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Editorial If personal abuse is to stop, change needs to come from the very top

NEITHER Theresa May nor any other MP should be subjected to personalised abuse or violent imagery to undermine them.

In light of developments in recent years — not least the foul murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in her constituency by a far-right extremist — politicians ought to pause and reflect on what they say.

That is even more the case when comments are delivered anonymously to news media to fuel a campaign, as in reported quotes that the Prime Minister should be “knifed in the front” and “bring her own noose” to a meeting with backbenchers.

Using murderous imagery anonymously is both abusive and cowardly.

May’s official spokesman said the PM wants everyone in public life to avoid “dehumanising” and “derogatory” language, adding: “Personal vitriol has no place in our politics.”

Physician, heal thyself springs to mind, since May is no slouch at such dark arts herself, having authorised campaign lorries warning visa overstayers to leave the country or go to jail.

She boasted of encouraging a “hostile environment” for people denied the right to remain in Britain and expelled British citizens unjustly to West Indies and other Commonwealth countries.

Commons home affairs committee chair Yvette Cooper demands that Tory whips unmask MPs using “vile and dehumanising language,” stressing that no-one should be subject to language that normalises violence in public debate.

Her statement is incontrovertible, but, in the interests of consistency, she ought to have been self-critical about her own reaction or non-reaction to previous abuse within her own party.

Cooper was late in recognising that Diane Abbott — one of the few Labour MPs to criticise May’s legislation providing for unjust expulsion of Windrush-era British citizens to Britain — has been singled out for racist and sexist online abuse to an extent dwarfing that directed at other MPs.

She, alongside so many of her New Labour colleagues, felt no need to admonish Jess Phillips for her grinning threat to stab party leader Jeremy Corbyn “in the front” rather than in the back.

Yes, she may argue, she didn’t mean that literally, but that is precisely the issue that Cooper, Scottish nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon, Tory MPs Sarah Wollaston, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry, Robert Halfon and others highlight.

Words contribute to a political atmosphere and can have unforeseen or unintended consequences, especially when carried in banner headlines to denounce “saboteurs” or “enemies of the people.”

Unjust and provocative accusations of anti-semitism against former MP George Galloway led to him being taunted in a Question Time programme as to how he “dared” show his face in north London.

He was subjected to street attacks on three occasions, after one of which he was hospitalised and in the wake of which none of the political or community representatives who had traduced him saw fit to sympathise or condemn the physical assaults against him.

Britain’s right-wing newspapers have a record over decades of scapegoating individuals and communities with impunity.

Their near-monopoly status gave them carte blanche for their incitement on the grounds of free speech, but times have changed.

Racism, sexism, anti-semitism, Islamophobia, anti-LGBT abuse, ageism, anti-disabled prejudice and other targets for discrimination expressed by media, politicians, employers or individuals will be called out, as Ryanair’s scandalous failure to remove an abusive racist from a plane, making an elderly disabled black woman move her seat, will confirm.

Rejection of personalised abuse and violent imagery has to be universal. It cannot be a hobbyhorse wheeled out against political opponents while allies’ transgressions are passed off quietly.

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