If a political opponent called for me to be killed I would think it was pretty offensive. But whether I interpreted it as merely silly or as a genuine incitement to violence would depend on the context.
Cllr Gareth Compton of Birmingham City Council has been suspended from the Conservative Party and arrested by the police. It followed a message on Twitter, he sent on Wednesday, where he said:
‘Can someone please stone Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death? I shan’t tell Amnesty if you don’t. It would be a blessing really.’
Cllr Compton really should know better. He's a 39-year-old barrister, not some student demonstrator. He was annoyed that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown had criticised David Cameron for raising human rights in China. I suppose the point he was trying to make was, how would she like having her human rights violated? He apologised for his comment but it was crassly expressed to an extent to be unacceptable. So for the Conservatives to suspend him seems reasonable as a signal of their strong disapproval.
Where it seems to me the situation has gone too far is with the action taken by the police. They arrested him for an offence under section 127 (1a) of the Communications Act 2003. This says:
A person is guilty of an offence if he— (a) sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character.
Some common sense should have been applied by the police. The rapidly issued apology showed that it was not a serious call for us to go and throw stones at Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Cllr Compton's comments were pretty appalling on a political level. But the priorities for the police in tackling menacing behaviour should not be in spending time on Cllr Compton's Twittter feed.