The brutal and appalling murder last Friday of Sir David Amess MP has shocked the nation. With the vile murder five years ago of Jo Cox MP still fresh in our minds, it is very distressing that such an atrocity has happened again. It is hard to comprehend what any family goes through when they lose a loved-one through a despicable act of murder. My heart goes out to Sir David’s family and those close to him.
As well as the personal tragedy suffered, these murders have wider implications for MPs who naturally want to be accessible and engage in person with their constituents. A recent incident rang alarm bells with me, because while it was not extremely violent, the victim had no idea how nasty it could become.
Iain Duncan Smith MP was abused by a mob while walking to the Conservative Party Conference and hit on the head by a traffic cone thrown at him. Most people rightly condemn such behaviour but on social media, it was concerning to see a significant minority expressing support for this attack or thinking it was funny.
Of course, this incident was nowhere near the atrocities that David Amess and Jo Cox suffered, but the comments I read are indicative of a view that does exist, that politicians are somehow ‘fair game’ for abuse, whether it’s on social media or in person. Disappointingly, a few MPs themselves have endorsed haranguing of their political opponents or publicly used unacceptable terms such as “scum” to describe them.
This needs to stop. Well-meaning terms like “Be kind” and “No place for hate” cannot be selectively applied if you genuinely mean them. I don’t want a resetting of the relationship between MPs and constituents where MPs become less assessable, but to ensure we avoid this, we need an environment where politicians of all parties can engage without the fear of abuse that could potentially escalate to something far worse. I want people to challenge politicians on policies and issues, but without civility to each other, the risk is that the opportunities to do so will diminish.
Councillor Duncan Crow, Leader of Crawley Borough Conservative Group
20th October 2021