When people talk about the poisoning of political discourse in this country, this is what they are talking about

Hi. I’m Jennie. I was a Lib Dem for a long time. Now I’m not. However, the bonds and friendships you forge over that kind of length of time don’t just break when you’re not a party member any more. So when my mum was rushed into hospital last night with a collapsed lung after having had surgery for cancer last week, there were a lot of Lib Dems among the people expressing sympathy and wishing me well.

Here’s one of them:

Now, yes, that’s the leader of a political party. But that’s also a human being, reaching out to a fellow human being in pain, with sympathy and compassion.

Don’t click through to the replies. Really, don’t. I’ve blocked all the nasty ones anyway… And yet maybe you should. Maybe you should go and look at these people who think the best response to someone expressing sympathy for a friend is to excoriate them. Maybe you should go and look at those replies and wonder: how did we get here?

I want to ask, what do those people think they are achieving? Who do they think they are convincing? Someone whose mum is in hospital with a collapsed lung after surgery to remove cancer? Someone who is gently reaching out to provide comfort? What good are they doing for their cause here? Who is going to read those replies and think “yeah, you stick it to the daughter of the cancer sufferer!” What possible benefit can they be gaining?

Having had a tiny taste of the abuse she gets just for existing in the public sphere, I have to say: I wouldn’t be Jo Swinson for all the tea in China right now. And I am not (I was famously described by one of the editors of this website as not) by any means a shrinking violet.

I don’t know what the solution to this is. And, you know, my mum is in hospital, I’ve got that to concentrate on right now. But there must BE a solution, and I think it behoves us all to find it. There must be a way we can conduct debate in this country without ending up in endless shouts of abuse.

Perhaps we need to look at ourselves? I’ve never advocated reasonableness in politics. As those of you who know me know, I’m rubbish at the ibble words – sensible, reasonable, responsible, reliable – but I’ve always advocated trying to persuade rather than insult. I might, on occasion, be a tad sweary, but I would hope that I aim it at a concept or an idea, not at a person. Sometimes I get it wrong; but again, I would hope that I always own up to that when I’ve accepted it, and apologise, and try to make amends.

I know there are people of all political parties and none who would agree with me – hell, one of the sweetest messages I got last night was from a Labour councillor. I know that most of us do not want to see the marketplace of ideas reduced to who can scream abuse the loudest.

So, I tell you what: I’ll go first.

Phillip Lee? I’m sorry if I hurt you. I’m sorry that I applied words to you, personally, instead of the ideas you were expressing. I should have been better than that. I will try to be better in the future. I’m not going to change my views about your ideas, but you are a person, and I should have been more careful to treat you as such. Sorry.

Who wants to go next?

* Jennie Rigg is an award winning Liberal Democrat blogger who blogs at With a Melon? She was a member of the Liberal Democrats until September 2019.

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