There’s a persistent myth on the left of British politics that it is hard to be publicly left-wing – “it often feels like the whole world is against us”, as best-selling author, national newspaper columnist and regular television pundit Owen Jones put it a few days ago.
That doesn’t just include imagining that it’s difficult to be on the left in the media, or disregarding the left’s dominance of the entire cultural sphere, or ignoring the way in which conservatives in academia increasingly report feeling it necessary to conceal their views in order to protect their careers – it even extends to arguing that social media is a particularly hostile environment for left-wing politicians.
That’s always seemed a particularly strange claim; while some Labour MPs, most famously Diane Abbott, certainly receive large quantities vile abuse, it takes peculiar blinkers not to notice the toxic culture in which it has become normal on the Corbynite left to accuse Conservatives of murder, to allege that ethnic minority Tories are race traitors, to target female politicians with sexist bile, and so on. It seems that a corollary of convincing yourself that only people of your opinion are virtuous champions of “the many” against “the few” is that it makes all sorts of unpleasant tactics seem legitimate.
The above chart, drawn from new research carried out at the University of Sheffield, shows the results of that self-righteous attitude, and the realities of abuse targeted at politicians on Twitter. Which MPs face the most abuse? Conservative men. Which MPs have seen the largest rise in abuse? Conservative women.
The first response to this is, of course, to be thick-skinned and keep fighting for what we believe. The people targeting Conservatives in this way would love nothing more than to silence us – so we do the opposite. That ought not to be necessary, but it is and we must endure it if it is the price of doing what is right.
The second question is what will be done by the figureheads in whose name so much bile is produced? Jeremy Corbyn mumbling the occasional “of course I condemn any abuse” evidently does not deter various of his fans from behaving in this way. If he means it, how does he intend to up his game?