On Wednesday 12 July, Westminster Hall was filled with the usual loud voices of indignant politicians wanting their views to be heard. They weren’t debating a policy or tax cut – they were speaking out about the abuse they received during the General Election campaign.
Okay, let’s hold our hands up and say that politicians often receive the brunt of our anger when they mess up or suggest something we don’t like.
“I can’t believe we allow someone like that to make our country’s decisions.”
“I could do a better job.”
“What a prick.”
Common phrases, and pretty much harmless. We’re familiar with the process of assigning blame to an individual for the political values they present to us.
When you enter into the political world, you kind of expect the public’s wrath to touch you at some point because no one will ever agree with 100% of what you are doing or saying. A tough skin is an unspoken part of the job description.
What that does not encompass is the racist and sexist abuse that became the norm for so many during the run-up to the election. No one should be expected to ignore or put up with threats against their lives because of the UK political party they support, much less their gender, race, ethnicity or anything else completely unrelated to their policies.
Diane Abbott, Labour MP, spoke out about some of the graphic language that has been used to attack her. The video that has been circulating of her statement shows the extent the “mindless” abuse has gotten to. I’ll link it here but I’d wear headphones if I were you because she doesn’t tiptoe around any of the language.
Big names in UK politics aren’t the only ones who are being targeted; there is a BBC News interview with a 22-year-old who joined the Labour Party for the first time this year, revealing the sexually explicit messages and threats that became commonplace during the election campaign.
And it isn’t just one political party receiving these attacks. Simon Hart, a Conservative MP, recalled instances of painted swastikas and smashed windows.
This is more than people sending tweets calling MPs ‘twats/dickheads/insert insult of choice here’, or photoshopping their faces onto pictures of penises. Anyone in the public eye can tell you that they have been subjected to this kind of humour and you just kind of roll with it. It’s someone trying to get retweeted and have a bit of a laugh – by tomorrow, no one will even remember it and they’ll move onto another person and another meme.
I can’t help but think that death threats, aggressive language and active discrimination are not in the same ball park as making fun of Ed Miliband for eating a bacon bap (which is an iconic image, of course). Still, it’s become the norm to expect not just your political views, but your entire self to come under fire. And there is nothing you can do about it.
Some people have been asking if we should feel sorry for MPs. Why should we care if their feelings are hurt? Why should we care if members of the public are expressing their prejudices? They pass the laws and make the cuts that negatively affect thousands of British citizens’ wages, housing and ways of life. Surely they can stomach – even expect – a bit of backlash?
No, not like that. It’s one thing having a bit of a laugh, but this recent debate in Parliament has exposed pure abuse. Regardless of if you disagree with their political party alignments, I can’t see how anyone could defend the need to resort to violent language. Maybe the fact that they can argue, articulate and debate properly, is the reason they’re the ones in positions of power, not you and your 43 followers.
It’s like people have forgotten that at the end of those threats is another human being. Surprisingly enough, outside of politics they have an entire existence: a family, friends, interests, passions and a life.
Unless one of the conspiracy theories is true and they’re all just lizards, aliens or robots. If that’s the case, my apologies. You are welcome to continue with your aggressive keyboard-bashing.