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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