Calls For Language and Culture of Hatred in British Politics To End

Lucy Donoughue
By Lucy Donoughue,
updated on Sep 26, 2019

Calls For Language and Culture of Hatred in British Politics To End

A growing number of MPs and commentators are calling for Prime Minister Boris Johnson and colleagues across parties, to change their behaviour and language in response to a growing sense of division and fear

MPs returned to the House of Commons yesterday, ready to continue parliamentary business after a temporary prorogation of Parliament was found to have been unlawful.

While tensions around Brexit, party positions and leadership have been high for some months, yesterday’s session in parliament has subsequently been described as ‘a dark day in politics’ due to the deeply antagonistic nature of conversations, references to death threats and the memory of MP Jo Cox.

Jo, a Labour MP for Batley & Spen, was shot and stabbed in 2016, on her way to a constituency surgery, by a man with far-right views. She was murdered during the campaign around the EU referendum - a time at which national political tensions were also heightened.

National Crisis

Concerns about yesterday’s discourse began before the arrival of the Prime Minister, as Geoffrey Cox, Attorney General, set an aggressive tone for proceedings, declaring that parliament was “dead” and “had no moral right to sit.”

Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan, shared her concern about his comments on BBC Politics Live; “Never mind what he’s (Geoffrey Cox) doing to the opposition, what he’s doing to the country and to the level of debate, is really, really dangerous.”

Referring to the murder of Jo Cox, Lisa continued; “We’ve seen the temperature rising over the last few years. One of my colleagues has been killed, another has far-right groups in prison for seriously trying - and nearly succeeding - in killing her.

“He should stop trying to divide people and he should start trying to bring the temperature down, and help us work together to find a way out of what is now a national crisis.”

Direct Consequences

Grave concerns about language used in the ongoing political debate continued during the Prime Minister’s statement. Paula Sherriff, Labour MP for Dewsbury, spoke passionately about the impact of hateful speech outside the chamber, reminding colleagues about the very real consequences this had for Jo Cox.

“We stand here, Mr Speaker, under the shield of our departed friend with many of us in this place subjected to death threats. Let me tell the Prime Minister that they often quote his words - surrender, act, betrayal, traitor... and I for one am sick of it.

“We must moderate our language and it has to come from the Prime Minister first.”

Seemingly unmoved, the Prime Minister insisted that he had “never heard such humbug in my life”, a response which was met by both deep sadness and incredulity from others.

Anna Soubry, Leader of Change UK challenged this; “When you use words like surrender, capitulation, traitor and treason, there is a direct consequence.”

Liberal Democrats Leader, Jo Swinson followed, “I fear that the public watching today will take the view that this house does not take sufficiently seriously the threats of violence.

“Mr Speaker, this is a disgraceful state of affairs and we should be able to find a way to conduct ourselves better.”

In regards to the legacy of Jo Cox, the Prime Minister insisted that; “The best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox and bring this country together, is to get Brexit done”, provoking anger from many who felt this statement was deeply untrue and inappropriate.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Jo’s husband Brendan took the opportunity, after reflecting on how Jo might have responded, to share his concerns around the aggression that continues in British politics, calling for a more human approach to the Brexit debate in particular.

“You can disagree passionately with people. But you don’t have to impugn their motives, whether you are a hard Brexiteer or a hard remainer, actually, what you have in common is a desire to do what you think is best for the country.

“What isn’t acceptable is to demonise each other to build a culture of hatred to the other to create this tribal identity,” he continued.

“Whatever happens with Brexit, the country is going to have to come together again. And we have to remember that, otherwise, we’ll be building a toxic legacy.”

Jo Cox believed in a kinder and fair world. Find out more about the Jo Cox Foundation.

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