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No justification for inaction over online abuse

COMMONS Speaker John Bercow delighted MPs on Monday in defending their right to vote in Parliament according to their principles without being demeaned in the media as “mutineers, traitors, malcontents or enemies of the people.”

The Speaker described death threats uttered against MPs as tantamount to a kind of fascism.

His forthright defence of the right of elected representatives to speak out without fear links well with Commons home affairs select committee chair Yvette Cooper’s criticism of social media companies for failing to tackle online abuse.

Representatives of these huge companies pay lip service to the unacceptability of racism, anti-semitism and death threats appearing on their sites but feign inability to remove them.

It is hard to argue with Tory MP Tim Loughton’s accusation that these technology giants effectively incite violence through inaction.

As important as it is that elected representatives can do their jobs without fear of incitement being whipped up against them, it must be recognised that this is not a new problem.

Awareness that Diane Abbott has received more misogyny and racism-inspired abuse than any other MP serves to recall that she and other black MPs — none more so than the late Bernie Grant — elected 30 years ago bore the brunt of media-generated hatred.

Trade unionists, especially those willing to risk Establishment displeasure by leading strike action to win members’ just demands, drew constant abuse.

From the portrayal of Arthur Scargill as “Mine Fuhrer” by Rupert Murdoch’s Sun in the 1984-5 miners’ strike to the Daily Mirror’s earlier headline calling power workers’ leader Charlie Doyle the “most hated man in Britain,” helpfully providing his home address, trade unionists have experienced media incitement to hatred and violence.

Now that this scourge has spread to MPs, and to the vile murder of Jo Cox, there may be a growing realisation that it’s time for a change.

No justifications of free speech, banter or whatever can absolve print, electronic or social media companies of the consequences of their actions or inaction.

Wishful thinking won’t counter institutional racism

JUSTICE Secretary David Lidington’s avowed determination to see a more diverse judiciary falls at the first hurdle when he rejects the need for national targets.

Targets are set for a variety of jobs and positions because experience shows that leaving structures to reform themselves guarantees that little or no progress will be made.

There is no reason why the judiciary should be regarded differently from any other profession that has failed to accept in reality, whatever its protestations, that the world has changed and it must do likewise.

Black and minority ethnic representation in senior levels of the judiciary and magistracy will only increase to a level that reflects society when there are conscious efforts to make that happen.

Lidington expresses his belief in a more diverse judiciary and assures the public that the “leadership of the judges themselves” shares that belief.

If so, why, as Labour MP David Lammy points out, has progress in the past decade been negligible?

It is crystal clear that pious hopes and wishful thinking do nothing to counter institutional racism.

Creating a judiciary that resembles a little more closely the society it is supposed to serve cannot be sacrificed on the altar of tradition and Establishment bruised feelings.

Britain’s substantial black and ethnic minority population cannot be expected to have confidence in a criminal justice system from which its members are effectively excluded at the highest levels.


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