It was meant to be about open debate and discussion, consensus through dialogue. But so far, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party and the arrival of the so-called New Politics has resulted in division and a lot of abuse and bad feeling. In light of last night’s vote on Syria airstrikes, Twitter and Facebook have been exploding with extraordinary levels of comments and abuse that no one, MPs or otherwise, should be subjected to.
For example, hard-left groups such as Lefty Unity, have been using Twitter to stir up agitation against the MPs they disagree with:
As well as telling those well-intentioned MPs who voted for the airstrikes they have ‘blood on their hands’:
Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary who has been praised across the political spectrum for his impassioned speech in favour of airstrikes, has received torrents of insults about his father’s legacy. Most of them go along the lines that Tony Benn would be ashamed of his son:
Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, who also voted for the airstrikes (spotting a pattern here?), has been subjected in particular to enormous amounts of vitriol.
Sensibly, Creasy has organised a public meeting on Sunday and suggested annoyed constituents can come and discuss the matter with her. But even her Wikipedia page has also been hacked to describe her as a ‘warmonger’:
Team Corbyn must be racking their brains to find a way of stopping this abuse. It looks incredibly bad on the leader's office, as many of these people are loyal Corbynites — the vasty majority of abuse has been thrown at those who disagree with the Labour leader. Corbyn himself has repeatedly called for his supporters to tone down the abuse. His latest statement on the matter said:
'I want to be very clear – there is no place in the Labour Party or from those that support us - for bullying of any sort, from any side of the debate. It flies in the face of everything I believe and everything I stand for.'
But the Labour leader can’t escape from the fact that MPs received plenty of abuse before he became leader, but it has intensified and increased significantly in quantity over the last few weeks. Given what MPs have to deal with online, you can see why it's easier for them to stay off social media, thus making it harder for ordinary voters to engage with them. The situation certainly isn't helped when supposedly respectable figures like Alex Salmond echo the sentiments of the trolls — he said today Tony Benn would be ‘birling in his grave’ at Hilary’s speech.
British politics is respected for generally staying clear of personal insults. Say what you will about the quality of yesterday's Commons debate, but nearly all of the MPs were respectful to those with opposing views. This continuous trolling risks destroying the fabric of polite debate we've become used to and those on the left, not just Corbyn and co, need to take responsibility for what is happening — and certainly not encourage it.