Bullying is bad – unless you’re a Tory
At the Fabian Society conference that I attended on Saturday, Yvette Cooper, Labour MP and one-time leadership candidate, called for an end to the nasty abuse to Conservatives, journalists and indeed, other labour supporters. This is a call borne out of a toxic atmosphere that has descended across the British left. It began with Twitter and Facebook abuse towards Conservative politicians and ordinary supporters. Then at the General Election we saw it with the wanton vandalism of election materials. Then it has crossed over into the most troubling areas, harassment and bullying of not just MPs but ordinary supporters of the Conservatives too.
Here at Leeds, I’ve heard of students being isolated and bullied in their own halls and houses. One Conservative Leeds student was overwhelmed with the amount of violent and racist abuse he received following an appearance on BBC 3; so much so that the producers had to step in and delete online content. His crime? Being a person of colour and a Conservative member. For many on the hard left, this was just inconceivable. It didn’t fit their view of how a person of colour should vote. It was outrageous that they should display autonomy! Indeed if you’re a student, you are often presumed to be left-wing. On campus, there are many stories about Conservatives being ostracised and many more students staying silent for fear of the bullying. When our university motto is “Et Augebitur Scientia” then shouldn’t we hold knowledge as the ideal? How are we going to gain it without discussing conflicting views? Without knowledge how are we going to improve society? This anti-intellectualism that some people hold on campus is creating a rot that threatens our democracy. On campus you are punished for dissenting viewpoints not just by ostracisation but by more worrying levels of harassment. One female student at Leeds discovered the price of thinking differently – her private belongings were vandalised with “Tory c**t” and “burn in hell” in her own home. Imagine such a violation of safety. But then do these people want Conservatives or others with differing views to feel safe?
The abuse is justified – in their warped worldview. Conservatives are consistently dehumanised by the repetition of “evil” and “cruel” by many people. Indeed some politicians even fire it up such as Leanne Wood with her description of the Conservative party as “cruel and reckless”. This completely misrepresents the Conservative party as a party that intentionally pursues harmful policies for the object of creating harm. Whilst I disagree with many Conservative politics, it is completely unthinking, unfair and warped to believe that they are only in it to harm people. But to these people who believe they are only interested in evil, then anything is justifiable. This is worrying. What’s the endpoint of such thinking? The Telegraph on Sunday featured accounts of four parliamentary candidates who have received numerous death threats each. This is what such hatred ends in – violence. We’ve seen the culmination of such hatred here in Leeds with the tragic killing of Jo Cox. MPs are fearful of another event.
As someone on the centre-left, there's a huge difference between the abuse I get from right and left. The right doesn't put the hours in.— Helen Lewis (@helenlewis) July 12, 2017
rooted in an apparent determination to humiliate or intimidate her on the basis that she is female. 9/14— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 9, 2017
Much of this abuse takes sexist forms. Roy Bentham, the Wavertree CLP member, boasted about how Luciana Berger MP was answerable to him shortly following the hard-left gaining control of her constituency labour policy. A nice little chance for man to try to humiliate and dictate to a highly accomplished woman. The exploitation of double standards to facilitate harassment is much apparent in how human May and Corbyn are allowed to be. The laughter at Theresa May following her confession that the naughtiest thing she has ever done was to run through a “field of wheat”. Oh, the innocence! But Jeremy, why he’s such a lad! Wouldn’t even tell us the naughtiest thing he’s done with that wry smirk. LADleader! It’s this degradation of women through small events like this that encourages hard-left men to abuse female politicians such as the 600 rape threats that Jess Phillips received in one night alone. This isn’t limited to the internet either. 80% of female MPs have been verbally abused as a survey taken following Jo Cox’s death revealed. Would you stand for parliament if this was the life you would be leading?
We all have to challenge this abuse. Tone down our language. Talk about policy. Make friends with others with differing views. We wouldn’t tolerate this abuse for religious beliefs, why then in political beliefs? This abuse is going to strangle our democracy as it further divides society, discourages potential talents from entering public life and encourages extremism. We’ve seen the result of slow-burning hatred with the tragic killing of Jo Cox. Politics is about building a better society. It begins here on campus. Let’s get on with it.
(Image courtesy of Daily Mail)