[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]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?
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.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
(Image courtesy of Daily Mail)