Angela Eagle’s Harassment Complaint Is Weaponised Victimhood With A Clear And Tawdry Motive

Angela Eagle - Labour Leadership Candidacy Launch - Labour Coup - 2

I have more respect for foul-mouthed internet trolls than for elected MPs who seek to exploit the abusive ranting of trolls to undermine a political foe whom they are unable to defeat in a fair contest

There is a fine line between being genuinely and rightfully offended at a wrong committed against you on the one hand, and going on to burnish and sharpen that grievance into a weapon, cynically deploying it against a political rival on the other.

Angela Eagle is way over that line.

That’s probably not a very popular thing to write, but one sees it over and over again, particularly now with the stultifying rise of identity politics. Weaponised victimhood. It takes a legitimate wrong, a crime or misdeed committed by one person, and uses it to attack the reputation and honour of a third party. And for failed Labour leadership contender Angela Eagle, whose alternative policy platform / vision for Britain struggled to fill half a side of A4 paper, it is apparently the one remaining trick up her sleeve – her last role of the dice in a pathetic attempt to stay relevant.

From the Telegraph:

Labour MP Angela Eagle has criticised Jeremy Corbyn after she was forced to cancel a constituency surgery following police warnings that her safety was at risk just weeks after the murder of Jo Cox.

Ms Eagle, who last week pulled out of the Labour leadership race, said she feared for her staff after a brick was thrown through the window of her constituency office and she was subject to alleged death threats.

She said that in the wake of the abuse police had advised her that her safety would be at risk if she pushed ahead with the public constituency meetings, which were due to be held in a café and a supermarket.

She accused Mr Corbyn of “stirring” hostility in her Wallasey constituency and said he had created a “permissive” environment for the abuse of MPs by his supporters.

Angela Eagle went on to allege:

“I think he has contributed to this. It’s all very well to condemn it but there’s a permissive environment. You can make any number of ritual condemnations as you like but you have got to be judged by your actions not just words.

“He has been stirring, he needs to be held to account. We have contacted the police and they have said we should cancel surgeries for safety reasons.

“I’m afraid for my staff. It’s them that have been up there not me. It’s them that have had to field the calls.”

To be clear: there is no excuse for misogynist or even plain old ignorant verbal, written or physical abuse of anybody at any time, in political life or in the real world. And those people who have sent specific death threats or other threatening communications to Angela Eagle are utterly pathetic, and should be dealt with severely.

But none of those people are Jeremy Corbyn. And the allegation that the leader of the Labour Party is “stirring” the situation is itself an extremely serious charge, one which in any other circumstance might land Eagle in some rather hot legal water.

Precisely what physical actions is Jeremy Corbyn supposed to take to pre-emptively reign in the unhinged, hateful fringe lunatics who can’t keep their politics in perspective and resort to thuggish threats and behaviour? Angela Eagle is suggesting that there is some obvious, specific set of actions which he should take to lower the temperature and calm his wilder supporters, yet she neglects to name a single one.

Eagle says “it’s all very well to condemn it.” What more would she have Corbyn do? Personally monitor the computers of every single one of his supporters simultaneously, 24/7, summarily ejecting them from the Labour Party? It is difficult to know exactly what more she wants, other than for Corbyn to publicly admit to being a terrible human being on live TV, publicly whip himself and promptly withdraw from the Labour leadership contest. Which, of course, is exactly what she wants.

But since we are talking about angry moods being stoked up, let us not forget that the current “crisis” within Labour was precipitated by centrist Labour MPs and shadow cabinet members deciding to use the result of the EU referendum to force out a leader who they never accepted and have been working to undermine since Day 1. These are a group of politicians who, through their utter arrogance and incompetence have totally lost the support of their own activists, and who are held in active contempt by a majority of party supporters. And yet they saw fit to try to achieve through palace intrigue that which they could not achieve through their own charisma or bright political ideas – dislodge Corbyn from the leadership and replace him with another one of their own. If there is anger in the party, who exactly is then to blame?

But back to Angela Eagle and her attempt to shame Jeremy Corbyn with the actions of his most unhinged supporters (something that Eagle and her ilk would be outraged by if we were to do the same thing by, say, condemning all members of a certain religion because of the acts of extremist fundamentalists). For this is what she is doing. Having realised that she cannot win the love or respect of the Labour Party base, she is instead reduced to trying to tear down their hero, putting Corbyn’s name in proximity to the thuggish actions of assorted internet trolls as often as possible in the hope that some of the mud will eventually start to stick.

Now, this blog has no time for Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing political views. But in an age where politics has been captured by centrism, sanitised and transformed into a dull and largely inconsequential exercise in technocracy, this blog would rather see a party leader with a coherent and sincerely held worldview than yet another telegenic suit with one eye permanently fixed on a focus group report.

Unfortunately, the problem with so-called populist ideas and leaders is that they attract more than their fair share of thugs, losers and carnival barkers. Nobody would have ever called up a rebellious backbencher threatening to kill them unless they backed Ed Miliband’s disastrous leadership of the Labour Party. Miliband, bless his cotton Fabian socks, simply didn’t arouse that kind of passion in people.

But this is not the case for leaders like Jeremy Corbyn or Nigel Farage, people who force (or stumble) their way to national prominence by satisfying some unmet need – or often legitimate grievance – in their many supporters. Does that make Nigel Farage personally responsible for every single act of thuggery ever committed by basement-dwelling losers in the name of UKIP? No. No more than Jeremy Corbyn is responsible for the threats and jabberings of every one of his supporters on the lunatic left-wing fringe.

But time and again we see this soul-sappingly cynical attempt by politicians who have lost the argument against the populists to trick their way back into contention by morally bludgeoning their opponents, holding up the crimes of others to intimidate the innocent into silence. We saw it with the outrageous exploitation of the Jo Cox murder by disgusting people who saw a great opportunity to smear Brexiteers and the cause of euroscepticism in general. And we see it now, with cynical politicians using every nasty piece of correspondence they have ever received to smear Jeremy Corbyn, as though he and Seumas Milne stay up late every night cutting letters out of newspapers to assemble their childish anonymous death threats.

Of course if credible death threats have been made against Angela Eagle then that is truly reprehensible, and is to be condemned loudly and frequently. This blog does so again now. But I am far less disappointed in the basement-dwelling loser who spends his spare time writing rude messages to female MPs than I am with Members of Parliament who seek to take personal threats and seek to make capital out of them at the expense of a political foe.

I expect nothing from the basement-dwelling internet troll. My expectations for the conduct of an elected representative of the people are somewhat higher. And with her latest cynical attempt at weaponised victimhood, Angela Eagle has thoroughly failed to meet those expectations.

 

Internet troll

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Brexit Will Not Cure The Cancer Of Authoritarianism In Our Society

Terence Nathan - UKIP - Facebook

Death to Remainers!

Imagine for a second just how much safer our communities might be if local police forces spent half as much time patrolling the streets and engaged in community outreach as they do scouring Twitter for “offensive” speech.

Imagine just how much more responsive and well resourced our public services might be if local councils took complaints about potholes and vandalism nearly as seriously as they seek to persecute idiots for airing their half-baked opinions online.

Well, you can snap out of that reverie:

An investigation has been launched after a Ukip councillor made comments on Facebook suggesting those who voted Remain in the EU referendum should be killed.

The comments appeared on Terence Nathan’s Facebook page, councillor for Cray Valley West in Bromley, on Tuesday night.

The post, written in response to a news article referring to legal efforts against the Brexit vote, mentions Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which when triggered would initiate the UK’s departure from the EU.

Mr Nathan wrote: “Time to start killing these people till article 50 is invoked”, adding “perhaps remainers will get the message then.”

After another Facebook user raised concern over Mr Nathan’s rhetoric, he replied in a second comment: “Not threatening anyone, no need for threats just a bullet.”

Mr Nathan has since apologised for the comments saying: “My comments were only intended to be taken with a pinch of salt.”

The Independent article concludes ominously:

Police and council officials have said they are looking into the remarks.

A Bromley Council spokesman said: “The Council has launched an investigation into the alleged comments made but it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage.”

Bromley Metropolitan Police Service said: “Police in Bromley are aware of comments apparently posted online by a Bromley Councillor. Enquiries into this matter are ongoing.”

Is it not enough for Mr. Nathan to have made a complete fool of himself for all the world to see, and torpedoed whatever hopes he may have entertained promotion within UKIP or higher political office? Is it not enough that society’s natural self-righting mechanisms saw the man challenged and upbraided by other people exercising their own free speech to oppose him?

Must we really now assign some bored police constable and dreary office bureaucrat to sift through his Facebook profile, looking for further nonexistent evidence of a dastardly plot for Mr. Nathan to slaughter his way through the electoral register? Do we really need to be that pinch-paced, authoritarian society?

What possible good does this serve?

“But Jo Cox!”, I already hear some insufferable idiot screeching in protest.

No. Mentally disturbed people who snap and kill innocent bystanders almost by definition do not casually announce their intention to do so on social media beforehand. And though I don’t have statistics to hand, I would bet the house that a single police officer can prevent more human harm in one year on the beat than they would scouring social media and arresting every single cretin who voices a generic, non-targeted violent opinion.

Of course Mr. Nathan was being stupid when he called for Remainers to be killed until the British government invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. But why can’t we leave it at that? Who actually benefits from bringing the fearsome correctional power of the state crashing down on somebody just for being an idiot? Isn’t being the kind of intellectually tepid individual who jokes about killing people online punishment enough?

Sadly not. Britain is fast becoming an authoritarian hellhole populated by an army of thin-skinned victims-in-waiting who leap at the chance to criminalise those who disagree with them, and ruled by an activist big government which is eager, proactive even, in taking their side.

How utterly depressing.

 

Greater Glasgow Police - THINK - Social Media - Police State - Free Speech

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The New Statesman Is Preaching Hatred And Fear Of Conservatives

Jo Cox Tolerance

Be tolerant and respect the sincerely held political views of other people. Unless those people happen to be Tory Scum…

Apparently, as we seek to move on from the EU referendum in the post Jo Cox era, we are all supposed to be more civil to one another and focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.

We know this, because the New Statesman high-mindedly told us so:

I believe the horrific killing of Jo Cox is a moment for this New Generation of us to speak more openly about what has gone wrong and how we must, collectively, tackle it. Fundamentally, I believe we must see this as a moment in our history to re-covenant our respect as a society for politics done well. Democracy can ultimately only be as good as the society it represents. We must all learn once again to value free speech and civilised debate, led by open, accessible and accountable Parliamentarians. We must pledge ourselves to continuing the fight for freedom, for tolerance and for understanding between individuals, nations and peoples. We must ensure that love, hope and understanding will always triumph over hate, fear and despair.

We must reject the politics of alarmist language, personal attacks and fear.

A noble sentiment which surely we can all take to heart – it should certainly be possible for all of us to watch our rhetoric in the heat of debate, as none of us benefit from the current toxic political climate.

So why, then, is the New Statesman now actively trying to whip its readership into a quivering fear at the prospect of Andrea Leadsom winning the Conservative Party leadership contest and becoming prime minister?

Having apparently forgotten their own edict to respect people with different political views, the New Statesman instead lists nine reasons why its readers should be terrified – yes, terrified, that emotion which would be more appropriate if masked intruders had just smashed down their front doors – by this relatively unknown politician.

From “9 reasons you should be truly terrified of Andrea Leadsom becoming prime minister“:

With polls suggesting Andrea Leadsom will be one of the two Tory leadership candidates put to a vote of the members, it’s only natural to be curious about what this potential prime minister believes.

Luckily, she’s been busily keeping a blog for the last decade.

It turns out she has strong views on babies’ brains, and thinks she may have discovered the secret to preventing a repeat of the riots which plagued London in 2011.

So far they seem to be trying harder to make Leadsom seem ridiculous than terrifying.

There then follows a list of generally banal and uninteresting statements which Leadsom has made, or policy positions which she has taken, including:

1. Gay couples to the back of the adoption queue

Back in 2009, Leadsom used an adoption case – in which the two children of a heroin addict were given to a GAY couple (!?!?) – to question just when enough is enough when it comes to gay rights. “And if that weren’t enough, the two strangers are a gay couple, who have been selected ahead of several heterosexual couples.”

and

2. Watch out for those single parents

In 2006, she wrote that “the child of a single parent family is 70 per cent more likely (than the child of a two-parent family) to have problems at school, and even to become a drug addict or a criminal.”

and

3. And that anti-marriage media

“The self indulgence and carelessness of non-committed adult relationships is proving fatal to the next generation,” she wrote in 2008.

and

5. Those baby-brained rioters

“I explained how secure attachment or parental love literally hard wires the baby’s brain,” Leadsom wrote in 2012.

and

6. No money for wind farms

“I completely welcome the announcement from the European Commission made recently regarding the possibility of ending all subsidies for winds farms,” she wrote in 2014.

and, particularly ludicrously

8. Those US presidents getting invites before us

“How can France be hosting the 65th anniversary of the Normandy landings with Sarkozy and Obama (neither of them a twinkle in their father’s eye in 1945) in attendance, and yet the Queen of Britain, Canada, and Australia (who was not only alive, but who also served in the war) was not invited until two weeks ago?”

Now, one can disagree vehemently with one or many of these points. This blog certainly does not share Andrea Leadsom’s reflexive opposition to gay couples adopting children, for example. But sincere political disagreements on social, cultural and economic issues – the full range cited throughout the New Statesman’s tawdry hit piece – should be possible without us becoming physically afraid of one another.

Yet the New Statesman presents these rather pedestrian conservative positions and then exhorts its readers to be “truly terrified” by what they see. The magazine does not encourage them to challenge the validity of Leadsom’s views, much less offer its own point-by-point rebuttal. The fact that Leadsom is wrong is taken for granted, which is bad enough, but worse still is the fact that the New Statesman seeks to provoke an emotional rather than an intellectual reaction.

This is exactly what so many commentators (including that magazine) were telling us we should not be doing in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox MP. Less than a month ago we were being told to respect one another’s opinions and engage in calm, rational dialogue. Yet when it comes to confronting conservatives, many opinion leaders on the Left are more than happy to provoke angry, confrontational responses – whether they take the form of hateful mobs outside the home of Boris Johnson on the morning after the EU referendum or articles instructing people to actively fear conservatives.

This is an exclusively left-wing phenomenon. While there are plenty of nasty, stupid reactionaries on the conservative side, rarely do they treat left-wingers as a physical or emotional threat. The murderer of Jo Cox, to the extent that he was motivated by politics rather than madness, is the great exception to this rule. The Left, by contrast – particularly that part of the Left which has been captured by the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics – are starting to treat anybody who does not agree with and actively validate their ideas as enemies, literal enemies who mean them harm. If this atmosphere persists, how long will it be until some mentally unstable left-winger, taught by the commentariat to believe that political disagreement is akin to an act of harm, lashes out at an opponent with potentially tragic consequences?

One way or another, we are all going to have to coexist on this island – at least, those of us who are not bizarrely reacting to the Brexit vote by flouncing off to independent countries without an NHS will still have to deal with each other. Treating half of the country as actively dangerous people of whom we should be terrified is about the least conducive thing to bringing about that spirit of tolerance, and the New Statesman should be ashamed for its part in feeding this atmosphere of hysteria.

And look at some of the things which the New Statesman wants its readers to be terrified about. Andrea Leadsom celebrated the potential end of subsidies for wind farms – how scary! Leadsom wants to invest in “psychotherapeutic support for families struggling with the earliest relationship with their baby” – why, she’s just like Genghis Khan! She didn’t take kindly to President Barack Obama interfering in our internal EU referendum debate, and dared to say so – what an awful, America-hating isolationist!

The disbelieving hysteria which greeted Ed Miliband’s 2015 general election loss and now the 2016 EU referendum result shows that much of the modern Left is already utterly incapable of empathising with those holding other viewpoints – and in some cases simply cannot conceive of their existence. Time and time again we hear tearful sob stories from disappointed lefties that they don’t understand how they lost, because everyone they know voted the “right” way.

But with tawdry articles such as this, the New Statesman seeks to turn that gulf of incomprehension into a gnawing, corrosive and dangerous fear of conservatives, and of any ideas outside of the insular leftist orthodoxy. And this could potentially be disastrous for our country, not to mention for individual conservatives currently being demonised as terrifying, two-dimensional cartoon bogeymen rather than thinking, decent people who just happen to have a different outlook on life.

So how should we respond to opposing political views in the post Jo Cox era? Here’s a tip for the New Statesman and everyone else in the media:

If your article encourages people to learn more about those opposing views, or presents an intellectually grounded rebuttal of them, then you’re doing it right.

If your article is a smug, self-satisfied and fundamentally uncurious exercise in confirmation bias, designed to delegitimise and vilify the sincerely held political views of others, then you haven’t learned a damn thing.

 

Trigger Warning

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The Remain Campaign’s Last Stand

Stronger In - Kind Open Inclusive Tolerant Together - EU Referendum

The Remain campaign is so used to loudly claiming the moral high ground and dismissing Brexiteers as backward, nasty reactionaries that even their “positive” closing message is unintentionally insulting toward half the country

Well, that calmer, politer politics didn’t last very long, did it?

On the first day of real campaigning following the murder of Jo Cox MP, the Remain campaign has hit the airwaves with this new meme, now being widely shared on social media.

Displaying a heart shape in the colours of the Union Flag, Britain Stronger in Europe exhort us to:

Remain kind

Remain open

Remain inclusive

Remain tolerant

Remain together

All pleasing words, you might think. But what does it say about those Britons – nearly half the country, according to opinion polls – who think that Britain should leave the European Union. Are they unkind people? Are they closed-minded and closed-hearted? Do they all seek to exclude people? Are they all racist? Apparently the official Remain campaign thinks so.

The image is accompanied on social media by the following message:

This referendum is about the type of country we want to live in.

SHARE this if you believe Britain is at our best when we’re outward-looking, inclusive and we stand together.

Just hammering the point home.

From a purely strategic and tactical viewpoint one can understand why Britain Stronger in Europe went for this approach. After all, almost none of their argument for staying in the EU has been based on the positives of the European Union (beyond woolly platitudes about “cooperation” and “working together”, which a ten year old can work out does not require the intermediation of Brussels). Rather, their argument has been a relentlessly fear-based approach, threatening and even bullying voters to vote Remain on pain of supposed economic disaster compounded by George Osborne’s vindictive “punishment budget”.

But to get Remainers to the polling station on Thursday, the campaign needs to give them something positive to think about, too. Even if it later turns out to be a pile of nonsense, their supporters must be made to think that they are doing something noble in choosing to fearfully stick with the status quo. And in this day and age, even better if they can then broadcast this positive message to others in order to signal their own virtue.

This social media post accomplishes the Remain campaign’s objectives brilliantly. It doesn’t get bogged down in the details of why the European is so great (it isn’t) or necessary (it really isn’t), or even why leaving would be so calamitous (it wouldn’t be). On the contrary, the Union Jack coloured heart and childish font keep things very superficial. It declares to the world that the person liking or sharing the message is a Good, Enlightened and Virtuous Person, unlike those knuckle-dragging, murderous subhumans who dare to believe in Brexit.

Another similar meme is also being shared widely on Facebook, as a play on Nigel Farage’s tired old “I want my country back” theme:

I want my country back, too. The country which celebrated Mo Farah winning at the Olympics, the same one who is proud to call Tom Daly or Mark Foster part of the British Olympic team, the country who cheers for Tanni Grey-Thompson. That, that’s my country. The same country which took Malala Yousafzai to its heart. My country is better for the diverse country it is, from the food available in the supermarket to St Paul’s Carnival & drinking Kenyan coffee with a Jewish bagel to cure a hangover from French wine. My Britain is not filled with hate or extremism. My Britain is not perfect but it isn’t better alone. My Britain is open, inclusive, progressive and an inspiring place to live.

Because of course a post-Brexit Britain would rejoice in none of these things, all of which are only made possible thanks to our membership of the European Union. Quite why Britain’s departure from a supranational political union would mean that Britain would become a country which starts booing its own black athletes, burning down bagel shops or pouring French wine into the sea at Dover harbour is of course never explained. But the Remain campaign don’t need to explain it. This is their own form of “dog-whistle” campaigning. They just have to suggest these these links, and immediately everyone who is preconditioned to equate euroscepticism with xenophobia or racism immediately pricks up their ears and awaits orders.

This is insulting beyond words to half the country who currently favour Brexit, particularly considering the hurried vow everybody took in the wake of the Jo Cox murder to immediately (and rather implausibly) be nice to one another. But one must admire the way that the Remain campaign stuck to the letter (if not the spirit) of their pledge – they managed to grievously insult half the country without using a single negative word, instead simply suggesting that Brexiteers represent the opposite of all these positive values.

Though as one commenter put it on the Britain Stronger in Europe Facebook page:

This idea that only those voting for Remain uphold those values is disgusting. None of us have a monopoly on those things. Remain shouting the loudest about being decent – total and utter hypocrisy #Brexit

But this is literally all they have. The Remain campaign kept the focus relentlessly and myopically on the economic question, wheeling out all of the same experts who told us two decades ago that Britain would wither and perish outside the euro. And the message has not gained sufficient traction to leave Remain confident of victory. So all they have left is to demonise the other side.

They cannot speak too passionately and warmly about the European Union, because the organisation is distrusted or hated – quite rightly – by anybody who remotely cares about democracy or the continued importance of the nation state. They cannot openly commit Britain to the EU’s clearly stated end goal – a common European state – because it would alienate too many people.

So all that is left for Remain is to demonise the other side, either explicitly (as they did before the murder of Jo Cox) or implicitly (as they are doing now, by suggesting that Leave voters are the antithesis of the wonderful, warm qualities listed in the Facebook meme).

And in terms of winning the referendum, it may just work. The relentless fearmongering, the demonising of Brexiteers, the desire of many people to virtue-signal the fact that they hold “open” and “progressive” views and the usual tendency for people to gravitate back towards the perceived status quo at the closing stages of a referendum campaign may push Remain over the line. Possibly quite convincingly.

But it has made the job of stitching the nation back together again almost impossible. And each time sanctimonious, preachy little graphics concocted by Britain Stronger in Europe are created and shared, it makes the task that much harder. Because whatever misanthropes, racists and bigots may support Leave, the vast majority of Brexiteers are good, honest decent people. They are patriots who genuinely (and in this blog’s view, quite rightly) believe that they are doing the right thing. And you can’t spend three months loudly questioning half the country’s intelligence, tolerance and moral code and then expect everybody to hold hands like one big happy family.

Given the way that this referendum has been fought by pro-EU forces, a vote to Remain will therefore resolve absolutely nothing. And prissy, sanctimonious little declarations of virtue like Stronger In’s “Remain Together” campaign message are the reason why.

 

Postscript: Mark Wallace also takes exception to Stronger In’s latest advert, in a piece for Conservative Home:

The implication is clear – if you’re someone who is voting Leave, you are supposedly declaring yourself to be unkind, closed, not inclusive, intolerant and in favour of division.

Not only is that entirely in conflict with the weekend’s warm words about a more reasonable and less unpleasant tone in the final days of the referendum campaign, but it is an extraordinary attack on the millions upon millions of voters who are – rightly, in this site’s view – planning to Vote Leave.

It isn’t the first time we’ve heard such dismissive criticisms of those who dare to disagree. Only yesterday, the Prime Minister declared that there is not “a single credible voice” arguing we will gain by leaving the EU, implicitly suggesting several members of his own Cabinet lack credibility. But the content of this particular advert makes it the broadest insult to voters, Party members, MPs and Ministers so far, and the timing makes a mockery of recent promises to raise the tone.

If Stronger In’s management intend to stand by this scurrilous line, will their overseers, Cameron and Osborne, continue to do so as well?

 

European Union - United Kingdom - Britain - Flags

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We Do Not Suspend Our Democracy As A Gesture Or Tribute; The Batley And Spen By-Election Should Be Contested

Airey Neave Assassination - INLA

Suspending democracy is no way to pay tribute to a murdered MP

I’m strongly inclined to agree with Archbishop Cranmer’s take on the decision by the major political parties not to contest the Batley and Spen by-election brought about by the despicable murder of Jo Cox, essentially giving Labour a free run at a seat they were almost certain to hold regardless.

Metro reports:

The Lib Dems and Ukip have joined the Conservative Party to announce they will not contest the by-election in Batley and Spen resulting from the death of Jo Cox.

Mrs Cox, 41, died yesterday after she was stabbed and shot outside a library in Birstall.

The Labour MP had held her seat in West Yorkshire since the General Election last year, which she won with a majority of 6,057.

No date has yet been set to elect a new representative.

To which Cranmer writes in response:

Whoever Labour chooses to be their candidate will be gifted a seat in Parliament. We honour a murdered democrat by suspending democracy. Our political leaders respect her values service, community, tolerance – by treating her former constituency as heritable property. There can be no disjunctive voice, no division and no dissent: Jo Cox’s values, her political philosophy and her apprehension of the world order must be perpetuated “as a mark of respect to a much-loved and respected politician”. The Batley and Spen by-election thereby becomes a memorial, and her successor a living monument.

[..] The thing is, there is something odd in not contesting a seat after a sitting MP has been murdered:

1990 Murder of Ian Gow by PIRA – By-election contested – LD gain
1984 Murder of Sir Anthony Berry by PIRA – By-election contested – CON hold
1981 Murder of The Rev Robert Bradford by PIRA – By-election contested – UUP hold
1979 Murder of Airey Neave by INLA – No by-election, but GE seat contested – CON hold
1922 Murder of Sir Henry Wilson by IRA – By-election uncontested.

So the last uncontested by-election in this tragic circumstance was in 1922 for North Down (which had occasional uncontested elections into the 1950s).

Perhaps things have moved on since the murder of Ian Gow: 26 years is an eternity in politics. Or is it that only murdered Protestants and Tories have to be challenged in the hope of driving their particular brand of hatred, division and intolerance from public life? Whatever, the decision not to contest Batley and Spen permits the Labour Party to put into Parliament anyone they want. Although it is extremely unlikely that the seat would have changed hands, it is an offence against democracy to respond to attack upon democracy with a rigged political appointment. Far better for all the main political parties to put up a full slate of candidates, and then for  those candidates to selflessly exhort the people of Batley and Spen to vote Labour as a mark of respect to a much-loved and respected politician. At least then the people would have been free to honour Jo Cox’s values of service, community and tolerance as they would wish to do, instead of being coerced into a contrived expression of political unity, or hectored into a mellow manifestation of Anglican generosity and integrity.

“A contrived expression of political unity”. And isn’t that all that this would be – like the symbolism of MPs mixing it up in parliament and sitting next to members from opposing parties on one day before calling each other’s motives and morals into question again the next? If so, it hardly seems like a good enough reason for the suspension of democracy in one constituency.

And let’s not pretend that this will not happen. The Labour Party in particular have tremendous form in suggesting that those with conservative leanings are morally defective or singularly lacking in compassion. Is this all to cease now, because of the awful murder of Jo Cox? Will Labour MPs finally accept that it is possible to care about the poor and the vulnerable while believing that conservative policies are best for them and the country? I wouldn’t bet on it.

In fact, while there is an undeniable and odious far right element in British politics at the fringes, in terms of the voices currently heard in parliament and in the mainstream media, I would argue that it is the supposedly morally virtuous Labour Party which is guilty of most of the intemperate and divisive rhetoric heard today. And if we are to be political about it, if one party’s behaviour has been least deserving of being given a free run in a by-election, one could make a strong case that it is the Labour Party.

And yet how things seem to have changed. As Archbishop Cranmer points out, after the brutal assassination of several other MPs during the twentieth century, the idea of suspending competitive by-elections was never even considered. Of course the affected constituents should pick themselves up and avail themselves of their democratic right, was the prevailing thinking. And yet in 2016, in order to show solidarity or respect (or in actual fact, I’m almost hesitant to say, to signal virtue) it is apparently necessary to suspend democracy. To make a nice gesture.

As a society, we are getting very good at making nice, sentimental gestures in the face of tragedy. In the West, we have become particularly adept at lighting up our national landmarks to mourn terrorist attacks in one country or another. And there is obviously an important place for vigils, and grieving, and ritualised mourning. But it rather seems that this is now all that we can do. We can make the public gesture but not change the behaviours which makes the gesture necessary in the first place.

Just as one can predict with fearful certainty that the London Eye, Eiffel Tower and Brandenburg Gate will soon be lit up in the national colours of the next country to face a major terror attack while our politicians remain unable even to properly articulate the nature of the Islamist terror threat which we face, so it seem we are now about to celebrate democracy by effectively suspending it. In a twisted homage to Jo Cox, we are about to allow the Labour Party, through whatever opaque selection process they choose, to parachute a new MP into parliament without giving the people a real choice.

There are many appropriate ways to pay tribute to the late Jo Cox, a universally liked MP and the cruel victim of presumed far-right terrorism (for we should call it what it is). But the spectacle of an uncontested by-election, or a by-election fought only by a handful of ugly fringe candidates, is not one of them.

And for once, it would be gratifying if our commitment to democracy could trump the desire to make ourselves feel good with showy but ultimately counterproductive demonstrations of virtue.

 

By election - ballot box - Democracy

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