Jeremy Corbyn must be furious about his interview with Emma Barnett on Woman’s Hour. Not because of the contents of that interview, because presumably he doesn’t mind people thinking he doesn’t have a clue how he’d fund his promise of state-provided childcare. After all, if he thought stuff like that was important, he’d have taken 30 seconds to read the brief about his own policy before announcing it, right?
No, I mean he must be furious about what happened after that interview, and happened to Emma. Within minutes, she was subjected to the full spectrum of abuse online from people unhappy about a journalist doing her job and asking a politician to explain one of his policies.
Some of that abuse focussed on her religion. Some of it mentioned her family. Some it was published by people who say they are supporters of Mr Corbyn. None of it was pleasant. None of it was justified.
— Beccy (@BeccyBee03) May 30, 2017
This makes me angry and sad. Partly that’s because Emma is a former colleague of mine, a person I like and admire: I don’t like seeing her abused, even though I know she’s (sadly) had to become more than tough enough to take such things in her stride. Partly that’s because this is part of a nasty, corrosive trend in British politics, for which people of all parties bear some responsibility, towards actively and aggressively targeting journalists, in the apparent hope of deterring them from doing their job.
I imagine this will also make Mr Corbyn angry and sad too. He’s strongly opposed to this sort of personal vitriol. He told us so, after all. Here he is in 2015, telling the Labour Party conference he wanted a 'kinder, gentler politics' and urging people of all parties to:
'Cut out the personal abuse, cut out the cyber-bullying and especially the misogynistic abuse online and let's get on with bringing real values back into politics.'
Sadly, Mr Corbyn’s words haven’t always been heeded. Some people continue to target the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg with what can only be described as 'misogynistic abuse'. Some of those people say they support Mr Corbyn and his approach to politics. (Some but not all: there are SNP supporters out there too.)
Given Mr Corbyn’s fine words on this topic, I’d hope that he will soon take the opportunity to make plain to all concerned that he utterly deprecates the sort of abuse that has been directed at Emma Barnett and wants it to stop, now and forever.
This isn’t, incidentally, mean to imply in any way that Mr Corbyn is responsible for that abuse: I make no suggestion whatever that he or anyone who works for him does these awful things. I’m not even arguing, as others have, that he has been complicit in the poisoning of our political culture and the normalisation of personal abuse, especially of women and Jewish people.
I am simply expressing the hope that Mr Corbyn will act on those lovely words about a kinder, gentler politics and do something to 'bring real values back into politics'. Values like civility and decency, and respect for people who do the jobs that a healthy functioning democracy requires.
Emma’s gender, religion and background are all irrelevant here. She is a journalist. She did her job by asking questions. Jeremy Corbyn is a politician. He now has a chance to do his job by doing the things he said he would do, and make clear for all to see that none of the hateful inadequates who abused Emma Barnett today do so in his name.
Since this post was published, I’m delighted to report that Mr Corbyn has indeed made clear that the sexists, anti-Semites and other scumbags who target journalists are out of order and should shut up. He said, according to the BBC:
Journalists do ask difficult questions. Journalists do a job which does require asking difficult questions, sometimes in difficult circumstances... if you don't like what a reporter says or asks you, or anybody else, understand the question they are asking, we will all do our best to answer these questions - under no circumstances whatsoever should anyone throw personal abuse at anyone else because they are doing the job that they have been employed to do - and I will not tolerate it under any circumstances.
Now, let’s see what difference that makes.