“I have never seen the House of Commons so angry. Nor have I ever seen a Prime Minister who so clearly believes that the rage of his opponents works for him.” – Nick Robinson (Twitter)
What was witnessed in the emergency Parliament debate in September 2019 is still a disgrace to me and many others, and the topic should not be silenced. Although Johnson has made promises to not say use the same language again, it paves the way to a dark tunnel of hatred, which symbolises the current state of affairs in Politics. If our institution of sovereign, representative Parliament carries on like this, just what the complications be for MPs, and what will be the complications of the general public and their approach towards viewing Parliament in the future?
For those who are unaware, in the weeks leading up to the UK European Membership Referendum in June 2016, Jo Cox was stabbed and shot multiple times in Birstall by Thomas Mair. Jo Cox was campaigning to Remain, and was murdered because of her political views that she was campaigning for. A witness in Mair’s trial said that they had heard Mair shout ‘this is for Britain. Britain will always come first’ when he committed the murder. It takes no expert to express how this was an appalling act, and the country and the world came together to mourn over such a horrific hate crime.
Fast forward three and a half years, where an emergency debate is being held on the first day back of Parliament after the Supreme Court had declared the prorogation of Parliament ‘unlawful.’ As one can imagine, all sides of the Commons were extremely heated as the opposition parties reminded Johnson of the fact that the judiciary branch had overturned his decision of prorogation, and (most) of the Conservative MPS roared in support of Johnson when he defended his actions and decisions. As debate progressed into the evening, the heated cauldron showed no sign of cooling down. So much so that one Labour MP Paula Sheriff referenced Cox’s name, saying that it was a disgrace that the language used in Parliament was being said ‘under the shield of our departed friend.’ She then went on to say how many MPs (and one may add that she is referring to all MPS here, not just those in the Labour Party) receive death threats and abuse online and in person everyday. A fair comment, perhaps?
Not according to Johnson. He dismissed Sheriff’s comments as ‘humbug’ and saying that ‘the best way to honour Jo Cox’s name was to get Brexit done.’ Clearly, this is a sickening comment in response to a fair point. Not only does he use a term famously characterised by Scrooge from A Christmas Carol, but he is also using the opportunity in Parliament to spin his rhetoric of getting Brexit ‘done.’ One could argue that this was in the heat of the moment, and that Johnson would surely detract his comment if he got the chance? No. The next day, he defended his comments in a BBC interview.
There are two points worth mentioning about this event. Although Johnson in the BBC interview that the threats towards MPS must be ‘stamped out’ he does not explicitly state what action he would take to try and stop this. With the rise of e-democracy and social media especially Twitter where users can send abuse to MPS when they like, Johnson’s comments lay down a benchmark for the current state of our politics. Instead of debating in order to come up with ideas transcending into bills and eventually law, UK Politics has become a symbol of political hatred, which is fired between the MPS in the Commons and from the outside from the general public. There is a constant wave of hatred, and this can only transpire into actions. I, a seventeen year old have obviously never held political office, but I imagine that after Cox MPS must feel frightened for their lives and frightened of conveying their political views on different subjects. It is not just a virus that can be ‘stamped out’ as Johnson says as if he is referring to the Great Plague, but is an ongoing issue that has to be resolved used careful action. There was always disagreement, there was always protests, there was always dislike in UK Politics but as me and many other political journalists are arguing, it has never been quite like this. To add to this, Johnson believed that the reasoning behind Sheriff’s comments were motivated by a desire to reduce the time that could be spent on Brexit. It’s dismissal on his point. It’s dismissal of the problem. It’s dismissal of the worry. It’s worrying that the Prime Minister does not seemingly see the seriousness of the problem, and the hatred that is threatening to boil over in the cauldron of not just the Commons, but our country. Worst of all, it is once again an attack on the opposition party for bringing this up, a way to try and spin the blame on them, as if they are in the wrong.
One may argue that the reason why political hatred is bubbling over like it is is because of the growing distrust between MPS. This could possibly be true. The country after three and a half years remains hopelessly divided on the problem of Brexit (yes, I know we had a referendum in 2016 Barbara, but a slight majority does not cure the divide. If you think so, you should read about what John Stuart Mill said about dull conformity.) However, on either side political frustration is growing. The Brexiteers are angry about the mandate not being respected by Parliament and above it all Brexit still not being pushed through, where as Remainers are getting angry about there not being a general election or a second referendum pushed up through as of yet. Some Remainers may also be angry about the Labour Party for not explicitly adopted a pro-Remain stance.
Perhaps we shall see an emergence of a consensus and calmed down Politics once whatever happens to Brexit, is resolved. Perhaps we shall see the former Conservative MPS that had the whip withdrawn join The Liberal Democrats and create a centre consensus politics. Perhaps we shall actually see the country come together instead of being divided. But, for the time being, the political hatred that is brewing within our Politics must be dealt with before it is too little, too late. One would think that it was already too late due to Cox’s murder.