Intolerant democracy

We seem to be living in an age of ever-increasing fanatics, people who believe that they are always right and are intolerant of other views. I am talking about the abusive treatment of Anna Soubry. This government is ridiculously split over Brexit, and the referendum which many thought (wrongly, in my opinion) would put an end to the debate over Europe has actually fanned the flames of a possible bitter split. Views have been further polarised by this incompetent government and their mismanagement of Brexit. In general, the printed press has supported the case to leave Europe and they continue to make their crude case to leave. The printed press has been reluctant to objectively understand or discuss any opposing view, resulting in opinions being sharply divided. We are right; You are wrong – fanatics.

But why the abuse or violence from people who otherwise are educated and usually quite rational. This trait isn’t only being displayed against politicians but is also manifest in sports and social media. We seem to have acquired common values to a cause, opinion or a team and shut the world out to the rest. The real danger is the reluctance to consider other views, to ponder opportunities and respectfully acknowledge differing opinions.

Yesterday was another example of the abuse. It was sad to see these guys, most of whom, were also filming the abuse on their mobile phones to share on social media. In the main, it tends to be aimed at female MPs and mainly by people who are not from their constituency. Friends in Scotland reminded me of the abuse people faced during their referendum from those who wanted to leave; they particularly recalled Charles Kennedy being a target.

Maybe Gandhi was right when he said, “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.”


* Cllr. Tahir Maher is a member of the LDV editorial team

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  • John Marriott 9th Jan '19 - 9:29am

    The guy in the ‘maillot jaune’ having a regular go at Ms Soubry apparently calls her a fascist because he reckons that the EU, which she supports, is doing what Hitler tried to do. Interesting logic. It reminds of something a former Lib Dem MEP told me once about a former UKIP colleague. This gentleman apparently had been brought up in a religious sect that viewed the EU as the harbinger of the Anti Christ (Armageddon and all that). What a funny world we live in. My only question is why the police didn’t intervene more effectively. Are we and they now too PC for direct action?

  • Stephen Lloyd MP 9th Jan '19 - 9:30am

    I agree Tahir. I’d just gently like to point out that it’s coming from both sides. When it was announced that I was keeping my promise to my town and would be supporting the withdrawal deal if or when it comes to the House, I received thousands of abusive tweets from across the U.K. Not from Eastbourne i’m pleased to say!

    However it was an interesting experience as i’ve never been trolled before, and what was particularly interesting is that I bet the vast majority of incandescent trollers see themselves as kind, tolerant, ‘liberal’ individuals.

    Obviously this is a dreadful issue and we can all wish Cameron had never called the am referendum but we are where we are, and I can only hope the deep-seated rage on both extremes eventually fades away.

    I would stress that my colleagues in Parliament have been excellent. They get the reason why I resigned the whip was because the thousands of tweeters also were having a go at the Party for not forcing (?) me to break my word. This was both unfair and absurd. How could they do that? Threaten to have me shot?

    Come to think of it, I think some of the tweeters did suggest that 😜

  • Sandra Hammett 9th Jan '19 - 9:31am

    Unfortunately intolerance is widespread on BOTH sides of the Brexit debate, adding another factor in the strained political situation without any easy solutions.

  • Henry Wright 9th Jan '19 - 9:39am

    The tone of the debate has made us even more divided in the last two years. On our side the way that Adonis and Campbell behave massively irritates me and of course figures like the UKIP lot hanging around Parliament are actually straying into physical intimidation. If we’re going to come together after this, we need to start being more respectful and less shouty.

  • Violence and physical intimidation is wrong – full stop. But we should be careful where we draw the line on free speech. Politics is about people’s lives and sometimes people are going to be emotional, shouty, rumbustious about it and yes sometimes anger is part of that.

    The immediate past political history is I would venture far worse – the miners’ strike, the poll tax, Iraq war, tuition fees etc. etc. and wrongly with far too much violence especially in the first two on both sides.

    No doubt the media, LDV, us all will shortly be writing once again about how terrible it is that everyone is apathetic, no-one cares, no-one bothers to vote etc. etc.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Jan '19 - 10:12am

    Suppose an MP is black, female and Labour? supporting (Jeremy Corbyn).
    The cumulative effect must be awful, even for a London MP.

  • I personally don’t think the problem is that MPs, broadcasters and opinion writers are being heckled and taunted face to face or in near physical proximity. The issue is the incidences of libel and slander being directed at them. Anna Soubry can be labeled many things (both flattering and unflattering), but a Nazi she is objectively not. Hence calling her a Nazi is slander/libel.

    And here lies the uncomfortable truth. The word “Nazi” (which has a specific definition) has for a long time been thrown about by people (almost exclusively from the “progressive” left) against people on the right who have views and ideas they disagree with. Forget whether the views and ideas are in any way remotely Nazi-like, just being right wing and doing things that the other person doesn’t like is enough for the Nazi name calling to start.

    Anna Soubry is a decent person and isn’t a participator in the sort of name calling described above (though she has made a few untrue and pejorative generalisations about people who voted Leave), though people still do have the right to heckle her, as long as what they are saying is not libel/slander.

    Owen Jones on the other hand is another story. He epitomises the truly nasty end of the British Left. If his Guardian op-eds arent nauseating enough for the frequency of bullying vitriol and invective (much of it libel and slander), one can turn to his Twitter account where it is mindblowing. Hence why his most recent altercation (not last month’s one) with the yellow jackets garners no sympathy from me whatsoever, notwithstanding what was being said to him was largely true and not libelous.

    It seems some politicians, broadcasters and opinion writers seem to think that the vitriol they launch from their own bully pulpit (be it from a TV studio, newspaper op-ed, Twitter account or website/blog) is all fair and okay. But when they are on the receiving end of vitriol, they claim victimhood (as if communicating vitriol from the pages of a newspaper or tweet is any different from saying it to someone face to face

  • Any extreme ideology attracts extremists who behave an extreme way – whether it is socialist, green, nationalist or fascist politics.

    Brexit, Corbynism, trade unionism, the Greens, SNP, UKIP, ERG, BNP, EDL and so on all attract the angry and or dispossessed. Centrist politics by definition does not, you never get extreme Cleggites or Osbornites for example.

  • Tahir Maher Tahir Maher 9th Jan '19 - 1:24pm

    Thank you for your comments
    @David – I still feel that we should have a second ref. But I also believe that if the leavers lose it (which is likely) all hell will break lose. We are in a horrible place – leave with no deal will be very bad for us as a nation and the possible damage is something we may never recover from. If we don’t leave economically we will be much more secure but politically for a long while the country will be in turmoil. This is how not to carry out change

  • Andrew Toye 9th Jan '19 - 1:33pm

    We might not get extreme Cleggites, but Osborne is a different matter. During his tenure at no. 11, he used some rater toxic rhetoric, directed at benefit claimants (remember the “closed blinds” speech?) Also in this period, assaults and abuse towards disabled claimants increased. (Was that just coincidence?)

  • Ideologies which are protectionist in nature (either left or right) always have to have an “enemy”, whether that be the EU, “gilded elites”, Hillary Clinton, immigrants, corporations, Saudi Arabia, Israel, outsourcing companies, Nick Clegg, Macron or whoever / whatever.

    Dehumanising something is always wrong – whether it is the Saudi Prince, the bosses of G4S, Juncker or Chris Grayling. Soubry has never dehumanised anyone, where as the extremists on left and right – and their followers frequently do – either directly or by use of language. This I feel is what separates liberals from other political creeds – we do not dehumanise those we disagree with. Whether it is trade unions bashing bosses and corporations or the far right screaming for treason, the effect is the same.

  • Andrew Toye – I was about to disagree until I remembered Osborne’s comments referring to “chopping up” Theresa May – which was the very language of dehumanisation.

    Having said that I don’t think that Osborne has loads of rabid followers cyberbullying and trolling in the same way that say UKIP, SNP and the left do.

  • Peter Hirst 9th Jan '19 - 7:18pm

    This intolerance of opposing views is part of a culture that has been growing for some time. The political establishment must take its share of the blame because people will copy its behavior as portrayed in the media. Now that the effect is becoming more apparent, perhaps parliament will look at how to develop a more considerate culture that respects other’s views.

  • What can you say?
    People have always poured scorn on leaders and bossy britches. The only real difference between the past an now is they can now do it on multiple public platforms. The old cliché is that politics is showbiz for ugly people, but really it’s the land where the hall monitor thinks they deserve to be taken seriously and thus tries to outlaw sniggering. But really if you put your head above the parapet you should expect critics to take pot shots.

  • It is important to think about why we all behave as we do. We can look at our education system as an example. It is very much based on an idea of winners and losers. The examination system is based upon bogus statistics designed to separate people, but one in which those dominant in society clearly give their children an advantage. We have a clear idea of winners and losers without any consideration of the effects on the losers.
    The next stage is to transfer these ideas to the world at large. We see things happening in a foreign country and decide to go there and kill people. Seemingly this is acceptable.
    In the meanwhile we have reached the position where we have to manage the planet. We have radically changed the evosystems throughout the planet, we have spread pollution everywhere. The system is obviously unsustainable and must be managed. We need to change the way manage our planet and ourselves. The alternative is a catastrophic collapse.
    The most likely outcome is a catastrophic collapse.

  • marcstevens 10th Jan '19 - 3:19pm

    I agree with Mark Cox. No they do not have the right to heckle or obstruct Anna Soubry or intimidate or bully her when trying to enter the Commons or any other MP of whatever gender or identity. Did you hear what they were shouting, not only was it Nazi but scum and they got away with it. It’s an abuse of free speech and the fact no action was taken by the authorities is a disgrace. The number of times I’ve complained to my football team about racist chanting and homophobia and it has always been taken seriously, but you’ve got people on here more or less condoning inappropriate behaviour and personal abuse. Anna gets my full support as well for championing remain and sticking up for us.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Jan '19 - 4:08pm

    @ Mark Cox, @ marcstevens,

    Two voices of sanity on this matter.

    One of the main perpetrators has belatedly been arrested on what is believed to be on a public order offence.

    The behaviour exhibited to Ms Soubry should not be tolerated in a ‘so called’ civilised society.

  • Simon Banks 28th May '19 - 8:46am

    I don’t entirely agree that the intolerance is on both sides, not to the same extent. There hasn’t been a Remainer equivalent of the treatment of Anna Soubry. While there are certainly people who voted Leave without any rancour or intolerance, the vote was stoked by and encouraged racism and other forms of intolerance.

    Tahir’s thoughtful opening remarks about non-communicating opinions and shutting disagreement out relate, I think, to an effect of the internet. It liberates us to find much more information quicker and to link with people with similar interests across the globe, but it encourages the instant soundbite agreement or rejection. Dissenting views are easily shut out (I was unfriended by a literary “friend”, an SNP supporter, after I’d queried the truth of her statement that Westminster politicians were devious and dishonest while their equivalents in Scotland weren’t, she blocked my comment and I asked why. Face to face argument in the pub or at a meeting is usually toned down because you can see the other person, see they’re a real human being and see their hurt. Internet argument is too like an internet game.

  • Jayne Mansfield 28th May '19 - 9:36am

    @ David Raw,

    9th Jan. 19- 9.53am

    And the flames are still being fanned David. And to what effect?

    Farage has moved from the idea of a Norway solution to no deal, and the panicky Tory Party leadership hopefuls are trying to outdo each other in the extremist stakes.
    Compromise has become a dirty word.

    The extremists of both sides are lost. It has always been my opinion, as a remainer, that from the outset, there has been a need to appeal to the vast majority who would be amenable to a solution that lessens rather than adds fuel to the fire.

    It may be too late.

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