‘Vile Misogynist Abuse’ Or Harmless Political Skulduggery?

hatchet

Theresa May is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – she does not need defending against George Osborne’s non-existent misogyny by an army of sanctimonious professional offence-takers

Until today’s heinous (but thankfully largely unsuccessful) terror attack on the London Underground, much of this week’s political chatter has been dominated by a lengthy profile of George Osborne in Esquire magazine.

The rather gushing article detailed the various ways in which the former Chancellor of the Exchequer was seeking to leverage (or abuse) his position as editor of the Evening Standard to exact political revenge on former colleagues who had previously crossed his path:

At a little after 6.30, nearly every weekday morning, George Osborne — 46 years old, tall, rich, boyish, tieless — takes the bus from Notting Hill in west London, where he lives, to Kensington High Street, where he works, orders his breakfast to take away from Leon, arrives at the marbled and airy headquarters of the London Evening Standard, takes the lift to the second floor, enters his corner office, and sets about destroying his political enemies.

Following this riveting introduction there follows a lengthy and somewhat depressing account of exactly how Osborne came to land the position of Editor despite having no journalistic background, and the new direction in which he is taking the newspaper.

But this is the passage which stirred particular controversy:

Osborne seems to reserve his choicest weapons for Theresa May, the beleaguered prime minister. On his first day as editor, the front page of the Standard announced “Brussels twists knife on Brexit [as] EU chief mocks PM May with her own ‘Strong and Stable’ leadership slogan”. The attacks on May have become only more intense since then. (One clinical sentence in a Standard editorial from 21 June simply read: “Enough of this nonsense.”) Osborne’s animus against May is complicated in origin — personal, political, ideological, tactical — but purely felt. When I met him at the Standard this past spring, he was polite enough about the prime minister. But according to one staffer at the newspaper, Osborne has told more than one person that he will not rest until she “is chopped up in bags in my freezer”.

To any sane person, this is clearly a political threat, not a serious threat of impending physical violence against the prime minister. But one would not get this impression judging by the outrage from many politicians and journalists, who sought to fold Osborne’s case of sour grapes into a broader narrative about online abuse and violence against women.

Labour’s Chris Bryant was quick off the mark, declaring that Osborne was clearly a misogynist, the Huffington Post reported:

During a debate on barriers for women entering Parliament on Wednesday, Labour’s Chris Bryant said he should apologise.

“It’s that kind of language, which I think is misogynistic in its basis, which should be done away with,” he added.

This, of course, conforming to the Left’s new working definition of misogyny, which can basically be described as “any negative statement about a woman, regardless of whether or not it actually concerns her gender, made by somebody we dislike or wish to discredit”.

Even Tory MP Nadine Dorries got in on the act, ranting to a WhatsApp chat for fellow Conservative MPs:

I’m sorry but Osborne’s vile, and I think sexist language towards the PM has now crossed the line. He’s either going the way of James Chapman, or he’s become a security risk.

Yes, Nadine Dorries is literally positing that George Osborne has either become mentally unbalanced or is flirting with the idea of committing an act of political terrorism. Let that sink in for a few moments.

And is anybody else getting sick of the word “vile” being appended to every object of criticism as the default go-to word of condemnation? Can we not have a little more variety in our self-righteous denunciations, at least? George Orwell would surely have a thing or two to say about our rote, unthinking repetition of the same tedious adjective.

Dorries continues:

He would never say these things of a man. Won’t be happy until she’s chopped into bits in a bag in my freezer. Dead woman walking. Living dead. Wants her immediate execution.

This is the kind of hysterical, overwrought language more commonly adopted by the most unhinged of Social Justice Warriors, who see physical harm in the most innocuous of words, not the language of a sober-minded parliamentarian.

No serious person could possibly believe that George Osborne literally wants to kill and dismember Theresa May, or fantasises about her death. This blog has about as low an opinion of George Osborne as it is possible to hold, and even I do not believe that the ex-Chancellor is a full-on psychopath who daydreams about the violent demise of his enemies.

And in fact Nadine Dorries and most of the other people who came scuttling out of the woodwork to declare their outrage also probably do not believe this of George Osborne. They just know that accusations of sexism or violence against women have enormous power to ruin reputations (as they should when such acts are actually committed), and think nothing of levelling such accusations in retaliation against language or behaviour that they dislike. Playing the sexism or racism card is fair game, in other words, when one’s cause is just – even if the evidence to back it up is not there.

And indeed it then becomes immediately clear why Nadine Dorries is actually upset:

He spent ten years undermining her and trying to squash her. He mounted whips operations against her in the chamber when she was Home Sec. I’ve written to Gavin [Williamson, Tory Chief Whip] and said I think his pass for conference should be removed because we would never allow a punter in who had said any of that, for security reasons. I hope some of you feel strongly enough to do the same.

So this has nothing to do with “security reasons” at all – it is just a convenient opportunity, gifted by Osborne’s crass language, to exact political revenge on an opponent (Dorries has had a fractious relationship with the Tory leadership since having the whip temporarily withdrawn after she skipped the country to participate in a reality TV show).

But of course, being honest about the real reasons for her animus toward the former Chancellor would make Dorries look small-minded and petty, so instead she slaps on the faux-outrage like a suit of armour and wades into battle, declaring that Osborne’s schoolyard threats somehow represent a security threat to the prime minister.

There is a very ugly and unseemly trend among an increasing number of MPs to wallow in their own supposed victimhood. Despite occupying one of the most high-status occupations it is possible to hold, one which opens up endless future career opportunities – to say nothing of conferring the ability to shape the course of the nation – a growing number of MPs seem to see themselves as uniquely oppressed and vulnerable.

This trend has greatly picked up since the ghastly murder of Jo Cox last year, an act which was universally condemned but which seems to have provided some more cynical politicians with an excuse to “turn the leaf” on past expenses scandals and abuses of public trust in order to cast themselves as the fearless public heroes and members of the public as little more than a source of menace and danger.

To be clear: Members of Parliament are public servants and have the absolute right to discharge their duties in the full expectation of safety and security. Any legitimate or even ambiguous threats of violence or vulgar verbal or written abuse is reprehensible. But it does not help the effort to crack down on real trolling and abuse of politicians (such as that received by Diane Abbott) when cynical and calculating people falsely conflate the kind of standard political skulduggery which has always been a part of politics with real racial or sexist abuse.

If anything, the fact that George Osborne has apparently been telling anybody who will listen at Evening Standard HQ that he wants to politically dismember the prime minister is itself proof that he sees Theresa May as much as a worthy opponent to smite as he would any man. Osborne’s colourful and rather gruesome imagery does not reveal a deep-seated loathing of women, but rather is evidence of real parity of esteem – he doesn’t see any reason why Theresa May should be spared from his ranting and plotting any more than a male politician.

A true feminist would surely approve of this acknowledgement of equality and see George Osborne’s posturing as evidence of social progress. In fact, the only people who might not take this stance are cynical political opportunists who like to use accusations of sexism as weapon, and babyish fourth-wave intersectional feminists who see all words as potentially harmful and any political dissent as a threat to their very personhood.

Why? Because their dispiriting, identity politics-soaked worldview is predicated on the notion that women are in fact not equal, that by virtue of their historic and present oppression they are uniquely vulnerable and in need of perpetual protection against the “harms” which may be inflicted by stray words.

There is real violence, misogyny and hatred in this world. Let us be vociferous in condemning any such incidences wherever they appear. But pretending that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer is one meat cleaver purchase away from dismembering the prime minister of the United Kingdom is risible at face value, as is the notion that his petty political vendetta might encourage anybody else to commit physical violence.

On the other hand, with Halloween around the corner this tedious episode has at least provided some inspiration for a few new costumes which will see all of Britain’s snowflakes running for their safe spaces.

 

George Osborne

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Don’t Blame Anti-Establishment Politicians For Vile Online Abuse

Internet Troll - Cyber Online Abuse

Taking offence in the behaviour of a politician’s online supporters says a lot more about your view of that particular politician than the uniquely “hateful” nature of their fans

What do Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage all have in common?

Nothing to do with their political views, obviously – you would be hard pressed to imagine four more different politicians, both in terms of style and substance. But they do share something more fundamental in common: the fact that their supporters are uniquely derided as being angry and intemperate, even sexist or racist trolls, especially when compared to the supporters of their more established rivals.

How many times have you heard a wounded, thin-skinned Westminster media type complain in hurt tones that they have received “vile online abuse” from crusading Ukippers or SNP-supporting Cybernats? And this is nearly always followed by the accusatory observation that the journalist or media star in question has never been so insulted or abused by supporters of the other mainstream parties or candidates.

You have likely seen or read this lament numerous times in one form or another. Typically, they will conclude – either explicitly or by inference – that there must be something uniquely awful and unacceptable about that particular party or candidate’s views, something which either attracts a disproportionate number of crazy people, or else makes otherwise good people behave in reprehensible ways.

Here’s the Telegraph’s James Kirkup raising an eyebrow after receiving a less than loving and nurturing response from online UKIP supporters, in a piece rather preciously titled “Why are UKIP supporters so rude and horrible?”:

A brief glance through the comments sections of the Telegraph website will show this is not an isolated incident; hostile and personal remarks are a common feature of online discussion about Ukip-related stories and columns. My email inbox tells a similar story.

I’m not alone here. There is nothing unique or special about me, no individual quality that attracts such strong feelings. All of my colleagues who cover Ukip and Mr Farage regularly receive such vitriol, and several of them get it in much larger volumes than me.

[..] I’m increasingly convinced that Ukippers are one of the political groups whose members are disproportionately likely to go in for online bile. (Scottish Nationalists are another; I haven’t had the pleasure of their electronic company for a while, but in a previous job I got to know the “cybernats” fairly well.)

Kirkup’s piece is actually fairly generous – he goes on to praise Ukippers for their passion and commitment, although it comes across in a rather condescending way.

But there is no such generosity in this farewell to the Labour Party from Barbara Ellen, who took her leave after finding herself unable to cope with the fact that her preferred centrist wing of the party finds itself temporarily out of favour for the first time in decades.

Smarting from the “howling gales” of disagreement she encountered, Ellen raged:

Still the Corbynista circus refuses to leave town, with one troubling result being that the term “moderate” is starting to look tarnished and devalued – deemed too centrist, restrained, temperate, cautious. Never mind that this describes most of Britain – or that this culture of moderate-baiting is hounding people like myself (lifelong Labour voters) out of the party. Like many in the great disenchanted Labour diaspora of 2015, I don’t feel remotely “Tory lite”, but nor do I feel that there is a place for me in this brutal and monochrome, but also silly and over-simplistic, “with us or against us” regime.

And maybe there’s a faint hope that by leaving, by voting with your feet, you’ll finally quietly reasonably (moderately!) make your voice heard. It’s a sad scary moment when “moderate” starts feeling like a insult. I’d have thought that moderates were the bricks and cement of any political party – without them, the extremes become unmoored, sucked into howling gales of their own making. The leftier-than-thou can taunt the departing “boring”, “gutless”, “Tory lite” moderates all they like. In the end, we were necessary and we’ll be missed.

The media’s hysteria about boisterous and sometimes deeply unpleasant online political discourse reached its peak with their coverage of the Jeremy Corbyn campaign, with endless finger-wagging remarks about how the actions of a few anonymous knuckle-dragging trolls supposedly make a mockery of Corbyn’s “New Politics”.

Here’s the Spectator’s Sebastian Payne rending his garments in anguish at the fact that some unhinged Corbyn fans happen to say some very unpleasant things online:

It was meant to be about open debate and discussion, consensus through dialogue. But so far, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party and the arrival of the so-called New Politics has resulted in division and a lot of abuse and bad feeling. In light of last night’s vote on Syria airstrikes, Twitter and Facebook have been exploding with extraordinary levels of comments and abuse that no one, MPs or otherwise, should be subjected to.

For example, hard-left groups such as Lefty Unity, have been using Twitter to stir up agitation against the MPs they disagree with.

The article goes on to cite a tweet listing the names of Labour MPs who voted for military action in Syria, and calling for party members to deselect them. Remarkably, Payne presents this as some terrible affront to civilised behaviour rather than precisely what should happen in a democracy: MPs making decisions in public, and the public judging MPs based on those decisions. The horror!

Unfortunately, our default reaction is increasingly not just to sit back and mock the individual trolls (justified), but to then also make the lazy assumption that the internet trolls somehow speak for the wider movement or supporter base (much less justified). Everyone enjoys seeing an ignorant verbal abuser put back in their box, but we are being intellectually lazy if we then go on to believe that people like the anonymous idiot silenced by JK Rowling are representative of general UKIP or SNP opinion.

Cybernat - Online Abuse - Trolling

Exactly the same phenomenon can now be seen in the United States, where supporters and media cheerleaders of Democratic establishment favourite Hillary Clinton are lightning-quick to accuse their opponents of sexism, and to refer disparagingly to supporters of socialist rival Bernie Sanders – alas, a white male – as the “Bernie Bros”.

Glenn Greenwald does a superb job of debunking the myth that Bernie Sanders supporters are uniquely sexist or misogynistic among political supporters over at The Intercept, writing:

Hillary Clinton is the establishment candidate. Therefore, she has far more supporters with loud, influential media platforms than her insurgent, socialist challenger. Therefore, the people with the loudest media platforms experience lots of anger and abuse from Sanders supporters and none from Clinton supporters; why would devoted media cheerleaders of the Clinton campaign experience abuse from Clinton supporters? They wouldn’t, and they don’t. Therefore, venerating their self-centered experience as some generalized trend, they announce that Sanders supporters are uniquely abusive: because that’s what they, as die-hard Clinton media supporters, personally experience. This “Bernie Bro” narrative says a great deal about which candidate is supported by the most established journalists and says nothing unique about the character of the Sanders campaign or his supporters.

And the same blindingly obvious truth hits closer to home with the media’s reaction to – and coverage of – Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the Labour leadership:

This exact media theme was constantly used against Corbyn: that his supporters were uniquely abusive, vitriolic, and misogynistic. That’s because the British media almost unanimously hated Corbyn and monomaniacally devoted themselves to his defeat: So of course they never experienced abuse from supporters of his opponents but only from supporters of Corbyn. And from that personal experience, they also claimed that Corbyn supporters were uniquely misbehaved, and then turned it into such a media narrative that the Corbyn campaign finally was forced to ask for better behavior from his supporters.

Time and again we see establishment candidates and their fans in the media reaching for the smelling salts and clamouring to tell us how insulted and distressed they are, simply because something they said or wrote happened to tap into the coarsing vein of popular anger against a political establishment which grows remoter and more self-serving by the day. But we should recognise this for what it is – a cheap attempt to shut down the debate by rendering certain political ideas unthinkable or unsayable.

It is very much in the interests of centrists within Labour and the Conservative Party that people should fear policies with a genuine ideological twist to them, be they from the Right or the Left. When their entire pitch to the electorate consists of fatuous promises to be the most competent managers of our public services, as thought Britain were nothing more than a rainy island of hospitals and job centres, anything which attempts to inject some inspiration, ambition or bold thinking into our political debate is to be greatly feared, and thwarted at all costs.

Hence the continual efforts to portray Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wingery, something which would have been considered perfectly normal in 1986, as beyond the pale of acceptable thought in 2016.

Hence the sneering, virtue-signalling attacks on Ukippers, who have been shamefully portrayed by the media as a bunch of grunting, uneducated, economically “left behind” losers who wrap themselves in the Union flag because they are somehow more scared of change than a “normal” person.

Hence the apocalyptic predictions of those opposing Scottish independence, warning that Scotland would become some kind of tartan-clad North Korea if they went their own way.

Now, this blog believes that Jeremy Corbyn’s left wing policies are utterly wrong for Britain, that UKIP does have a certain unsavoury element within it, and that Scottish independence and the breakup of the United Kingdom would be a tragedy. But I don’t for a moment assume that the virtue of these ideas can be judged in any way by the behaviour of their most crude and sociopathic advocates. And nor do I attempt to suppress the expression of those ideas by linking overheated rhetoric on social media to any one particular idea, candidate or party.

All of which makes you wonder: If the establishment are so self-evidently right, if the centrist parties and politicians do indeed have a monopoly on Good and Pragmatic Ideas, and if anybody who proposes the slightest departure from the status quo is a juvenile dreamer or a tub-thumping populist, why not let the arguments speak for themselves?

If the establishment have the facts so overwhelmingly on their side, why do they not limit themselves to patiently explaining why Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are wrong on the issues? And at a time when political engagement is falling and faith in democracy ebbing, are the Corbyn critics and Farage haters really saying that they would rather people were disengaged than back a radical candidate?

This blog would argue that there is a certain nobility in all of the populist insurgencies currently roiling the political landscape in Britain and America. Whether one agrees with them or not (and there is often much to vehemently disagree with), they are at least attempting to drag us out of a stale and timid political consensus which has delivered prosperity for many but also failed too many of our fellow citizens.

Or as this blog remarked last year:

It is very easy to sit smugly on the sidelines, throwing the occasional rock and taunting those who risk hostility, ridicule and contempt as they struggle to find a way to make our politics relevant to the people. Anyone can be a stone-thrower. But it’s another thing entirely to roll up your sleeves, join the fray, pick a side or – if none of the available options appeal – propose new political solutions of your own.

Ukippers and Jeremy Corbyn supporters have often been steadfast in their political views for years, and as a result have languished in the political wilderness while those willing to bend, flatter and shapeshift their way toward focus group approval have been richly rewarded with power and success.

The “Bernie Bro” phenomenon in the United States and the centrist Labour hysterics about the antics of a few offensive people are nothing but a choreographed backlash from the establishment, whipped up by people who are happy to hijack issues like feminism and use them for their own short-term political advantage, or do anything else to disguise the yawning chasm where sincerely held convictions and beliefs should reside.

So, when you see a bunch of prominent, well-connected people feigning horror at the way in which people with whom they disagree are comporting themselves on the internet, your first thought should not be to dismiss the idea or candidate whom the obnoxious trolls support, but rather to question the real motives of the people weeping and rending their garments because they have been spoken to rudely on social media.

It may turn out that the trolls are still wrong, as well as being obnoxious and offensive. But many times, it will likely transpire that the people making the most fuss about the way that a particular candidate or party’s supporters are behaving also happen to have the most to lose in the event that those ideas gain a wider following. And their sudden desire for comity and a more respectful public discourse is cynical at best.

So what do Jeremy Corbyn, Nicola Sturgeon, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage all have in common?

They are all flawed.

They are all willing to say things which make them wildly unpopular with large swathes of people.

Without their boldness and tenacity, few of us would still be discussing their top issues and obsessions – be it genuine socialist politics, Scottish independence, immigration or the coming EU referendum – and our politics would be left to the stale old two-party duopoly.

And none of these politicians, whatever their flaws, deserve to be judged by the online behaviour of their most angry, antisocial supporters.

Bernie Sanders - Refutes Bernie Bros

Top image: “#GamerGate is the future of troll politics”, Techcrunch.com

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