When people talk about the poisoning of political discourse in this country, this is what they are talking about

Hi. I’m Jennie. I was a Lib Dem for a long time. Now I’m not. However, the bonds and friendships you forge over that kind of length of time don’t just break when you’re not a party member any more. So when my mum was rushed into hospital last night with a collapsed lung after having had surgery for cancer last week, there were a lot of Lib Dems among the people expressing sympathy and wishing me well.

Here’s one of them:

Now, yes, that’s the leader of a political party. But that’s also a human being, reaching out to a fellow human being in pain, with sympathy and compassion.

Don’t click through to the replies. Really, don’t. I’ve blocked all the nasty ones anyway… And yet maybe you should. Maybe you should go and look at these people who think the best response to someone expressing sympathy for a friend is to excoriate them. Maybe you should go and look at those replies and wonder: how did we get here?

I want to ask, what do those people think they are achieving? Who do they think they are convincing? Someone whose mum is in hospital with a collapsed lung after surgery to remove cancer? Someone who is gently reaching out to provide comfort? What good are they doing for their cause here? Who is going to read those replies and think “yeah, you stick it to the daughter of the cancer sufferer!” What possible benefit can they be gaining?

Having had a tiny taste of the abuse she gets just for existing in the public sphere, I have to say: I wouldn’t be Jo Swinson for all the tea in China right now. And I am not (I was famously described by one of the editors of this website as not) by any means a shrinking violet.

I don’t know what the solution to this is. And, you know, my mum is in hospital, I’ve got that to concentrate on right now. But there must BE a solution, and I think it behoves us all to find it. There must be a way we can conduct debate in this country without ending up in endless shouts of abuse.

Perhaps we need to look at ourselves? I’ve never advocated reasonableness in politics. As those of you who know me know, I’m rubbish at the ibble words – sensible, reasonable, responsible, reliable – but I’ve always advocated trying to persuade rather than insult. I might, on occasion, be a tad sweary, but I would hope that I aim it at a concept or an idea, not at a person. Sometimes I get it wrong; but again, I would hope that I always own up to that when I’ve accepted it, and apologise, and try to make amends.

I know there are people of all political parties and none who would agree with me – hell, one of the sweetest messages I got last night was from a Labour councillor. I know that most of us do not want to see the marketplace of ideas reduced to who can scream abuse the loudest.

So, I tell you what: I’ll go first.

Phillip Lee? I’m sorry if I hurt you. I’m sorry that I applied words to you, personally, instead of the ideas you were expressing. I should have been better than that. I will try to be better in the future. I’m not going to change my views about your ideas, but you are a person, and I should have been more careful to treat you as such. Sorry.

Who wants to go next?

 

* Jennie Rigg is an award winning Liberal Democrat blogger who blogs at With a Melon? She was a member of the Liberal Democrats until September 2019.

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20 Comments

  • Sue Sutherland 24th Oct '19 - 2:53pm

    Hi Jennie, I don’t know you and I haven’t met you, but I’ve read comments you made about various posts on this site. I do hope that your Mum is recovering and able to carry on fighting the big C.
    Please come back to the party because we need you and your ability to slice through discussions to get to the essence of a problem. We also need you to stand up for the LGBT community in the party. I’m going to say prayers for you and your Mum and hope that will be a comfort not an irritation. We can all only do what we are able to do and I think your apology to Philip Lee is magnificent.

  • Peter Martin 24th Oct '19 - 3:17pm

    @ Jennie, l don’t know if it will do any good but I’d like to apologise, at least on behalf of my political grouping, that small band of lexitèers, for any ill natured comments you have had to endure.

    In most of the real world people with different political opinions get along just fine. Brexit has changed that somewhat but hopefully we’ll get back to normal in the next year or two!

    I hope your mother gets well soon.

  • chris moore 24th Oct '19 - 3:19pm

    Good article, Jennie.

    I hope to see you back in the party…soon, please. We do need you.

    As for internet “discourse”, anonymity allows cowards to heap abuse on other human beings. But I don’t know what the way forward is.

    My best wishes for your mother.

  • Michael Maybridge 24th Oct '19 - 3:22pm

    Thank you so, so much for this Jennie. I’ve been really worried lately about what’s been happening to us as a society, particularly but not exclusively around our political discourse. We’ve seen elected representatives, members and supporters of all parties and none, leavers and remainers, apparently unable to recall that their ‘opponents’, no matter how much they might disagree with them, are first and foremost people who are, in all essential respects, the same as themselves, the vast majority of whom want the best, as they see it, for their community, the country and the world. The online world may be the dark heart of this tendency, but we’re increasingly seeing it spilling over into the ‘real’ world too. It’s no easy thing to admit that we’re susceptible to this way of (not) thinking about others (although I’m certain we all are – I know I am), so thank you once again for this challenge.

    But mostly, I’m really sorry to hear about your Mum. Hope she’s ok. Hope you are too.

  • Leon Duveen 24th Oct '19 - 3:41pm

    Thanks Jennie for sharing this. Totally agree and yes we all slip from our own standards from time to time, I know some of the things I have called those wanting to get the UK out of the EU were not in order. I will try not to anymore. (That said some one I used to be very rude to when he trolled me has now left Labour & joined us!)
    Anyway, hope your mum is getting better and please rejoin us, we need people like you Sarah & Zoe inside the Party fighting to keep us on the right track.

  • That is a lovely post Jennie. All credit to you and that. And get well soon your mum.

    Ps. I am a bit too sweary too x

  • Tristan Ward 24th Oct '19 - 5:43pm

    Well said Jennie. I do hope you will rejoin us soon and without Philip leaving.

  • Mum got sent home this afternoon, still at 1.5 lungs and not having had to have any more removed. She has been given a lung exercising thing which apparently she has to suck on until it displays a smily face. She did not find this as amusing as I did.

    Thank you all for kind comments, and Sue: I’m an atheist, but I am never offended by people who are not wanting to help in their own way.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 24th Oct '19 - 7:36pm

    I’m really glad to hear that Jennie’s mum is on the mend. That lung exercising thing is pretty brutal. My husband had one following his heart surgery three years ago. It’s really hard work, but totally necessary. Any hatred your mother might feel towards you for encouraging her to do those exercises is only temporary.

    @sue sutherland Like Jennie, I am an atheist, but when Bob was ill, I was really touched by offers of prayers. People being prepared to give up their time to us meant a great deal to both of us.

    I have been shown real kindness by people in different parties. I remember when the Scottish Party’s campaigns director, a good friend of mine, died very suddenly in 2011, I had a message from Nicola Sturgeon, who had taken the time to read the blog I had written about him and took the time to send some very supportive words.

    We are all human beings and when we treat each other as we would want our loved ones to be treated, the world actually does become a better place.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 24th Oct '19 - 8:19pm

    Jennie, I am so sorry to hear that you have received so much totally unacceptable abuse on twitter, especially when you and your family are going through such a difficult time.
    Wishing your Mum a rapid recovery.
    And I do hope you will soon feel able to return to the party.

  • I hope your mum will be better soon.

    Here’s some good general guidelines about how to handle bullying in Twitter (as well as elsewhere):
    https://twitter.com/CCDHate/status/1182574313821687809

  • Phil Wainewright 25th Oct '19 - 12:20am

    Jennie, even if you do not carry a membership card any more, you will always be a Lib Dem in spirit and this post bears witness to that. I hope your mum is feeling better soon, however much she hates that smiley face. I don’t think we can ever get rid of trolls, but you are right, we can choose to set a higher standard by example.

  • Thanks again all <3

  • Nigel Quinton 25th Oct '19 - 12:14pm

    Firstly best wishes for your Mum, hope she recovers soon.

    “I’m rubbish at the ibble words – sensible, reasonable, responsible, reliable – but I’ve always advocated trying to persuade rather than insult. I might, on occasion, be a tad sweary, but I would hope that I aim it at a concept or an idea, not at a person. Sometimes I get it wrong; but again, I would hope that I always own up to that when I’ve accepted it, and apologise, and try to make amends.”

    Yep, me too. And probably an awful lot of us.

    Thanks for a timely post. There has to be an end to this that does not result in either bloodshed or Brexit. Here’s hoping.

  • Arthur Bailey 25th Oct '19 - 10:08pm

    Hi Jennie , Like yourself, I too was a Lib Dem for a very long time, but have resigned now, in my case, because I disagree with the Brexit stance, but I note your comments regarding Jo Swinson sending you a message regarding your mother.

    I had something similar around 8 years ago, when my daughter wanted to get a 20 MPH speed limit outside our village school, and she wrote an Email to all the Norfolk County Councilors after I found the E mail addresses for her. I also she suggested that she send one to Norman Lamb, our local MP. (The Emails were written by herself.)
    She sent the Email to him at about 8pm on a Sunday evening, and within less than 10 minutes, she received a reply from Norman, offering his support, and attaching a copy of a letter he had sent to the Chair of Norfolk County Council.
    Further, he continued to help her with her efforts in trying to get the 20 MPH speed limit, including a visit to meet him at Westminster, which included a full tour by his PA, and at least one visit to the school, to meet a senior Councillor, who could not be bothered to turn up on one occasion!!
    Sadly, even Sir Norman could not persuade NCC to reduce the speed on a very dangerous stretch of road

    This is the sign of a true MP, caring for all his constituents even when they are only 9 years old!!

    North Norfolk will be so much poorer for the loss of Now Sir Norman Lamb when he retires whenever the upcoming General Election happens.

    Thank you Sir Norman for being the best MP in Westminster for so many years, and everyone in North Norfolk will miss you, even those who would normally vote red or blue, but voted for you because of the wonderful way you made yourself so available to everyone in the constituency whenever you were in the area, which was almost every weekend.

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