With the Prime Minister accused of dragging British political discourse into the gutter over his dubbing Hilary Benn’s Act compelling him to seek an extension of Article 50 the “Surrender Bill”, it is worth recalling the treatment to which Conservatives have been consistently subjected in recent years.
This will prompt allegation of ‘whataboutery’, but whilst it is correct that two wrongs don’t make a right it is nonetheless important to bust the myth that Boris Johnson is somehow pioneering the use of rough language – if ‘Surrender Bill’ qualifies as that. So consider, for example –
- John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor, saying he wanted to ‘lynch’ Esther Mcvey…
- …and his claim that Grenfell Tower victims were ‘murdered’ by political decisions…
- …and his call for Tory MPs to be targeted in public as ‘social criminals’.
- Angela Rayner laughing away at McDonnell’s talk of assassinating Thatcher.
- David Lammy in general, but his branding Brexiteers ‘Nazis’ as a specific example
- The sale at Labour Conference of merchandise branding Conservatives ‘lower than vermin’.
- Maintaining as leader a man who gave vocal support to an IRA terrorist who murdered a Tory MP.
- Branding Government policy ‘cruel’ on the Party’s social media channels.
Whilst this has become much more prominent at the top of the Party since Jeremy Corbyn took over, the rot predates his leadership. ‘Words have consequences’, and consistent denunciation and dehumanisation fostered an atmosphere in which:
- Delegates to Conservative Party Conference have faced a gauntlet of abuse (some, surprise, antisemitic).
- Effigies of Tory delegates were hanged in Manchester ahead of the 2017 conference.
- Violent protesters attempted to storm the Party’s headquarters in 2010.
- Conservative MPs such as Maria Caulfield are being targeted by vandals.
None of this conduct is acceptable, and nor would it be if Brexiteers or Conservatives were to engage in it. But it is all considerably more serious than the use of the term ‘Surrender Act’, and makes a nonsense of Jess Philips’ attempt to draw some morally-significant distinction between her merely ‘losing her temper’ and the Prime Minister’s alleged strategy “specifically designed to create fear and division”.
After all, what were all those cries of ‘coup’ doing, if not attempting to stoke up fear and anger against the Government? Same goes for the Liberal Democrats’ Ed Davey comparing the Prime Minister to a ‘dictator’.
Maybe both sides can row back. Emily Thornberry has, for example, recanted her recent remarks comparing the Liberal Democrats to the Taliban. But with those two parties currently sharing a trench such a rapprochement looks more like political courtship than genuine contrition.