'MPs should NOT accept intimidation and we must learn to disagree agreeably', says Bill Rammell

'MPs should NOT accept intimidation and we must learn to disagree agreeably', says Bill Rammell
Bill Rammell

By Bill Rammell

Published: 23/02/2024

- 11:19

Former Labour MP Bill Rammell delivers his verdict on the recent shambles in the Commons

The Speaker of the House of Commons this week overturned Parliamentary convention by allowing votes on all parties’ views on Gaza, motivated by concern for MP’s safety. In recent years MP’s Jo Cox and David Amess have been brutally murdered by crazed extremists.

A senior Government backbencher faced a demonstration last week outside his family home. MPs report regularly “of the brick hurled at the office window, the rape and death threats that arrive in the post, angry voices abusing you, your staff or your family, both on and offline.”

Enough is enough. This has gone far too far and is simply not acceptable.

In my 13 years as an MP up to 2010 I felt concerned for my safety only twice. The fact I can remember both instances clearly shows how exceptionally rare they were. It is now commonplace for people to rage at MPs, abuse them, hold them in contempt, physically threaten them and in rare cases kill them. This is madness, and it has to stop.

But how did we get here?


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It’s been a gradual process over the last 16 years. Driven by populism-elites setting themselves up as tribunes for ordinary people who feel their views are disregarded and falsely peddling simplistic, impractical solutions. Think Trump, think Johnson. Even think Corbyn.

Driven by social media which thrives on dividing people, reinforcing their prejudices, and cutting them off from alternative views. Driven by politicians and media outlets deliberately seeking to foment hatred of others. Driven by the inculcation of a belief that everyone is now an expert, and your feelings matter more than anything.

The age of deference towards politicians, leaders and those in authority was wrong, and restricted us all politically. But the age of contempt for anyone in authority is more worrying and dangerous.

So how do we begin to put right all that is wrong?

Firstly, MPs bare responsibility. There is an urgent need to talk candidly, project realism, and avoid incendiary rhetoric. And a need to listen and engage with political opponents, and to make a virtue of this. It’s called leading by example.

But you know, the public bare responsibility as well. Start to accept the reality that 90 per cent of MPs might be misguided, but are driven by good motives to do the best for their communities.

And stop setting politicians up to fail by demanding the impossible, and then raging when politicians don’t deliver. Taking just one example demanding Scandinavian level public services (the best) at US rates of taxation.(The lowest).

We need to teach in schools, colleges and universities about politics. How the system works, how you properly influence it. And teach clear guidelines on what is acceptable and unacceptable discourse.

Education needs to teach how we disagree agreeably. It is vital for a healthy and secure democracy.

The press and media need to think through their responsibilities and focus more on informing rather than dividing.

We need to regulate social media. Far too often hatred is propagated, division is stoked, and complete misinformation is blithely tolerated.

And sadly, we need to do more to protect MPs. People who protest outside an MP’s family home, or threaten an MP should be dealt with in the harshest possible way, with stiff custodial sentences.

And it pains me to say it but MPs should get extra support from the police (because they are our representatives, and should not be attacked and physically harmed).

But not in a way that cuts them off from the electorate-compared to the US our politicians are much closer to people, much more accessible and in touch. Long must that continue.

So should MPs expect criticism and challenge? Emphatically yes, and handling that successfully is one of the motivations of the job for MPs of all parties.

But should MPs face and accept intimidation, threats and physical harm from people? Categorically no. That way lies madness. And it is all of our responsibilities to end the madness.

Bill Rammell is a former Labour MP and Minister, and former University Vice Chancellor

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