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Advice for “bullied” MPs: stop moaning

No bullying MPsI’ve bullied an MP.

In the Autumn of 1997, a small group of annoyed students gathered on the steps of Hanley town hall to shout at then honourable member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, Mark Fisher, as he gave a constituency surgery. This was a few months after our shiny New Labour government announced the abolition of the grant and the introduction of £1,000/year tuition fees for the 1999 intake. None of us were affected, but we felt it would be a treacherous slope to higher charges and mountains of debt. And so it has proved. Anyway, Mark came out and spoke to us saying he would address the the Students’ Union. He duly did and got a jolly barracking from the assembled.

Was that bullying, or, you know, the normal hustle and bustle of holding one’s representative to account? I thought that was well within the bounds of permitted political behaviour, but obviously not according to some Labour MPs and assorted hangers on/sycophants, and media lickspittles this last week.

What disingenuous tripe. When we’re talking about internet abuse and heckling let’s just remember those on the receiving end have the power over life and death, as we were reminded on Wednesday. Bullying, usually, is the intimidation of the powerless by the powerful, not the other way round.

That isn’t to say bad behaviour is excusable. There will always be people who overdose on the dickhead pills before firing off an abusive/threatening/sexist/racist email or tweet. Some of these feel a trickle of warmth – or self-righteousness – when they elicit a response. The overwhelming bulk of people bandying about ‘Tory scum‘ and condemning MPs as warmongers however, are not so damaged. Not to excuse but to understand them, a great many are newly politicised, fresh to the game, and feel as if they’ve been ignored for years.

One of social media’s wonders, or curses depending on where you sit, is the collapse of social distance. Various feeds and the jolly old tried-and-tested email promise connection and, just sometimes, an immediate response. If you’re not embroiled in party politics where you have semi-regular access to MPs and/or other politicians, name-calling and telling them to fuck off can be cathartic.

Of course, millions of people used to do this before Twitter made Question Time bearable. The difference now is politicians can see what used to be kept between viewers and the television screen. That’s not an approach I would advocate, on the whole. Hate the sin, not the sinner is usually the best way to do politics. Except when dealing with truly awful, awful opponents. Some of which, sad to say, are ostensibly on Labour’s side.

What about those ghastly people threatening to deselect MPs? You know what I say? Boo-bloody-hoo. The overwhelming majority of “real people” are always accountable for their work. Bosses set targets and we’re expected to meet them on pain of disciplinaries, pay freezes, or some other sanction. Small business people have to get their services right or customers will stay away in future, and so on.

MPs on the other hand face two appraisals every four or five years. One is the reselection, which under present Labour and Tory rules is usually a formality. The other is re-election – a job that is not too difficult for the bulk of MPs thanks to the inequities of the Westminster system. Any wonder then that Scottish Labour was obliterated after decades of useless MPs who sat on their arses, a condition that – at least until fairly recently – a number of English and Welsh Labour-held seats were familiar with too. No more, what with the imminent boundary review and the effective compulsory reselection of the majority of the PLP on the cards.

A lot of nonsense has been written about deselection, so here’s some advice for MPs who are fretting over losing their seats in the coming 2018-19 reselection bloodbath:

  1. Stop bleating about deselections. You will get no sympathy, you sound like an entitled whinger, and if anything makes your demise more likely.
  2. Stop moaning about bullying too. Threats are one thing, so report them to the police if they’re against the law. And start understanding that some perfectly legitimate political activities are anything but. People sending crude, strongly-worded political critiques of your voting record? Write back with something other than a one-size template. People turning up to constituency meetings and having a moan? Deal with it. People demonstrating outside your local office by sticking messages of peace to its windows? Build, not burn bridges with them,
  3. Don’t hide from your critics – face them. Stella Creasy is a case in point. She was slow to kill the constituency office protest story, but played a blinder by holding a public meeting for her constituents this evening to explain her actions. Whatever you think of Stella, she knows how to campaign, and this should have been the natural reaction of a campaigning MP.
  4. You can pretend to yourself that your constituents sent you to Westminster and therefore the views of the awkwards in your local party are of no consequence, but that would be a very serious mistake. Formally, the constituency is sovereign. In safe and safe-ish seats, however, the party is sovereign. If you don’t recognise that you’ll be spending some time in 2020 looking for a new career.
  5. Acknowledging party sovereignty doesn’t mean subordinating yourself to constituency mandates or what have you. What it does entail is building up those relationships you’ve long neglected. For instance, any MP worth their salt would have regular meetings with the constituency’s Labour councillors as a matter of course. If you haven’t, it will look self-serving to start now but better late than never. They know the patch better than you. The party networks. The members and, yes, the constituents. Listen to them, learn from them and, who knows, they might just bat for you when the time comes.
  6. Nervous about those Momentum types? Don’t be. In fact, go out of your way to meet them. If your local Momentum group has meetings, ask for a slot. If they organise campaign days, ensure you’re on them – or better still, pull out all the stops to get them on yours. Stop trying to make out they’re a tumour threatening to tear apart the Labour Party. They’re representative of a good chunk of the membership who are sceptical about you and your record. But be careful. Charm them by all means, but they’ll recognise smarm a mile off. Be honest but, most importantly for you, be accessible.
  7. If those new members disturb you so much, why don’t you do something about it? I’ve seen friends-of-MPs rant about how out-of-touch Jeremy’s support is, how they are but a couple of hundred thousand set against the nine million who voted for us in May. What are you waiting for? The moderate millions are there for grabbing, so develop a recruitment strategy and start signing up the newbies.
  8. If you’ve been mouthing off, shut up about Jeremy Corbyn.
  9. And, so there’s no doubt at all; again, stop moaning about deselections.

12 Comments

  1. David Ellis says:

    Every five years MPs have to face the electorate. Is that bullying? I guess it is for a political class that represents a 1% elite that increasingly sees democracy as a luxury it can no longer afford. Democracy is being re branded as bullying.

  2. Alan Brooke says:

    All politicians should be made accountable especially for life or death decisions. I agree with Kevin Maguire’s comment, ‘Raqqa’s captive residents would doubtless prefer nasty emails to being on the receiving end of 500lb bombs’.

  3. Mukkinese says:

    Yes, it seems that many of today’s M.P.’s will go out of their way to avoid any contact with “the public”, good on Stella Creasy someone who has acted honourably and reasonably, even though she has disagreements with the leadership.

    Others can take a lesson from her.

    Stop bleating about being “bullied”. Compared to the monstering that Corbyn is getting, from the Tories, the Media and some of you, it is laughable to play the victim.

    Grow up and learn a little about what the word democracy means…

  4. Bazza says:

    Yes but we should never be personally abusive or threatening – we should try to be like the World we want, but we all have the right to offer critical thinking and use powerful language but I am also always wary of middle class self-actualising say by the SWP.
    I right now I am worried to an extent at the rise of the Far Right in France – the ugly politics of Marie Le Pen (hidden behind a mask of moderation) got just over 30% in the French regional elections.
    Le Pen said the elite in France was crumbling (and no doubt the Le Pen Fascist Family Business (they were given a mansion a few years ago by a rich backer) is on the rise.
    And of course Fascists always try to divide the working class/working people which helps the rich and powerful as they become invisible.
    But let’s try to unpick this first round vote – the FN had the largest of the vote (just over 30%) the French Tories just under 30% and the Socialists 22% but this is of people who voted and the turnout would have been something like 40% of all those eligible to vote – so even amongst those voting 70% DIDN’T VOTE FOR THE FN but perhaps the headlines are more exciting for an uncritical and sensationalist media.
    But in reality the FN were supported by 12% of all of those eligible to vote, their Tories 11% and the Socialists 10%.
    We shouldn’t be complacent, what the Centrist Socialists need is a Jeremy Corbyn and grassroots too.
    We on the Left should always try to unite diverse working class/ working people (and the progressive middle class) plus to try to politicise the general middle class and people in rural areas.
    I always say established citizens should talk to newcomers and you soon realise you have much in common – we all have to sell our labour to live; migrants should also join Labour parties and trade unions – you never know you make friends for life.
    Come on the working class internationally – you are better than that!
    They divide, we beat the grotesque Far Right by uniting diverse humanity. Solidarity!

  5. John P Reid says:

    I recall Ken livingstone being smeared as part of P.I.E and then he was falsely accused of homophobia and a serial womaniser,27 years later
    And I recall him being accused of being corrupt

    I recall Bernie grant being accused of anti white racism.
    Were these things bullying, should they just have been told to grow a thicker skin,

  6. Tony says:

    Some years ago, there was a comedy sketch on ‘Big Train’ about the awful messages that were received by Beefeaters at the Tower of London.

    One of them had received a postcard which said on it ‘Visit the Tower of London’ but someone had changed it so that it now read ‘Don’t Visit the Tower of London’.

    He then stated “It’s pure filth”.

    The recent media hysteria about ‘intimidation’ of MPs reminded me of this.

    Some of the tactics used by whips in the House of Commons have been far worse. And what about intimidation of the unemployed.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Over the years,the left has rightly shown its anger with some they’ve disagreed with in the Tory party
    Antony Berry MP, Eiry Neave and Ian Gow,
    Or physically threatened to beat up, those who disagreed with militant in Liverpool,or didn’t back Benn for deputy, like the fella who threatened to hit Kinnock in the Toilets,
    I dont know what these MPs were thinking getting upset.

  8. stewart says:

    being angry with each other wont get us back into power in 2020.cameron and osbourne must be putting there feet up laughing there bollocks off at all this childish in fighting going within the labour movement,what about a bit of unity heh to take the fight to the real enemy within called the tory party.

    1. Bill says:

      The fact is that we have people in the Labour Party that should not be in the party and the sooner we face up to that and resolve it the quicker we can unite. I think we need to be much clearer in the party constitution and rules what the party is about.

  9. roland says:

    here here stewart.

    1. John P Reid says:

      Quite

  10. Alistair C says:

    Just wanted to say you can heap praise on Stella by all means but get your facts straight before you do so. I had emailed my mp a number of times not asking her to vote to bomb Syria. Asked on twitter to be included in her meeting. So I voted for her. I campaigned for her but I did not get an invite. So she held a private meeting where the few were invited to hear her reasons for supporting the right wingers. So to the writer of the article. Good piece apart from the bit where you suck up to Stella.

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