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British political star rises, with boost from Twitter

Outspoken Stella Creasy (second from right) has sparked hope in Britain’s Labor Party that it can return to power.

CHRIS RATCLIFFE/GETTY IMAGES/POOL

Outspoken Stella Creasy (second from right) has sparked hope in Britain’s Labor Party that it can return to power.

LONDON — Stella Creasy is young, female, and very blond. But there aren’t many anecdotes about this British politician being mistaken for a secretary or an intern.

There is one: In 2011, a year after she was elected to the House of Commons for the opposition Labor Party, Creasy got into an elevator in Westminster and was stopped by a male lawmaker from the Conservative Party. Andrew Robathan, a junior minister, told her that it was reserved for members of Parliament only. He thought she was a researcher.

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“Can’t you read?” he snapped.

Creasy, 36, took no offense. But in a recent interview she recalled rebuking Mr. Robathan, 62, for telling another woman, a member of the public, to get out of the elevator as well: “I said to him, ‘Don’t you realize, when you’re rude to the public, they think we are all like that?’ And he was like, ‘Oh well, I’m sick of these people coming in and using our facilities,’ and I was like, ‘We are only here because of them, don’t you get that?’ ”

Indeed, most stories told about Creasy these days are about her fearlessness, her connection to voters, and how she might be one of Labor’s best hopes to win back power. She is one of only 147 women in the House of Commons, which counts a total of 650 members.

The first time she walked into Parliament in May 2010, Creasy put on her headphones and listened to “She Bangs the Drums” by the Stone Roses (“The past was yours / But the future’s mine / You’re all out of time”). She had created a special playlist for the occasion.

Since then Creasy has banged on several drums herself, building a reputation as an effective campaigner who combines traditional politics with social networking savvy and a community organizing background that dates from her teenage days protesting on freezing shipping docks. “The MP who won’t back down,” a recent headline in The Guardian called her.

First she took on high-interest payday lenders in a drawn-out battle that forced the government late last year to give regulators the power to cap the cost of credit in Britain.

Last month, in what might end up being remembered as the moment when she became a household name in Britain, she went after misogynist Twitter trolls — and Twitter itself.

When Caroline Criado-Perez, a journalist who led a successful campaign to keep images of women on British bank notes, started receiving a stream of rape and death threats on Twitter, Creasy rallied to her defense and soon became a target herself. Screen grabs of masked men with knives started appearing in her inbox, as did crude threats from accounts with names like @killcreasy and @killslutmps.

She dismissed her attackers as “morons,” reported them to the police, and then set her sights on Twitter, challenging the microblogging platform to overhaul its global policy on sexual abuse. The company’s British management team initially responded to Creasy’s posts to them by blocking her and locking their accounts. It has since vowed to change its policy and introduce a button to report abuse on every post, but Creasy wants more.

“I think Twitter don’t understand the determination and persistence, not just of me, but of all of us,” she said, demanding a broader “panic button” that would report an account that is under attack rather than just individual posts. “We will be holding them to account.”

Creasy has no shortage of fans on the other side of the political divide. ConservativeHome, a website close to the government, called her “Labor’s most interesting member of Parliament,” applauding her “good sense” on public spending and government debt.

Nobody has to guess where Creasy stands. An obsessive user of Twitter — posting “probably more than I should but not as often as I mean to” — she shares her views with her 37,825-plus followers several times a day.

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