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A politician holds true to his religious beliefs – so what?

A politician holds true to his religious beliefs – so what?

It’s a strange paradox of the world we now live in. We spend all of our lives hearing about how we need more politicians who stay true to their principles and refuse to simply sway with public opinion. Then, when one pops their head above the parapet to defend their beliefs, a full-blown media witch hunt ensues.

Do I agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg that all abortion is wrong? No. Do I agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg that same sex marriage should be at the discretion of the church, not the state? No. Do I agree with the Catholic Church that gay sex is a sin? No.

So what?

I must have missed the memo whereby personal morality became a matter of state, and something that everyone is invested in. The Orwell comparison about the society we live in is an awfully tired one, but I can’t help feeling that Rees-Mogg is just the latest public figure to fall victim to the ‘Wrongthink’ that is used to tear anyone down who is contrarian in their outlook.

I didn’t see Mogg trumpeting the abolition of same sex marriage on Good Morning Britain, I also didn’t see him demanding a change to the abortion laws. He said that people are protected by UK law and indicated no interest in changing that.

So seriously, what’s the story? He isn’t pushing his opinions or morality on anybody else, so who are we to tell him what to think?

If you want to pull his voting record to shreds then go for it, it’s not hard to find plenty on welfare and benefits and on landlords, but why should someone’s personal morality be on trial if they are not trying to enforce it on others?

All this is before we even get into the fact that Catholicism has an estimated 1.2 billion followers around the world. Why shouldn’t it have a place in politics? He’s not speaking for a neo-Nazi minority. Should we ban the bible because Twitter disagrees with what it says? Great idea. And then what? The Koran opposes homosexuality so will we be removing Sadiq Khan as London Mayor for good measure?

We seem to be descending into a manic state whereby anybody who strays from approved mainstream ideology is destined to be torn to shreds.

This whole episode stinks of Tim Farron. Another man who held private beliefs that were at odds with some his party policies, and were used as a stick to beat him with.

Spare me the outrage and the sanctimony. All of the identity politics that is shoved into our faces day in day out has become utterly tedious. But it shows no sign of abating. So roll up, roll up, come and see who will be next on the crucifix of ‘public opinion’.

It is time to distance free speech from the online abuse of MPs

By Hamish Campbell-Shore, Public Affairs Intern

Since the murder of Jo Cox in June 2015, Members of Parliament have had to become acutely aware of the genuine threat of online abuse.

Analysis by the ‘BCS-The Chartered Institute’ for IT and thinktank ‘Demos’ revealed that during the three-month period between 9th May and 18th August 2015, MPs received almost 190,000 abusive tweets. The report suggested that 1 out of every 20 tweets sent to MPs were categorised as abusive, with the most harassed politicians seeing around 10% of tweets they received containing abusive material.

This report has since been supplemented by research conducted by the University of Sheffield and BuzzFeed News. The study covered 840,000 tweets during the 2017 General Election campaign and highlighted the most likely victims of ‘trolling’. Statistics revealed that, overwhelmingly, Jeremy Corbyn was the most abused MP on Twitter, with the majority of insulting messages targeted at a small number of high-profile politicians. However, being in receipt of almost 6% of abuse, male Tory candidates were the most abused group of politicians in the survey.

Whilst the frequency of online abuse was targeted at prominent politicians and male Conservative candidates, the nature of the abuse varied greatly.  Professor Bontcheva, who conducted the survey, noted the prominence of gendered abuse: “The study showed there is a clear difference in the insulting words directed at male and female politicians. While some terms are common to both, female politicians received more gendered insults.”

The online abuse of MPs has, and will continue to tarnish, the political battleground until something changes. Most notably, however, what will certainly not change this abuse is the argument that furious hatred can be taken as free speech. Abuse is significant, ubiquitous and to misappropriate the tool of free speech does nothing but entrench the divisions that characterise modern politics.

It should never be part and parcel of the job and inevitability does not justify the shameful abuse that MPs receive daily at the hands of internet trolls. Free speech is, and should continue to be, an integral part of our democracy in the UK. However, the notion that politically motivated abuse can be construed as free speech, is nothing more than an empty platitude, utilised to attempt to validate ignorance.

Johnny Mercer MP, epitomised the way in which these concepts are intertwined. In response to Diane Abbott’s moving account of the abuse she has received online, he tweeted: “I’m at odds w/almost everything DA thinks politically. But I’ll fight endlessly to defend her right to do so, free of this appalling abuse.”

There is much to be said for allowing people the freedom to air their views online, as I have mentioned, the right to challenge and debate is key to holding decision-makers to account. Nevertheless, to not acknowledge abuse and freedom of speech as mutually exclusive, does nothing but foster the hatred that plagues modern day ‘social media politics’.

The redefinition of free speech into abuse is obviously not undisputed, and it would be dangerous to suggest that biting and barbing commentary should be completely prevented.  To condemn any form of disagreement with politicians as abuse will cement the seemingly growing disparity between the elites and ‘the rabble’. However, when the crude tongue of Average Joe turns into death threats, racism and misogyny, there is cause for distancing abuse from free speech, in fear of undermining this basic democratic right.

Where separation may be key when considering both free speech and unashamed abuse, it is certainly not when isolating the source of it. Paula Sherriff, Labour Member of Parliament for Dewsbury, has used her own experience to speak of the dangers of politicizing online abuse. Sheriff herself has been the victim of abuse from both the hard-left and hard right, and the Labour moderate believes that it should be viewed as a non-partisan issue. “There is a really serious issue, and suggesting only one cohort of people is doing it completely undermines the argument,” said Sheriff. “I know there are people in my party who do it, and it makes me very ashamed; I unequivocally condemn it.

Using the existence of online abuse as a stick to beat your political opponents with, does nothing to address the underlying cause of division. Puerile sentiments resigning nasty tweets to different corners of Westminster is nothing short of a catalyst for further abuse. What really needs to be considered, are the motives behind the abuse that is almost becoming commonplace.

Murderous, racist and misogynistic rhetoric is not borne out of political disagreement, but rather the desire to suppress someone you don’t agree with. The essence of free speech is that it exists universally, and when fear and subordination are introduced to the discourse, a line is crossed.

The Weird and Wonderful World of Political Christmas Cards

By Peter Jackson Eastwood & Emily Burditt.

It’s the festive season, so what better way to celebrate than to forensically examine just how appalling Politicians Christmas Cards are? Welcome to the strange and wonderful world of political Christmas cards…

Nigel Evans MP – Christmas 2016

Nigel Evans MP Christmas card

Come along now Mr Evans, you’re not even Trump’s favourite Nigel!

Everyone knows that Farage and Trumpy are already best mates, so maybe we can find Nigel Evans his own American friend – Mike Pence or Mitt Romney maybe? They seem like interesting chaps, and Ted Cruz could always use a chum as well…

Bonus point for the mug.

MP Christmas card

Nigel Evans MP’s Christmas Card

 

Stephen Harper (Former PM Canada) – Christmas 2010

‘Season’s greetings from our whole serial killing family’ is probably not what the inside of this card says, but it should do.

Is there anything worse than one of these god-awful ‘happy family’ pictures? Everyone looks on edge. Pity the Harper children who were likely slaughtered in the playground for this one. Thankfully Canada is now blessed with the charismatic Justin Trudeau, a man so good at PR-ing himself that his wide-eyed tribute to the late, great, murderous Fidel Castro spawned an entire hashtag – #TrudeauEulogies

Fear not residents of Great Britain, the rest of the world’s politicians are equally inept.

Stephen Harper Christmas Card

Stephen Harper’s Christmas Card

 

Peter Bone MP – Christmas 2015

Given Peter Bone’s record in the House of Commons, I think we are all immensely grateful that his Christmas card does not feature Mrs Bone in some kind of compromised state. Small mercies.

Bone’s expression epitomises how the whole country is now feeling over all this EU hullabaloo. Are we leaving? Are we staying? Are we staying in the single market? Are we retaining Freedom of movement? Are the courts in charge? Is parliament? Are you sure Michael Gove isn’t a lizard-human hybrid?

Don’t worry Peter, we all feel exactly as you look.

Peter Bone Christmas Card

Jeremy Corbyn – Christmas 2016

This looks not dissimilar to the Dove logo, just with a red background instead of white. For that reason, let’s call this ‘Communist Dove’. And given the cracked, flaky nature of Corbyn’s reign, he probably needs some political moisturiser to make his party a slicker machine.

So many beautiful political symmetries can be drawn from this shockingly bad Christmas card and last year’s equally atrocious offering. Jeremy Corbyn has had an entire year to improve his Christmas card, but it has only gotten worse. Jeremy Corbyn has also had an entire year to improve his leadership of the Labour Party. Fill in the rest yourself.

Tony Blair, Christmas 2014

Things Tony Blair could be thinking in this photo:

‘The Chilcott report is coming out soon’

‘Ah, I left the oven on.’

‘I’d better empty my Outbox in case Cherie sees that George and I are still talking.’

‘I forgot to put X Factor on to record’

‘Good God Ed Balls can move!’

Tony Blair Christmas Card

Tony Blair’s Christmas Card

Alex Salmond MSP – Christmas 2013

Alex Salmond doesn’t really make sense to me as a human being, so it figures that I haven’t the faintest clue what this is all about.

Perhaps it’s a young Salmond in his job at the Post Office, championing independence William Wallace style in his free time.

Apparently it’s actually a picture of the fourth wise man who turned up too late to see Jesus.

About as festive and cheery as Mr Salmond’s popular demeanour.

Nick Brown MP – Christmas 2015

Nick Brown has cracked it – George Osborne is a Sith Lord. Not only do we at PHA Public Affairs fully endorse Star Wars references, we endorse them especially enthusiastically in relation to our esteemed politicians.

As for what that means in relation to this card – George Osborne is surely Kylo Ren – young, widely disliked, following a path that is a mystery to everyone but himself and probably capable of betraying those closest to him with a lightsabre/austerity cut to the heart. And come to think of it, Maggie would make a passable Emperor Palpatine here… (We love you Maggie!)

Godfrey Bloom (former UKIP MEP)

Most MEPs would be desperate to distance themselves from comments that were so controversial, he lost the UKIP whip.

But Godfrey Bloom isn’t most MEPs; he is a UKIPper. Honestly, I’ve no idea whether this did Godfrey Bloom a tonne of damage with his voters, or a tonne of favours. Who knows what anything means anymore.

godfrey bloom christmas card

 

Home Affairs Select Committee 2015

Masterful. Not a single word of criticism for this, a delight.

Home Affairs Select Committee 2013

The Home Affairs Select Committee clearly win the award for best cards.

Keith Vaz as Dumbledore. Theresa May as Bellatrix Lestrange. Julian Huppert as Harry Potter.

No more needs to be said.

Home Affairs Select Committee Christmas Card

Home Affairs Select Committee Christmas Card