Coping with the hate

On Friday 25 October the Guardian reported on some research from Cardiff University and Edinburgh University which suggested that most leave voters who took part thought that violence towards MPs “was a price worth paying” for Brexit to be delivered – 71% in England, 70% in Wales, 60% in Scotland. The majority of remain voters also felt that potential violence was worth it if it meant staying in the EU – 58% in England, 56% in Wales, 53% in Scotland. The co-director of the research project at the Cardiff end declared that he was “flabbergasted” by these results.

These “violence worth it’ responders were of course talking about people’s violence, not theirs! But the easy tolerance of such hate crimes needs to be taken seriously. Lay that alongside Jennie Rigg’s account on this site of verbal abuse on social media at a time of severe family stress.

I felt as bad about Jennie’s departure from the Liberal Democrats as I did about Michael Meadowcroft leaving for a sustained period post-merger. I have huge respect for Jennie and it was good to share office premises with her when we had a Member of Parliament in Bradford East.

Lay alongside that my own experience in the summer/autumn of 2017. I was due to defend my council seat in May 2018. Along with other Board members, I had to take some very difficult decisions about the local Mechanics Institute, of which I was Chair, but the rescue operation was portrayed as a determination to close it. There was a scurrilous Facebook campaign which accused me of hypocrisy and betraying the local community. The perpetrators used language clearly intended to undermine and destabilise, alongside some nasty cartoons – replete with haloes and dog collars! One of them declared his intention to stand against me as an Independent.

We took the view that fighting this stuff head on was pointless and the best response was to carry on our usual campaigning to the best of our ability in the circumstances. Our organiser, also one of my ward colleagues, advised me not to read the more vicious posts. He would read them and keep me in the picture. In May, in a ward which voted 66% leave, I was returned with the usual majority of 200+ over Labour. The Independent was hammered in the only place that ultimately mattered – the ballot box.

Politically it worked out OK but I still bear the personal scars. I have never been a good sleeper but that summer my sleep patterns were shot to pieces. Fortunately I have found ways of managing this with strong support from my brilliant GP. She is very familiar with my political lifestyle!

So what do I learn from all this? Jennie asks “what are the solutions?” I have no easy answers. But  a rather less complicated question is “what are the responses?” I suggest three. First of all we need to recognise that we simply need to avoid reading most of the stuff from the keyboard warriors. This is not denial. Often it is having a care for our own sanity.

Secondly (surprise, surprise) we have to crack on promoting our Liberalism fuelled by the values we hold dear. This is our hour in the midst of crisis.

Thirdly we need to recognise that we should not be aiming to persuade the hate mongers of anything but amongst the rest of the population we can expose the lies and cruelty of their more articulate leaders. Our parliamentary leaders in both Commons and Lords deserve applause for doing precisely that and they occasionally get fairly reported in the “mainstream” media.

When Hitler and Goebbels were gaining power, Liberalism failed. In my judgement we are currently up against forces operating somewhere between Thatcherism and fascism. If we are to overcome such malign forces there will be a lot of pain to be endured. It does not always happen but suffering can sometimes be redemptive. I don’t think that is just the retired Methodist Minister speaking! Think South Africa, think Northern Ireland. Knowing with clarity what you have to do in the face of evil is a source of great strength.

* Geoff Reid is a Liberal Democrat Councillor in Bradford

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13 Comments

  • Laurence Cox 27th Oct '19 - 3:59pm

    Sadly, the example of a hate campaign against you is not a new development. I can remember being the victim of a similar campaign some 20 years ago when I was a local councillor, including a mendacious allegation against me to the Local Government Ombudsman. What Brexit has done is to embolden these people so that their voice is more widely heard.

    I thoroughly agree with your approach about what we must do (and like you I wish that we had never lost Jennie Rigg from the Party).

  • Richard Underhill 27th Oct '19 - 8:46pm

    The South African Rugby team are obviously not picked nowadays on a racial basis.

  • Frustration often leads to anger. Politicians who use every opportunity to thwart the will of the majority are showing contempt for voters and contempt for democracy. Now, many of the same politicians are abusing their power to avoid an election, in further denial of democracy. But this disgraceful situation cannot prevail forever. The people are sovereign and will execute this sovereignty at the ballot box when they punish and dismiss those Parliamentarians who were misguided enough to dismiss the democratic decision of the voters.

    This Party , with its second referendum policy and now revoke policy, are guilty of all of the above, but in some ways have recovered a shred of integrity compared with the astonishing actions of the Labour party. The latter has lost credibility, respect and integrity even with its own members.

    The Revoke policy of this party shows contempt for the referendum result. It can only gain legitimacy if put to an immediate election, otherwise it remains a blocking policy that insults the electorate and inhibits any progress.

    Politicians are starting to play with fire. Defying the democratic vote of the electorate is serious. Preventing the resetting of parliament via democratic elections is much worse. Continuing in this vein signifies the death of democracy and the alternative is too bloody to contemplate.

  • @Peter – I have a question for you. A genuine question.
    Is it possible that the majority of voters in this country now support Remain? NB I’m not asking you if they do. I’m asking if it is possible that they do?

  • David Evans 29th Oct '19 - 9:22am

    Geoff you make a series of very good, very important points. Towards the end you summarise two key questions 1) Jenny’s “what are the solutions?” and 2) your “What are the responses?” to which I add one more ”What do we all need to do to help?”

    To this third question I suggest one key thing – We fight for each other. I know Jenny just a little. Jenny knows me probably that little as well. We probably know a lot more about each other because on occasions we have disagreed on LDV. But that doesn’t matter and indeed may even make our common bond even stronger.

    Because whatever else I may know, I know Jenny is a good Liberal. And if a bunch of nasty a**es are getting at her, I am on her side. We are part of a big team and teams fight for each other. If she needs the trolls answering, she may need someone to answer for her. If she wants a counter attack, she may need a bunch of Lib Dems to do it for her. If she simply needs a cup of tea and a bit of cake, she definitely needs the Lib Dem Friends of Cake. Whatever support she says she needs, we should be there to provide it. We just need to organise it. Maybe given time and a lot of careful but steady effort we can even change things enough for Jenny to be able to return.

    Until then I am still on her side, and so are lots of other Lib Dems. Always will be.

  • I don’t find this hugely surprising, considering the question’s wording. “Do you think the risk of X is a price worth paying?”, as opposed to “do you think X is an acceptable thing to do”.

    If I say “The outcome I want isn’t worth an increased risk of violence” then I’m implying “It is acceptable for Parliament to back down if threatened with violence”. I would find that statement far more unnerving, as that’s tolerating political violence as a means of persuasion. With no idea whether the people surveyed think said violence is *justified*, all those results show is that most respondents were unwilling to let a threat of violence towards other people dissuade them from doing “the right thing”.

    Like Ruth, I’ve leafleted for the Lib Dems, I’ve manned stalls for People’s Vote and consider the risk of similar verbal abuse to be an price worth paying to get the job done. It doesn’t mean I tolerate such abuse or that I feel it’s a price we *should* have to pay. Quite the reverse.

  • @Ross
    Of course it is possible and it could happen for many reasons, such as Project Fear, Brexit fatigue or just constant attrition.

    But that does not make acceptable the abuse of power by the current opposition parties. They have destroyed International respect for UK politics and within the UK they have destroyed respect for UK politicians. The public now questions whether voting has any purpose. Perhaps as a Lib Dem you could answer that with reference to Referenda.

  • @Peter – thankyou for responding.
    Given that you agree the majority of the country may now want to Remain, do you still think the ‘will of the people’ argument makes sense as a reason to leave? I mean, how could it be right to leave when a majority doesn’t want us to?
    You make a number of assertions about trust in politicians being destroyed and ‘the public’ now questioning whether voting is worthwhile (no evidence is presented to support these claims, but I’ll leave that aside). If trust in politicians is a concern, how is that trust going to be enhanced if the government takes us out of the EU against our wishes – which you accept is a possibility now?
    This is the argument for the confirmatory referendum. Bluntly, we don’t know what the will of the people is today. The rational, logical, democratic thing to do – especially now that we have an actual Brexit deal – is ask them.

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