, GetUp etc supporters in the course of campaigning.

Flint accused the Labor Party leadership of inaction, and urged it to “get its own house in order” on matters of sexism, harassment etc. In purely political terms, the speech was a bit of welcome relief for the government in a tough week, turning the guns around if only for a moment.

Stirring stuff, though cynics might wonder if Flint’s decision not to contest the marginal seat of Boothby at the next election has more to do with the fact that she is virtually certain to lose it than with the rough life of politics.

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That predicament is due in part to the campaigning of GetUp and Extinction Rebellion that Flint has objected to — a campaign which reminded voters of the rapidly changing electorate that Flint was part of the Liberal Party’s right, a supporter of Peter Dutton and, if not a climate change denier, at least a minimiser.

GetUp and others determined that Boothby was a weak link in the political chain, a seat that could change hands if pressure was applied. Not the case, as it turned out, but it was worth a go.

Now Flint is using that vociferous campaign against her, as an MP, as an example of the same sort of sexism and misogyny being targeted in the wake of the Brittany Higgins and other allegations.

This line of attack is being supported almost entirely uncritically by much of the media with, for example, Fran Kelly and Phillip Coorey in this morning’s AM lumping in “left-wing protesters” with harassers in general.

That would surely be the point at which we start to part company with Flint et al. One of the signature events of the recent wave of protests on the gender front has been the way in which the movement appears to have marked a final detachment of such from anything recognisable as largely on the left (or having some form of left analysis at its base) — a moment symbolically represented by the heroic reception given to a former Liberal staffer in a white dress addressing a crowd marching against patriarchy — which in its contemporary form is a product of the policies the Liberals have been earnestly spruiking.

The fact that the imperative of that political difference has fallen away — that, in an earlier time, Higgins, whatever her travails, would not be allowed to become the face of such a movement — is a measure of the shift.

If a right-wing suburban Liberal like Flint can enrol in it and make GetUp and Extinction Rebellion the enemy, the shift has become comprehensive. Flint’s claims that the vigorous and confrontational street campaign she was subject to amounts to misogyny, is special pleading, nothing more or less.

The civil disobedience of obstruction and property damage, such as graffiting an office with anti-climate denial slogans, is simply part of the full spectrum of politics.

Such acts should be illegal. That’s the whole point of them. But they’re not immoral. If we’re occupying your office it’s because you’re trying to choke us to death with your policies and we’d like to impede the smooth running of that for a while. Not everyone’s going to agree with a graffiti attack, but it’s not exactly burning down the Reichstag, is it?

A robust political system should be able to handle, and should welcome, these forays into demonstrative politics. But that demands robust politicians too.

Flint’s special pleading is an expression of the elite entitlement that is creeping into parts of this movement: that having scored herself a sweet MP gig as part of her career she shouldn’t be faced with actual politics, actual contestation.

People are “screaming” at her in the street, i.e. shouting, and demonstrating against her. The horror! Women politicians have been demonstrated against for decades and had their offices occupied, and taken the contestation as part of entering into the full equality of being able to participate in public life.

What Flint is deploying is a neo-Victorianism, which part of this new movement has come full circle around to, which asks for a free pass from the full vigour of politics.

That is done by the deployment of the “safety” trope that has become the dominant expression about occupying public space in our time. With such language, any physical manifestation of politics can be declared “unsafe”.

A march? A sit-down protest? A picket line? This line needs to be pushed back against if protest politics is going to be possible at all. The right would love a situation in which any politics outside of institutional norms can be declared “unsafe” simply because a woman MP or CEO is the target of it.

As full equality of representation starts to get closer that would rule out the possibility of protest politics. This is of course complicated by the real and residual inequalities women face in public life and public space.

Turns out Flint has an actual nasty stalker as well, and vicious graffiti separate to the event. The somewhat cleaner lines between official and protest politics of days past has been blurred by the demi-world of the internet which, by separating voice and body, disinhibits to a degree that makes the worst possible.

This in turn has worn away the implicit trust that existed in social space — the reasonable expectation that an office occupation wouldn’t get violent, that pointed graffiti was as far as it went. That is now under a cloud, given the streams of violent filth directed at people in power. The unfairness is real. There’s stuff directed at women, Black people and others that has no equivalent for white men — there’s nothing can be said to us that lands the same blow. That is a reason to try and change internet culture.

Undermining the legitimacy of public protest is the very opposite of that. Public life is public life. Humanising it is a good thing, but not for the purpose of leaving Michaelia Cash or Gina Rinehart uncontested.

If Flint left politics because of brutal misogyny, that’s bad. If she went because GetUp and Extinction Rebellion made the seat of a fossil-fuel partisan unwinnable, then Nicolle, please lean over my gin and tonic as you cry, because the taste of Liberal tears are sweet indeed.