Scenes of Tory MP Anna Soubry being harassed by pro-Brexit campaigners outside the House of Commons have filled the broadcast media. Some remain supporters have seized on the footage to further stigmatise and demonise those who support Leave. The truth is that many Leave supporters were dismayed by the harassment of Anna Soubry though they disagree with her views. No one should be treated in this manner when going about their lawful business. We all must be prepared to tolerate views with which we disagree. Whilst we can be robust in our criticism this should be based on persuasive argument or point and not descend into personal abuse.
The use of some words such as “Nazi” and “Traitor” is seldom appropriate. These are very serious insults to sling at someone and would likely lead to a fight if used in a pub on a Saturday night! The Nazis were mass murderers – is anyone seriously saying that it’s appropriate to equate Anna Soubry with them? As for accusations of treachery we should always consider that there are different opinions on what is best for our country. Clearly there are good people on both the Leave and Remain sides who differ as to how our country should progress. At heart, though, both sides want what they think is best for our nation. Yet here again is the whiff of hypocrisy because the same people who have recently discovered that flinging insults at people is wrong weren’t so bothered when it was their own side doing the name-calling. As Brendan O’Neil asks in Spiked:
“But here’s a question, a question that demands an answer from all of those who are up in arms about the horrible ‘Nazi’ chants made at Ms Soubry yesterday. People like Norman Smith of the BBC, for example, who asked: ‘Is this what it’s come to… Nazi taunts?’ The question is this: why are you only now offended by Nazi taunts? Where was your outrage during the ceaseless, background noise of Nazi taunts against Leave voters over the past two-and-a-half years? Why do gruff blokes shouting ‘Nazi’ at Anna Soubry offend you more than bishops and princes of the realm and well-educated columnists effectively doing the same to ordinary voters, though of course in expertly crafted speeches and pristinely worded newspaper columns rather than in rough bellowing from a public green?”
The truth is that we all have to take a step back here – whether we voted Leave or Remain. There has always been a nasty undercurrent of violence and intimidation in British politics. Sadly, many of those complaining about harassment now are only doing so because it has affected people they see as being on their side. These same folk keep silent when others are harassed, attacked or intimidated.
As the Morning Star pointed out: “The only problem with the MPs’ letter is that so many signatories exhibit such partisan double standards.
Among them are many EU supporters who have said or done nothing to condemn the disruptive and physically threatening actions aimed at the likes of William Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage.
Many signatories — especially those apologists for the brutal policies of the Israeli state — remained silent when their parliamentary colleague, George Galloway, was hospitalised by a zionist street thug.” (2)
They could have added, that no one had much to say when two British National Party MEPs were harassed and intimidated outside the House of Commons. (3) That same demonstration was attended by Owen Jones (4) (now complaining of harassment and intimidation himself).
Even the Morning Star seems to qualify its opposition to political harassment and intimidation as it says:
“Tolerance of non-racist, non-sexist, non-fascist views across the political spectrum, peppered with heckling, salty put-downs and even intelligent insults, is a vital part of our democratic culture.”
One assumes that this means it is OK to be intolerant of those one thinks are ‘racist’, ‘sexist’ or ‘fascist’. And who decides who that applies to? My view is that tolerance is very different from approval or apathy. It’s a positive virtue where we disagree with and oppose views but don’t try to suppress them using force or law. I can only hope that the ‘left’ re-thinks its outdated and ill-conceived support for ‘No Platform’ as part of the debate sparked by recent events.
Criticising the Police for not wading in and calling for restrictions on the right of protest around Parliament is certainly not the answer. The Police, understandably, are seeking to maintain neutrality in the divisive Brexit debate. They should continue to do so whilst keeping the peace and enforcing the law with common-sense. It’s not up to the Police to solve our divisions or favour one side – it’s up to us to work things out. Both leave and remain supporters need to show each other tolerance and common decency. We need to recognise that there are good people on the other side who just take a different view from us. Then we need to talk to each other rationally about where we go as a country from here. After all we all have a vested interest in seeing our country do well as we all live here! We need to tell those misbehaving on our own side: “Wind your neck in!”.
By Patrick Harrington