On Friday 25 October the Guardian reported on some research from Cardiff University and Edinburgh University which suggested that most leave voters who took part thought that violence towards MPs “was a price worth paying” for Brexit to be delivered – 71% in England, 70% in Wales, 60% in Scotland. The majority of remain voters also felt that potential violence was worth it if it meant staying in the EU – 58% in England, 56% in Wales, 53% in Scotland. The co-director of the research project at the Cardiff end declared that he was “flabbergasted” by these results.
These “violence worth it’ responders were of course talking about people’s violence, not theirs! But the easy tolerance of such hate crimes needs to be taken seriously. Lay that alongside Jennie Rigg’s account on this site of verbal abuse on social media at a time of severe family stress.
I felt as bad about Jennie’s departure from the Liberal Democrats as I did about Michael Meadowcroft leaving for a sustained period post-merger. I have huge respect for Jennie and it was good to share office premises with her when we had a Member of Parliament in Bradford East.
Lay alongside that my own experience in the summer/autumn of 2017. I was due to defend my council seat in May 2018. Along with other Board members, I had to take some very difficult decisions about the local Mechanics Institute, of which I was Chair, but the rescue operation was portrayed as a determination to close it. There was a scurrilous Facebook campaign which accused me of hypocrisy and betraying the local community. The perpetrators used language clearly intended to undermine and destabilise, alongside some nasty cartoons – replete with haloes and dog collars! One of them declared his intention to stand against me as an Independent.
We took the view that fighting this stuff head on was pointless and the best response was to carry on our usual campaigning to the best of our ability in the circumstances. Our organiser, also one of my ward colleagues, advised me not to read the more vicious posts. He would read them and keep me in the picture. In May, in a ward which voted 66% leave, I was returned with the usual majority of 200+ over Labour. The Independent was hammered in the only place that ultimately mattered – the ballot box.
Politically it worked out OK but I still bear the personal scars. I have never been a good sleeper but that summer my sleep patterns were shot to pieces. Fortunately I have found ways of managing this with strong support from my brilliant GP. She is very familiar with my political lifestyle!
So what do I learn from all this? Jennie asks “what are the solutions?” I have no easy answers. But a rather less complicated question is “what are the responses?” I suggest three. First of all we need to recognise that we simply need to avoid reading most of the stuff from the keyboard warriors. This is not denial. Often it is having a care for our own sanity.
Secondly (surprise, surprise) we have to crack on promoting our Liberalism fuelled by the values we hold dear. This is our hour in the midst of crisis.
Thirdly we need to recognise that we should not be aiming to persuade the hate mongers of anything but amongst the rest of the population we can expose the lies and cruelty of their more articulate leaders. Our parliamentary leaders in both Commons and Lords deserve applause for doing precisely that and they occasionally get fairly reported in the “mainstream” media.
When Hitler and Goebbels were gaining power, Liberalism failed. In my judgement we are currently up against forces operating somewhere between Thatcherism and fascism. If we are to overcome such malign forces there will be a lot of pain to be endured. It does not always happen but suffering can sometimes be redemptive. I don’t think that is just the retired Methodist Minister speaking! Think South Africa, think Northern Ireland. Knowing with clarity what you have to do in the face of evil is a source of great strength.
* Geoff Reid is a Liberal Democrat Councillor in Bradford
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