In May this year Aditya Chakrabortty wrote approvingly in the Guardian about the phenomenon of right wing politicians having milk-shakes chucked at them. For him, so far as those on the receiving end were the likes of Nigel Farage and Tony Robinson, all was well and good. Another left wing figure, this time Jo Brand, felt that milkshakes were too good for these kinds of people, perhaps acid, she suggested to the BBC, would be a far better substitute. There was a bit of a hoo-ha in that particular instance and something of an apology was given but she also insisted that she was having her right to free speech impinged. Meanwhile, the columnist Owen Jones felt it was appropriate to retweet with approval a video segment in which comedian Aamer Rahman (not someone I had heard of before) defends the entirely arbitary punching of a right-wing figure. None of these people seemed particularly concerned that they were coarsening the political language.
It has long been held that Conservative politicians were fair game for abuse. So it wasn’t a particular surprise to find that the Glastonbury festival had booked a band which had penned a song called “Kill Tory scum”. Neither was it a surprise that during this year’s Mercury Prize a performer pulled out a model of Boris Johnson’s severed head to the unbounded joy of the crowd. The BBC’s Lauren Laverne, who was presenting the awards ceremony, could only manage to say that it was a representation of the rapper’s own personal views. Of course this is all very unsurprising. When a natonal newspaper publishes an editorial suggesting that a former Prime Minister only experienced ‘priviledged pain’ when his disabled son died, its quite clear that we are now crawling in the sewers of political discourse.
Meanwhile Caroline Lucas claimed after the prorogation that the government’s actions had been ‘nothing less than a coup’. Of course if it had been a coup then it would have been very unlikely that parliament would have returned as soon as the Supreme Court had ruled the advice on prorogation had been illegal. For a long time now politicians have been using hyperbole to whip up their supporters. This continued in the house as the Prime Minister arrived to make his statement to the Commons on Wednesday. Ian Blackford called on the Prime Minister to ‘end this dictatorship’ and Joanna Cherry compared Boris Johnson to a tin-pot dictator. Ian Blackford went further and accused Boris Johnson of ‘lying’, an accusation that is prohibited in the house. Given the context, Boris Johnson’s repeated use of the term Surrender Bill to describe the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019 seems almost innocuous by comparison.
Within this discussion Labour MPs decided to introduce Jo Cox’s name, presumably because they thought that it would be an opportunity to score some ethical points. The Prime Minister had given a surprisingly bullish performance from the dispatch box and probably this, they must have thought, would cower him. ‘Humbug’ was the reply.
There are depressingly long lists of threatening and abusive behavior towards politicians on the remain side. The use of words such as traitor and betrayal stoke the anxieties and tensions that are already present and should be desisted. The persistent deterioration in the standard of political discourse must be brought to a stop. This will not happen if each side simply blames the other for being the sole instigator of all incendiary language.