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Abuse of MPs is damaging democracy

Why would people of good will step forth to take part in politics if all they receive is abuse and threats to their safety, asks PAUL DONOVAN

THE news that a number of female MPs are stepping down from Parliament due to the harassment and abuse they have suffered should be a cause for deep concern.

It seems to have become open season on MPs for some particularly disturbed members of the public. 

It is difficult to fathom why it is thought acceptable to abuse and even threaten those who have been elected to do a job on behalf of the people.

Two things have contributed to the febrile atmosphere that exists today. The first has been the Brexit debate that has dragged on for the past three years. As frustrations have grown, so the vitriol has poured forth.

MPs were not held in particularly high esteem before Brexit but things have reached a whole new low now — with MPs needing police guards to walk into Parliament while suffering abuse. 

There were the truly amazing statistics, for example, that 71 per cent of Brexit supporters in England thought violence against MPs was “a price worth paying for Brexit.” On the Remain side the figure was 58 per cent regarding the risk of violence against MPs to secure Remain.

Now, there is a general election which should finally resolve matters, with Labour offering a referendum on a new Leave deal or Remain, the Conservatives a hard Brexit and the Liberal Democrats an immediate cancellation of Brexit.

The second thing contributing to the febrile situation is social media. The various hubs and forums encourage people to aggressively attack people online. These forums usually have virtually no moderation going on.

Most of those expressing abuse online would never say such things to the face of person in question. It is a cowardly pursuit.

But the venality of it all seems just to get worse and worse. There have been the tragedies of young people taking their own lives after online bullying — how can this be acceptable?

Recently, I really could not believe that one of the judges on Strictly Come Dancing had received threats because she did not save the dancer that some of the viewing audience wanted to continue in the competition.

It does seem that much of this vitriol that spews forth via social media is a reflection of some individual problems that a person may have.

But the attitude towards politicians and those in public life is beginning to reach ridiculous levels. 

We have seen what can happen when these things get out of hand, with the tragic murder in 2016 of Labour MP Jo Cox. 

A number of those standing down because of the abuse and harassment they have suffered are no doubt considering their own safety.

Most of those who attack politicians and others in public life would not prepared to stand up and take on the work themselves. It’s much easier to throw stones from the sidelines. But what people need to realise is that there is a limit.

The MPs standing down have had enough. Other people of good will who have gone into politics for the right reasons to serve their communities are also considering whether it is worth the hassle.

Pretty soon there could become a lack of decent people prepared to step forward and take on such roles. 

Then what will happen? Those taking up the work will be those that simply don’t care, who are in it for all they can get. 

This must surely be the outcome if people continue to attack those stepping up to try to do what they think is right.

They say a country gets the politicians it deserves. Well, this country is certainly no exception to that rule. And if the aggressive attacks on those in public life continue, then what results is unlikely to be good for anyone.

For more of Paul Donovan’s writing visit


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