On Parliamentary Toxicity

28 Sep 2019

Yesterday saw the return of MPs to the House of Commons after the British Supreme Court ruled that the prorogation that Boris Johnson enforced on Parliament was unlawful. As one would expect, tensions were understandably higher than normal. But last night was arguably one of the worst days Parliament has had in a long time, and in the words of John Bercow, ‘the house did itself no credit'.


There have been many a cry in the past few months that the behaviour in the commons from all sides has been shambolic, and those who claim that can do so quite rightly. However, the events that unfolded yesterday were something that needed to be witnessed to understand the level of toxicity that has now taken hold within the House of Commons. 


Firstly, you had the man with ‘Barristers bluster', Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, who defended the government, and himself, claiming that ‘this is a dead parliament' and that MPs had no moral right to ‘sit on these green benches'. Despite his mastery of the English language, the Attorney General did little to aid the feeling yesterday. 


Perhaps this is just one big political masterstroke, which has been echoed by many journalists within Westminster. Perhaps it is the strategy of Dominic Cummings and his lapdog, the Prime Minister, to whip opposition MPs up into such a frenzy that they end up fighting for who can hate Boris more, and thus give him an avenue to victory in the coming election. 


Then, later on in the evening, after the Prime Minister had given his speech, which was quite frankly just a vacuum of meaningless soundbites and populist sub-psychotic ramble, the worst scenes of the night came to fruition. 


The first engagement was between Labour MP Paula Sheriff and the Prime Minister. In her question to the Prime Minister, Sheriff made clear that the way rhetoric has developed in recent months over Brexit is unacceptable, with some of the PMs own words being used against MPs such as Jess Philips as threats. 


Following on from that, Sheriff then asked the Prime Minister whether he would consider toning down the rhetoric, and used late Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox as an example of what happens when rhetoric goes too far, to which the Prime Minister replied, ‘I've never heard such humbug in all my life'. 


Shortly after this, another question was posed to the Prime Minister where Jo Cox was used as a reference point, to which the Prime Minister replied that the best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox and to bring the country back together was to get Brexit done. 


Now, I am not here to give the Prime Minister a telling off. However, the misjudgement of the mood in the commons last night by the Prime Minister, especially to the two questions which referenced Jo Cox was almost too difficult to believe. 


The complete and utter arrogance to the situation which was displayed by the Prime Minister at a time of high tension and even higher emotions was something that anyone interested in politics, especially those of us who consider ourselves either small ‘c' conservatives or Conservative Party members, should be disgusted by. 


The toxicity in Parliament is akin to a cancer, and sadly MPs, from all sides of the debate, are the symptoms. On one side of the argument, remain MPs on the furthest end of the spectrum, the likes of David Lammy and Anna Soubry, have gradually ramped up their attacks on Brexiteers, whether they are MPs in parliament or characterising some leave voters in public. 


Words such as xenophobic, racist, fascist etc. have seemingly lost all meaning in political discourse, and are now used loosely, without a care for their implications, or what they imply when those words are employed.


However, this is not just a one-sided argument. The Brexiteers also carry responsibility for the toxic environment that has now taken hold in the House of Commons, and in public discourse outside of that place. For example, you only have to log onto Twitter and you will find somewhere that a ‘remainer' is being hounded by leave supporters and being called all manner of things ranging from a traitor to being accused of committing treason against ones' country for wanting to remain in the EU. 


This toxic rhetoric has been echoed in the Press also. In 2016, following a ruling by three judges that the UK Government would require the consent of Parliament to give notice of the Brexit process being formally entered, the Daily Mail printed a now infamous headline, ‘enemies of the people', to describe the judges and their decision. 


In 2017 MPs were also described as ‘Brexit mutineers' when they voted against the May government when it tried to enshrine into UK law the date that Britain would leave the EU.


If we are to see a return to the sort of politics where politicians can discuss policy, pass legislation and make a difference to the lives of the people who sent them to Westminster in the first place, then the use of inflammatory language (yes humbug in the context it was used was just that) and rhetoric must be toned down.


We have let the emotions of Brexit get ahead of us, and instead, we are now faced with a situation where there are none of the old political divides or ideological predispositions. Instead, it is now Leave vs Remain, and if the use of inflammatory language and rhetoric continues, on both sides of the argument, then we are destined to remain on this road to nowhere and we, as a nation, will never truly heal the divisions that Brexit exposed. 


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