Friday, 4 December 2015

the haters are here

After the vote this week on action in Syria, the result of which I was very pleased to see (and Jeremy Corbyn was not, it appears) Labour MPs who voted with the Government, and some others who did not, have received death threats. Oh yes, pictures of guns and such like. One at least is under police protection now.

Do they think this is new? It is not. I was sent pictures of guns and knives, and gun-related pornography, and threatened with rape and murder, a number of times when I was an MP, and not to do with my vote on action in Iraq (in favour, since you ask). On the latter I had a lot of tedious whining from people who read the Guardian and didn't give a stuff about the slaughter in Iraq, and also some pacifist representations from people who thought there should be no military action anywhere, ever, by anybody. This last laudable, but impossible. No, the death threats came - you are ahead of me - when I mentioned Israel, which I did not do very often. I am a Zionist, but did not and do not go on about it. Also, ten years ago and more Jew-hatred was not so much in evidence on the left in the UK as it is now. But it was there. The death threats also came, slightly to my surprise, after I left Parliament (in 2005), and related to my support for Hillary Clinton rather than Barack Obama as Democratic candidate for the US presidency in 2008. I didn't expect misogynist hatred from that quarter, but I got plenty, and it was pointed out to me that Americans have guns, and that those guns would be used on me if I didn't shut up.

Well, I didn't cry about all that. I didn't like it, but I didn't cry. I certainly didn't ask for police protection. How wimpish is that? In my time an MP was seriously injured and his staff member killed by a mentally ill constituent with a samurai sword. Anyone in public life puts themselves in that kind of danger, and of course precautions must be taken, especially to protect staff. But - if you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen, as someone once said. And if you don't make any enemies, it means you've never done anything. I don't know where the idea came from that we should all live and work in safe spaces. There are no safe spaces, and arguably if we try and keep ourselves safe all the time we place ourselves in more danger than if we don't - because we then think that nothing will ever happen to us. Yes, it might.

In my time communication was by email, and not everyone used even that. But I saw straight away that people were more willing to use hate speech in an email than they would have been in a letter, on the telephone or in person - though there was some of all that too. Even more so now, on Twitter. In public life you just get used to it. There's no rule that says everyone should be nice to you if you are an MP. In fact, to think that people should be nice to you borders on the narcissistic.

On Iraq (and there are similarities with the situation today as regards Syria, whatever anyone says) I voted with the Government, for military action, and never lost a moment's sleep over it, because I believed it was right, and was glad to have the opportunity to vote that way. I was very clear about that publicly. But there were still foolish letters in the local newspapers berating me for not voting with my conscience. As if voting with your conscience always means voting against the Government. I am glad I did not have to suffer the torments my neighbouring Labour MP Martin Salter had to at the time, desperately juggling two conflicting stories - in Westminster he said he was trying to persuade recalcitrant Labour MPs not to vote against the Government, because he wanted a government job to be helpful to Tony, and in Reading he said he was voting against the Government in line with his convictions and to appease the mosque show the people of Reading that he was on their side and not the Government's. In the end he was forced into the impossible position that everyone is forced into who tries to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds - he abstained on the vote, lied publicly in Reading about how he had voted, and was forced to stand down in 2010 when the issue refused to go away. I had none of that. I pretty much always tell the truth, not because I am especially virtuous but because it's so restful. You never have to keep your story straight or remember what you told the last person.

So, MPs who are worried and upset about the hate they are getting, and about possible threats to themselves and their families - relax. You probably don't need police protection. Once your home address becomes public you must either move house or put in very serious security measures, naturally. And vote with your conscience. It's the easiest way.