By Leo Holmes
In this contemporary and incredibly polarising political landscape, it is very easy to become bogged down in debates on social media with friends, foes, and even politicians. For some, it means abusing Members of Parliament, Assembly Members, Councillors and political activists on their public and private social media accounts. However, until the weeks leading up to the narrow Brexit vote on June 23 2016, much of this abuse came solely from online platforms.
The vote to leave, and subsequent events since, have opened up a chasm of political hatred and violence, with much of what was previous online abuse transpiring into public ‘real life’ acts of hate. One of the key figures subject to such ‘real life’ abuse has been the Labour MP for Hackney North, and Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, who has, on several occasions, had to have a police escort when travelling around parliament, all whilst receiving racist abuse and death threats.
Much of the hate Abbott has received has, in the eyes of those threatening her, been legitimised by the current political landscape. Not only have the actions and language of Donald Trump been to blame for this, but also the discourse used by notable Conservative Brexiteers such as Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson. Terms such as “surrender act”, used by Johnson and Raab to describe the act put in place by opposition MPs to stop Brexit, clearly appeals to the brutish nationalistic stance taken by far right pro-Brexit activists, and for them somewhat ‘authorises’ abuse of notable Labour MPs.
However, polarisation in Britain is such that key Brexiteer figures like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Michael Gove also received ‘real life’ abuse from remain activists; often requiring police escorts. Other politicians cut from the same cloth are also receiving criticism on non-Brexit related issues from environmental groups such as Extinction Rebellion (although it wouldn’t be just to refer to Extinction Rebellion as a violent group). In these minor cases, the issue of political violence does slash both ways.
Politicians on both sides of the house are finding themselves as victims of intimidation by those that disagree with them.
However, cases of abuse faced by Labour and other remain-supporting Members of Parliament have been ‘legitimised’ by the discourse used by the aforementioned politicians targeted by the remain protesters and Extinction Rebellion. Thus, one may conclude that the political violence used in the weeks up to the crucial Brexit vote and the three years after has been caused by the far-right populist regimes of Nigel Farage, Johnson and President Trump.
The abuse is caused by individuals acting in accordance with or reacting against this populist agenda. Populism has eliminated civil debate in favour of animated, upsetting and often violent clashes in a society which is more divided than it has ever been. Families have fallen apart, friendships have been destroyed and communities have been discriminated against by this regressive and divisive populism and language used by the conservative right. At the end of this process, reviews into parliamentary language must take place to enable conversation and reunite this divided nation.