Frank Manning is the Campaigns Coordinator for the Young Britons’ Foundation, a non-partisan, not-for-profit educational, research and training organisation that promotes conservatism in schools, colleges and universities. Follow Frank on Twitter.
After the spectacle of the televised Culture, Media and Sport committee meeting on Tuesday, the usual MPs were trending on Twitter. Tom Watson, continuing on his insatiable obsession with everything Murdoch related is always likely to be a big draw. He clearly enjoys seeing himself as the plucky upstart fighting against the evil empire of News Corp.
He was not the most talked about MP on Tuesday though. Outside of the Westminster bubble, few people recognise him and even fewer appreciate his self-aggrandising speeches and self-promotion. Instead, the assorted ranks of Twitter were still discussing Louise Mensch, MP for Corby. The hatred directed at her from the left-wing is truly shocking, even for Twitter – never a great resource for reasonably, courteous debate.
So why does Mrs Mensch attract such vitriolic hatred? One of the most recognisable faces of the 2010 intake of Conservative MPs, her striking looks and lively past have led to a large media profile. Along with this come the inevitable downsides, including negative articles and near-constant abuse on social media. This reached a frightening climax when Mensch received threats to the safety of her children. The man responsible was eventually apprehended and charged, but I wonder whether Twitter encourages unhinged people like this to go even further than they would normally, egged on by the hatred they see in their timeline.
Few in the Conservative Party would accuse Louise of being on the right of the party, or even the most Conservative MP on the Select Committee, but she still receives the lion’s share of abuse. Indeed, her particular brand of Cameroon Conservatism is designed to attract a more moderate set of voters, especially young women and mothers. Yet a large majority of the insults come from Labour-supporting female activists. Could it be jealousy, snobbery about her chick-lit, her ubiquity in the media, or something deeper? The Guardian spent the majority of an interview trying to find out whether she had ever had a facelift, hardly the ‘high-brow’ journalism they like to espouse.
Nadine Dorries hails from a different side of the Conservative Party, but is just as likely to be attacked by her own party as by the opposition, usually as a result of her socially conservative beliefs. Her reasonably modest attempts to introduce independent family planning counselling were met with death threats. Previously a nurse who had assisted with terminations, she was threatened with being car-bombed and throttled.
Margaret Thatcher still makes the blood of Labour supporters boil more than two decades after she left office. Ed Miliband got in hot water when he was photographed with a young activist wearing a t-shirt inviting people to ‘dance on Thatcher’s grave.’ More than 35 years after Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have still failed to elect a female leader, yet they denigrate one of the finest Prime Ministers this country ever had, partly because she refused to kowtow to the Women’s Lib movement.
This is not unique to the UK however. The Democratic Party and their supporters in America reserve a special kind of mocking hatred for female Republican candidates. Sarah Palin epitomises this the most, denounced as an idiot and ridiculed throughout the mainstream liberal media. More recently, Michelle Bachmann was portrayed by Newsweek magazine as being unhinged and having ‘crazy eyes’.
Thankfully, female conservative politicians are known for their courage. Despite all the insults hurled at them, they refuse to be silenced and continue to stand up for what they believe in. But what about young women with an interest in politics? When they see what to expect from public life in politics, how many are dissuaded from a life in the media spotlight?
Perhaps this is all just coincidence, but just possibly it is part of something else. Conservative women tend to reject the divisive, man-hating elements of the feminist movement. They believe in succeeding through hard work and ability, not by asking for special treatment or all-female shortlists. It would be a terrible shame if this difference of opinion is leading to insults on such a grand scale.
This isn’t a demand for people to be nicer to each other on Twitter, that ship sailed a long time ago. But the people that use an anonymous Twitter account to direct spite-filled messages and threats at women they don’t know because of their political views need to take a long, hard look in the mirror.