Labour MPs find out that bullying is a thing

I guess it’s good to see Labour MPs like Alan Johnson and Jess Phillips have been calling out the protesters who have been having a go at their MPs who voted for the action in Syria. Jess, particularly, knows what it feels like when a metaphorical angry mob descends on you by social media and waxes lyrical about all the horribly violent things they would like to see happen to you. Stella Creasy knows what it’s like to have an angry mob descend on your office. Can you just imagine how frightening it might be to be in there as a member of staff with all that going on?

It’s a pity that they didn’t seem to notice when Labour Party members spent 5 years trotting out lazy, vicious invective at any Liberal Democrat activist on social media. We were called Tory sellouts, unprincipled, evil, callous, cruel, and received all sorts of vile abuse. It would be very surprising if Labour MPs didn’t know that this was happening, but I don’t recall them speaking out against it. It wasn’t just the hard left, either, it seemed to be pretty commonplace amongst Labour people generally on social media.

You don’t have to be on the receiving end of bad behaviour yourself in order to do something about it. However, now that they do know, let’s hope that they make a concerted effort to deal with it. That sort of thing really is poisoning political debate on social media and in real life. The noisy political thugs need to learn to behave in a respectful and civilised manner. What hope is there of that, though, when you have Ken Livingstone say that Tony Blair was responsible for the 7/7 attacks? Now, I don’t like much of what Blair did as PM, particularly his foreign policy excursions. I marched against Iraq like the rest of us did. I think it was an illegal war prosecuted on a false premise which has at least in part led to the problems we have today. However, I’m not prepared to see him blamed for the malevolent actions of bombers who killed those 52 Londoners and injured so many more. That was purely down to the bombers themselves and the despicable organisations who funded and trained. It is deeply disappointing to see a senior figure in the Labour Party, a former MP and Mayor, make such a crass point on national television.

I suspect it will get a lot worse before it gets better for Labour. However, at least after last night, people are now starting to see Hilary Benn as someone who might sort them out. It would be ironic if he were the one who defeated the hard-left takeover in the 2010s to task when his father was the one who was their figurehead for so long. Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn have a great many similarities. Neither are known for particular nastiness, but both seem to have amongst their supporters people who are capable of the worst political thuggery. I don’t envy the more moderate Labour MPs.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Well said.

  • “I don’t envy the more moderate Labour MPs.”

    Who are you referring to? If you’re referring to those on the right-wing of the Labour party then they are no more moderate than the left-wing – they just have different opinions, that’s all. As for nastiness, there’s plenty of that coming from right-wingers in Labour making explicit threats to remove a leader very recently elected with a very firm majority. All parties and all wings of parties have their bully-boys and bully-girls. The reason the mud sticks against Corbyn’s supporters rather than any other leader is because of the constant slurs from the press. When you compare Corbyn’s behaviour against Cameron it is clear to see who is the far greater bully, yet the press leave Cameron alone.

    The are undoubtedly some rather unpleasant people on twitter, there are far too many MPs who are supercilious bullies themselves who pretend to be the victim as soon as someone dares challenge them with a different opinion. Real bullying includes subtle tactics and shouldn’t be confused with robust debate or even heated argument on a contentious subject. Calling someone a Labour troll was a popular sport on this site in the aftermath of the 2010 election – that IS bullying – i.e. the bullies were the ones trying to silence those who disagreed with them by pretending to be the victims of people who were doing nothing more than expressing their legitimate views.

  • I hope that every party respects those with a different point of view – as liberals are we not supposed to defend to the death the right of another to express their opinion even when we do not agree with it?

  • It’s a bit rich for people who are voting to drop high explosives on a country far away to complain about how awful it is being bullied when their actions are questioned.

  • @Chris
    Quite. And, for the most part, they’re not actually being bullied, just challenged.

  • And lets not forget that 2014 European Election party political broadcast “The uncredible shrinking man” was a nasty piece of personal vitriol that encouraged ridicule. I hope moderate Labour people now they are on the receiving end of this stuff from the hard left may want too think about their actions during the coalition.

  • Jayne Mansfield 3rd Dec '15 - 3:51pm

    My husband insisted that I use my nickname beforeI started to post on Liberal Democrat Voice because of the nastiness of some people who post on the internet. His concern as it turns out was misplaced.

    I haven’t heard everything that Ken Livingstone has said about the 7/7 bombings, but blaming the invasion of Iraq ior the person who persuaded people of the necessity for it, is an opinion. I don’t agree with it, but it would not be the first time a politician from any party offered an explanation , which comes close to an excuse , for the murderous behaviour of individuals on the basis that their behaviour is influenced by wider forces, rather than personal agency and absolute wickedness.

    When I joined a march against the Iraq war I was called a traitor and a quisling to my face. People who think they can bully others are despicable, but ultimately, it is for the individual who is bullied to stand up to them. It is what I had to teach my children when they were bullied at school.

  • paul barker 3rd Dec '15 - 4:11pm

    We should feel proud of the way we stood up to Labour bullying, which came from right across the Labour spectrum & we should recognise that the slow death of Labour is part of our reward. We should be doing all we can to persuade Labour centrists to leave before they get burnt out.

  • Excellent article, Caron. I do not agree with Steve. Have been in Labour and seen the far left when I was a youth. Iam the same generation as Tim Farron . My youthful enthusiasm took me to Labour as Militant were disliked in my branch and our candidate was the ex Young Liberal leader Peter Hain , a really good man , only in his thirties then and me in my early teens . I had friends who, with me, were keeping the loonies at bay .And they were , I mean LOONY LEFT. Corbyn is attracting them now . Whatever your views , please don t compare the Labour right with the far left. We are not talking about policy but hegemony. Control of individuals , groupspeak . Its what they love.

  • Being confronted by protesters may be very upsetting. Being challenged on social media may be upsetting. Huddled in a semi derelict building in a town devastated by war and praying that the next bomb doesn’t have your name on it, now that’s frightening. First world upset or third world fear?

  • “I don’t envy the moderate Labour MPs”

    We should make them welcome.

  • @Steve “Huddled in a semi derelict building in a town devastated by war” and praying the murderous medieval theocrats aren’t about to execute you must be terrifying.

  • @Paul Barker “the slow death of Labour is part of our reward”

    It would be far more humane to administer a quick end than a painful and lingering demise.

  • Political bullying in all of its manifestations indicates intolerance, selfishness and inadequate intellect. The bully cannot win the argument by reasoning, logic or persuasion so they choose to do it by fear and intimidation. The next step is violence or some other form of criminality.

  • Stella isnt moderate… good work on Wonga but more Blairite than Blair. Still its a little ironic that as we are trying to bomb Syria back to democracy our government doesnt event protect the democratic process properly in this country. More money protecting MPs and less on bombing runs might be sensible.

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Dec '15 - 6:55pm

    The bullying is terrible and I’ve honestly not seen one Lib Dem acting in the same way. I’ve seen people upset, even angry, but not intimidation. I experienced this once or twice by a group of I think Corbyn and SNP cyber bullies. One was definitely a Corbyn supporter. There are bullies everywhere, but what is strange is the way these hunt in packs. I criticised one and blocked him, thinking not much of it, but then they start telling their mates about you and you start to receive lots of messages of very aggressive abuse. Another time one told me to sleep with one eye open. I nearly went to the police about that one, but he back-tracked.

    Innocents die with or without action. Voting either way on such matters is understandable.

  • Political bullying in a civilised society should not be tolerated, full stop. We live in a democracy, we have free speech and the right to hold our individual opinions.

    War is not a comparable argument. For a start, the above conventions go straight out the window. Should we have rolled over and let Hitler invade?

    War kills people, many people, both evil and innocent. It should be a last resort. We have the UN and various conventions but the world is not a civilised place. Daesh is evil, they would kill all of us without hesitation if they had the chance.

    As a society, we have principles, regulations and guidelines. We have democratic ways of making decisions. Sometimes these decisions are controversial or unpopular with large numbers of people. Everyone agrees that dealing with evil people is difficult, and the current system is the best we have at the moment.

    Every person has the democratic opportunity to change the system. Of course, if your view is a minority one then you will probably fail. That is democracy. If you decide to resort to bullying, intimidation or violence, then you are showing contempt for the civilisation we have tried to create. You are trying to impose your will on individuals. If you choose to threaten groups or communities then it is terrorism and you are becoming no different to the people of Daesh. Noble cause corruption is no defence.

  • The thing about the Labour Party is that it’s right wingers are actually now its militant tendency and are out of step with its expanded membership, yet they are still acting like they are its mainstream and that their leader is some sort of anomaly.

  • nigel hunter 3rd Dec '15 - 9:17pm

    Cameron was bullying in his own way with his terrorist comment. Hate of other people is common to both parties in varying degrees.

  • Tco. So add to that danger by bombing?

  • The bullies are always the extremists in politics, be they the hard left, the SNP, Greens and kippers.

    We only have to look at the torrent of abuse and threats Cecila Malmstrom has received by anti TTIP campaigners.

  • You guys aren’t the worse that’s true, but don’t go all holier than thou on us. There have been plenty of people who have been on the receiving end of bad behaviour from LibDems – just ask the leader of the SNP.

  • Little Jackie Paper 3rd Dec '15 - 10:51pm

    Ms Lindsay – With respect. It’s the internet. It’s ephemeral rubbish. It’s not real. It is nothing more than a few people with a chip on the shoulder and an internet connection. Never, never take the internet seriously. It’s a very poor substitute for actual politics. Never treat the internet as anything more than words on a screen likely to be seen by a vanishingly small number of people.

    Yes – it might feel real. And yes, of course, making a threat is illegal but words do NOT wound. If you are going to go onto social media or use the internet to, ‘put yourself out there,’ then you can have no complaints if you happen upon robust disagreement. I’m not on any social media because I don’t want any crank to be able to write to me.

    Perhaps there are a number of people out there who have confused, ‘democracy,’ with, ‘the outcome I want.’ That is self-indulgence, but it’s nothing new. The internet has just made it more obvious however it’s just the impotent rage of nobodies.

    I would suggest that what we are looking here is really symptom not cause. The root issue here is the decline in civility. Why that has happened is the real question. All the internet is doing is making the decline of civility more explicit. For what it’s worth, my guess is that we now have a more atomised society, it’s weakened our civil society. We need a civil society stronger than all sitting at keyboards pretending to be outraged and screaming at each other. It’s a shame that Cameron didn’t seem to understand the difference between a civil society and a big society.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Dec '15 - 11:41pm

    The Tories whipped their vote. In the absence of a whip we cannot tell what the result would have been. That may be why the PM refused to withdraw the remark that a variety of MPs found offensive. The Guardian’s cartoonist has the PM saying that bullying works and maybe it did.

  • We need to be careful here, and recognise that the media has a narrative about chaos and civil war within the Labour Party and is looking for stories to reinforce it. From everything I can make out about the Walthamstow demo (just down the road from here) it was a small-ish peaceful protest that mostly consisted of people carrying candles and writing their views on post-it notes to put on the window of the labour offices. Yet even we here swallow the “angry mob” line , without any evidence, because it suits the story….

    We all know that many Labour machine politicians, from both wings of the party, can be a nasty lot and if they take some action to deal with the bullying of their pro-war representatives then good for them. It is just a shame that the same potential for redress won’t be made available to the Syrian who has his house flattened and relatives killed as collateral damage to our bombing campaign.

  • Tony Greaves 5th Dec '15 - 4:00pm

    There is certainly some nastiness going on. But how ironic it is to see the very people who have been amongst the nastiest and sometimes the most thuggish politicians over the years – a certain kind of Labour rightwinger – bleating quite so miserably when it happens to them. And turning peaceful vigils into frightening “intimidation”. As a politician, if you are picketed peacefully, even if a bit noisily, the answer is to go out and talk to the people – or invite a small delegation to come in and discuss it all. And since when did one threatening tweet (or in the old days, anonymous phone call) turn into a front page story?

    Tony Greaves

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