Tag Archives: language of politics

Sal Brinton urges us to THINK about our language

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent days about the language we all use in political discussion and debate.

Today, Sal Brinton has emailed all party members to urge us to play our part in being thoughtful and sensitive in what we say.

Here is her email, reproduced with her permission:

I chair the all party parliamentary group on bullying. We focus on helping young people and we know many schools now use the THINK acronym to teach good communication (Is it True; Is it Helpful; Is it Inspiring; Is it Necessary; Is it Kind?).

As a party, I think we need our own version of THINK:
Is it True
Is it Hurtful
Is it Illegal
Is it Necessary
Is it Kind?

Why am I talking about this now? Over the last few weeks and months, the tone and language of political discourse has become increasingly nasty, hurtful and – for too many politicians – dangerous. We have MPs (of all parties, whether supporting leave or remain) who have been targeted by trolls of the worst kind, who use language to harass and intimidate.

Women, people of colour, LGBT+ people and those with disabilities are particularly targeted and in a clearly hateful way. Diane Abbott is constantly trolled, Caroline Spelman has had to have police support and is standing down, and our own Christine Jardine was unmercifully targeted by SNP trolls.

As Liberal Democrats I hope we all abhor such behaviour. I am sure, like me, you believe that the language we use as Liberal Democrats speaks to our values. But we all need to check our own language because it is far too easy when insults are thrown at us, to respond in kind.

Two years ago, on behalf of the party, I appeared before the Committee for Standards in Public Life as they took evidence about the intimidation and harassment of parliamentary candidates in the 2017 General Election.

I was not there to tell of how many of our candidates had been on the receiving end of such intimidation and harassment – we had witnesses who spoke for themselves with shocking examples.

No, I was there to explain to the Committee what actions our party takes when we discover that a party member has behaved inappropriately, or worse, committed a hate crime. You can see the Committee’s report here. It is depressing reading. But, frankly, things are now much worse.

You will all have seen the debate in parliament last week which has forced us all to think about the language that we use in politics. And earlier this week, Jo Swinson was amongst party leaders who met with the Speaker of the House of Commons, and they agreed this declaration:

“Everyone is entitled to have a view – be they parliamentarian, journalist or a member of the public – and their right to safety cannot in any way be dependent on what that view is or the course of political action they take.”

It is important to remember that as members, under our members’ code of conduct, we have responsibilities as well as rights, and I would ask all of you to think carefully about what you say.

If you are on the receiving end of trolling often the best way to go is to say nothing at all – walking away could help you avoid making a mistake. Never post in anger!

There’s an old football adage “play the ball, not the person”, which is a good starting point, but we also need to think about the boundaries. Have you been upset by language used by an opponent? Is there anything that you have posted that could have been received in a way to upset the recipient, beyond the usual exchange of views? Or make them feel threatened? Or made them feel so worried that they need to go to the police because they fear for their personal safety?

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