A quick word before normal business resumes
Anyone wanting to see the dark, ugly side of humanity had only to look at the comments coursing on Twitter last night, following the tragic and senseless murder of the Labour MP for the constituency of Batley and Spen, Jo Cox.
Apparently we are now a country of people who cannot wait six hours without seeking to twist a tragedy into our political advantage; a country where even as the body of the deceased is still warm, some despicable people find a way to make the tragedy about themselves, and to fashion it into a weapon with which to bludgeon their political opponents.
I’m not an idealist, I had a general sense of how things would play out as soon as the awful news was confirmed at the police press conference. But I thought that people might wait at least a day, out of respect, before seeking to capitalise on human tragedy and suffering. I’m not just talking about anonymous people on Twitter. Some of the nation’s leading political commentators piled in on the act – Polly Toynbee and Alex Massie (whom I previously respected) should be utterly ashamed of themselves. I’m sure there are others.
Seeking to use the senseless murder of an MP, of anyone, to smear half the country – young and old, rich and poor, from all social classes and professions, united only by their stance on the EU referendum question – as being somehow vicariously responsible for the act (or for the “mood” of the country, as more slippery columnists put it) is absolutely appalling. I’ve seen some acts of abject intellectual and moral cowardice and assorted low skulduggery during this campaign, but even I was shocked by just how low some people were prepared to go last night.
One of these snarling little Moral Policemen tried to come for me, too. A nasty little oik who had been following me for several weeks on Twitter decided to retweet one of my articles, quote from it very selectively and misleadingly to make it seem as though I had been encouraging violence. Anybody who knows me, or who reads this blog, knows this to be an impossibility. My Twitter accuser certainly knew the truth. But no matter – this “fortunate” murder had given him exactly the opportunity he wanted to slander Brexiteers and make us all collectively, vicariously guilty for the act of a madman.
And for about thirty seconds, this Twitter zealot achieved his goal – he aroused fear. Fear that the mob (and anyone who was on Twitter last night will testify as to the mob mentality present at the time) might pick up on this retweet and run with it. It could have happened. My accuser had over a thousand followers, enough to cause a ripple if seen by the right people. And he had just launched an article of mine, disingenuously and maliciously quoted, into the Twittersphere, where reputations can be ruined in 140 characters but no meaningful defence can be conjured within the same constraints.
I’m a part time blogger, with a day job. In my writing about free speech issues I have seen how peoples’ lives and reputations can be ruined by the mob, usually for no good reason at all – see Justine Sacco. And as I saw my accuser’s tweet sitting out there on the internet for all to see, I did wonder if the mob might come for me. And I thought about the potential consequences of being turned on by the mob. They didn’t – his tweet was lost in an ocean of other, more outrageous tweets, as it turned out. But for a good minute, it gave me pause and grounds for concern about my reputation, even my livelihood.
And this is exactly what certain debased elements of the media, commentariat and the general public wanted to happen. Not just to me, but to everyone who is guilty of the “crime” of believing that Britain would be better off outside the European Union, and who dares to say so in public. The mob wanted to point to the murder of Jo Cox and then at us, drawing a connection where patently none existed, and cow us into silence by accusing us of creating the “mood” which made the attack possible – despite nobody possessing the full facts of the case so soon after the attack.
This wasn’t just antisocial losers on Twitter. Their actions had the cover of “prestige” journalists with platforms in The Guardian and The Spectator. The intelligentsia – members of the supposedly civilised dinner party set – are complicit in trying to stoke up a mob and turn it on people who disagree with them about the forthcoming EU referendum.
Well, I’m sorry, but this blog will not be silenced. Nor will I be told by Twitter trolls or champagne socialists in the Guardian that I am in any way responsible for the toxic “mood” which has come to rest on this country. That mood is entirely the fault of the self-serving elites and their media cheerleaders, who have ignored or belittled those with differing opinions for so long that it has indeed provoked a rage – but a nonviolent one; not the rage which killed Jo Cox.
Nor will I be given moral lectures by people who, in the immediate hours following the tragedy, rushed to their keyboards to make political capital out of a young woman’s death. While Alex Massie and Polly Toynbee were rending their garments and wailing into Twitter about how awful we Brexiteers are, I had an evening of calm reflection and reading – after having lit candles for Jo Cox and her family, and for our country, at my local church. But sure, I’m the bad guy because I write passionately about the EU referendum and Brexit.
These snivelling, sanctimonious Moral Police will do anything to silence dissent. They will erect safe spaces or no platform people they dislike. They will make being “offensive” a criminal charge and imprison people. They will harass, bully and attempt to shame people on social media if they do not at all times say the “correct” thing or espouse the proper opinions. And now, when faced with the death of an MP, young woman and mother, they will wait not even a day before seeking to capitalise on the tragedy and use it to silence their dissenters.
This intimidation will not work on me, and I am determined that it will not work on this country. So bring on the slights, the attempted Twitter shamings and the rest of it, you faceless trolls and important members of the commentariat. Your despicable, tawdry tactics shall not succeed.
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It wasn’t the ‘extreme, hard-line political right’ (to paraphrase) which elevated ‘Ding-Dong, the Witch is Dead’ to the UK Charts in recent years? Some political deaths seem to be a matter of entertainment in politics? Across the internet, Norman Tebbit frequently pens articles – articles, the forums of which often comprise helpful comments as to whether he and his wife ‘still have a bit of a headache’? Forum comments by those claiming to support Labour. Comments happily celebrating the murders of several Conservative MPs or that of Airey Neave across the late seventies and the decade of the 1980s can frequently be found in The Guardian’s CiF facility? Not that you’d find anyone slapping down those comments?
There are some ante-rooms of the British political left which could do with a bit of overdue sincere soul-searching and introspection before they’d sound off about recent tragic events?
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I couldn’t agree more, Douglas. I saw some of those spontaneous parties which broke out on Thatcher’s death. A segment of the British Left love to strut around like the world’s moral policemen while conveniently forgetting their own numerous transgressions.
My instinct was not to comment on this tragedy at all. I had never heard of Jo Cox before this terrible crime was committed. However in my opinion the responses have been symptomatic of the slide away from the great principles that underpinned our national spirit for so long, and I cannot remain silent about that. We are forgetting ourselves, and our democracy is now in grave danger because of our forgetfulness. The fundamental principles of British Justice, namely Equality Before the Law, the Right to a Fair Trial, Innocent Until Proven Guilty, Freedom of Speech, these principles are all being steadily eroded away.
The media quickly leaped to the lure of a possible connection with the anti-Islamic group “Britain First”, just because the killer was alleged to have shouted “put Britain first” or something similar. This allegation has now been hotly disputed by another eye witness, there is some doubt that the perpetrator even uttered these words. This incident seems to me to be typical of the current establishment’s desire to seize on every opportunity to demonize those who criticize the Islamic religion, regardless of how valid their criticisms may be. There is no reason whatever at this time to be assuming any link with that group, those that perpetrated this rumour are guilty of slander.
How despicble of some journalists to use the very sad death of Jo Cox to make mileage for the Remain Campaign! I did fear that Brexit may be blamed for this appalling tragedy, when if I was laying any blame at all for the vitriolic mood of this Referendum, I would suggest that the hysterical voice of DC and his team to be more guilty! So sorry that you have been involved Sam, for promoting the very good arguments for Leaving the EU! As Patrick said, Keep up the Good Fight for the last few important days, and be confident that we WILL Win! VOTE LEAVE!!!
It is difficult to say which is worse-the hypocrisy or the self-righteousness- of the guardianista brigade. Sadly Owen jones and polly toynbee are predictable and no one was surprised at her pathetic attempt to use the tragic event for the referendum.
If it were up to them, not being left-wing would be a punishable offence.
I feel that a lot of this relates to the indoctrination during school/university whereby only one particular worldview -theirs- is legitimised. On a positive note, things are changing slowly and just maybe people get wise to the fascist tendencies of the left.
Well said Sam. But there is one positive thing to be drawn from the ugliness of the current political climate. The defenders of the status quo have largely given up on rational argument. They have increasingly come to rely on abuse, intimidation, scaremongering and appeals to prestige. But the more they do this the more they repel the wider public. The likes of Toynbee, Geldof and the rage addicts on Twitter don’t seem to realise that the effect of their behaviour is to drive people towards their opponents. At some point that will add up to a majority in favour of radical change and the establishment will be so surprised because it will seem to them as if it has suddenly appeared out of nowhere.
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Hi Andrew, thanks for a good point well made. I agree – in the long run, this type of snarling, intimidatory behaviour (especially the weaponised grief we are now seeing from even “respectable” journalists” will backfire and drive people away. I have my doubts that this will happen in time to sway the referendum on Thursday, but there is some satisfaction to be had that these despicable people will, in the end, be thwarted.
absolutely spot on, at some point the Guardian will have to confron#t the moral vacuum that is Toynbee.
Polly Toynbee is not a “moral vacuum”. She was one of the first mainstream voices to openly criticize the religion of Islam, a long time before anybody else (at least since Winston Churchill’s outspoken criticism in “The River War”) had done that.
Whatever we think of Polly’s political views, and frankly I think they are quite stupid, we should not therefore accuse her of being a “moral vacuum”.
Hear, hear! Keep fighting the good fight!
Your twitter troll looks like a version of Steve Shives.