Dear Theresa May, if you really want to stop abuse, maybe don’t accuse Labour of treachery

Theresa May MP abuse
Bex Sumner

Theresa May has accused Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party of betraying the country. If the prime minister really wants to end the abuse of MPs, never mind far-right terrorism, she should really stop doing that.

‘Betrayal’

Yesterday, our prime minister stood up in our houses of parliament and wholeheartedly agreed with the accusation that the Labour Party had ‘betrayed the country’:

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She was responding to a question about Brexit from Conservative MP and Europhobe Bill Cash, who asked:

Does she agree that the official Opposition’s continuous unprincipled reversals of their policy betrays not only their own voters, but the country?

The PM did agree, according to parliamentary record Hansard:

My hon. Friend is absolutely right.

Not only did she agree, but she went on to put the boot in, telling parliament exactly how Labour had ‘betrayed the country’:

We consistently hear the Opposition saying one thing about their Brexit policy one minute and something else the next. Crucially, they would not be delivering for the British people, because they would stay in the single market and the customs union, they would see the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and they would continue to pay sums of money over to the European Union. Those are the very things that people voted against.

Playing with fire

Less than two years ago, in June 2016, a right-wing fanatic brutally murdered Labour MP Jo Cox. Thomas Mair apparently saw Cox as a traitor to the country, telling the court that his name was “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. More recently, another white supremacist terrorist – the Finsbury Park mosque attacker – made plans to assassinate Corbyn, saying killing him would mean “one less terrorist off our streets”.

On 5 March, faced with the dangerous language of ‘betrayal’ and ‘treachery’ in parliament, the prime minister had a choice in how to respond. She could, as others have pointed out, have slapped it down:

But not only did she refuse to slap it down, she actively embraced it.

Pure hypocrisy

May claims she wants to stamp out abuse. Just one month ago, she announced a raft of measures to tackle the abuse of MPs, which she sees as a consequence of “coarsening” public debate:

While there is much to celebrate, I worry that our public debate today is coarsening. That for some it is becoming harder to disagree, without also demeaning opposing viewpoints in the process.

Yet while the prime minister is happy to entertain the idea of introducing “chilling” new laws curtailing free speech for ordinary people during election periods, she herself is happy to accuse the leader of the opposition of ‘betraying the country’.

Why? Because smearing Corbyn as a threat to Britain’s national security is deliberate Conservative Party strategy. It started the day after Corbyn was elected Labour leader in 2015, when David Cameron accused Labour of being “a threat to our national security, our economic security and your family’s security”. It’s continued ever since, right up to Boris Johnson’s accusation in late February that Corbyn’s policy was a “betrayal” of the Brexit vote.

And the Conservatives’ friends in the media have been more than happy to help the party hammer that myth home, no matter what the consequences:

 

Front pages from the Sun and Mail smearing Corbyn

Change is coming

Make no mistake. The Conservatives will keep trying to smear Corbyn and his party as treacherous while they dismantle our country. And their tax-dodging media – recently buoyed by the announcement that Leveson 2 is no more – will gladly peddle that myth far and wide.

But they will fail. A recent YouGov poll for The Times shows that support for the Labour Party has actually risen since the right-wing media tried to smear him as a communist spy. Because each new attempt to smear him drives home the need for change. And change is coming.

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Featured image via David Mirzoeff

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