Last night’s Question Time got pretty heated. About halfway through the programme, John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer of the Labour Party, was accused of being abusive towards fellow Labour members by Tory MP Anna Soubry (without evidence), while Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell expressed similar sentiments about those on the “hard-left” of the party. In bizarre scenes, Soubry branded McDonnell a “nasty piece of work” and unleashed a vitriolic tirade against him and his “cronies”, before decrying the Twitter trolling of MPs and lamenting the case of Labour’s Ruth Smeeth, who has apparently been forced to live in a “safe-house” because of an angry Facebook post calling for her execution. The most absurd and laughable element of this isn’t that public figures literally get death threats and hate mail all the time, especially on social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook, and so turning online trolling into some kind of ‘scandal’ or ‘crisis’ is such a dishonest and manipulative tactic; it is that the very people now crying out the loudest for ‘civility’ in politics are people whose actions tend to violate that same notion in the most extreme ways.
No one needs reminding of how this is true of Alastair Campbell, whose lies helped facilitate the killing, torture and displacement of over a million people in Iraq and who has since gone on to provide consultancy services to the Kazakh dictatorship. Campbell’s sheer audacity in lecturing others on decency is a testament to how skilful he is at deception; he has managed to blind even himself to the grotesque hypocrisy of his own actions. Anna Soubry, on the other hand, is undoubtedly one of the most sociopathic and sadistic politicians in Westminster; alongside consistently voting for the continued deployment of UK troops in Afghanistan, the bombing of Libya (paving the way for that country’s destruction) and airstrikes on Iraq and Syria, she has also voted against the following: paying higher benefits to those too ill or disabled to work, spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for unemployed young people, and making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste. What kind of human being votes against making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of caste?
The fact that these two – a warmonger and a psychopath – are leading the way in demanding politeness in politics perfectly embodies the pettiness and warped morality of the political culture in general; you can launch aggressive wars that kill hundreds of thousands of people, support brutal dictatorships and oppress the poor and vulnerable in your own society, but when some anonymous troll sends unkind messages on Twitter, that’s what crosses the line. As Jesus Christ put it more than 2,000 years ago, “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel!”.