A few years ago, someone flicked a switch to turn on a political machine of hatred, extremism, and intolerance. I don’t know who chose to turn this machine on.
Looking back to 2015-16 is surprisingly hard, not just as a result of political changes but simple distance. It’s 2019 and we’re still reeling from events that shook us years ago. Brexit, Trump, Grenfell Tower, Syria – they’re not linked but cause and effect. But they have come to represent a change in our political society which has yet to be purged. Hate is in the political mainstream.
As I type this, people across the UK and EU are preparing for a mass march in London to protest Brexit. The central theme is for a People’s Vote, though over time this march has become more anti-government and anti-Brexit in general. I’m not attending for personal reasons. But these marchers are part of a movement which is directly challenging a vehicle for hatred in Britain and Europe. My disgust with Westminster has been balanced by inspiration and hope from scenes of peaceful protest by Remainers. Just before I sat down to write, I watched a short clip of Scottish dancing in Edinburgh, all emblazoned with the EU stars and Saltire. You can’t help but feel a spark of emotion when watching something so effortlessly positive.
I felt the same emotion when seeing scenes of Jacinda Ardern embracing and shaking hands with victims and well-wishers from the Christchurch Mosque bombings on the 15th of March. This grief was a global grief. In the UK, people joined to support their Muslim communities. There was a sense that the Christchurch disaster had turned a culture of dignified mourning into very open, beautiful sorrow. Such emotion is not unknown in the UK, we’ve seen it through the responses to Grenfell Tower and indeed, the death of Princess Diana. But the hatred that formed to inspire such a vile massacre, has been put to shame by the love and care displayed to heal it.
It’s hard not to watch the news without tutting and changing the channel. Brexit has been a stalwart story for our news outlets; indeed, I would not be writing without its influence. Infused with Brexit has been this very real expression of hate, which we’d like to deny happening but know it’s a reality. Anna Soubry, Remain herald and Independent Group MP for Broxtowe, reported she cannot return home out of fear. She and many other MPs, especially on the Remain side, have received enormous outbursts of hatred and abuse from people. Labour frontbenchers, including Diane Abbott and Angela Rayner, receive regular abusive emails and threats. Journalists who report the news have also been victims of this horrific culture of hate. Campaigners, be they enthusiastic or unexpected like Rachel Riley, are recipients of a torrent of abuse aimed to silence them.
No matter where or who hate targets, it is wrong to support it and any vehicles for its effusion.
We live in a democracy. It’s surprisingly easy to contact an MP or public figure for whatever reason. Twitter provides a public platform for contacting our representatives in a more casual manner. It’s a luxury really. MPs are elected representatives whose main and only concern should be their ability to represent. They are vessels for concerns and problems, as much as they are paid public figures. I dream of having a compassionate and vibrant MP who shares my worries about Brexit, benefits, and bank loans. I want to be able to shake my MP’s hand, or hug them, and thank them for their service. We should be proud of our MPs, not tired.
But regardless of my disagreements with MPs, it’s never compelled me to angrily sweat over an email or letter threatening them and their families. I’ve never felt the urge to tweet a journalist with bile and vitriol at their employment. The people who act on these urges are damning themselves to become even more bitter, and in some cases under threat of legal action.
Hate is a strong word. It’s an emotional response to our opinions, that in daily life rarely exhibits much action. I hate Marmite and mustard, but I’m not writing letters to their makers calling for them all to leave their jobs. I hate injustice. But there’s no call for me to write a thread on Twitter describing my utter hatred at me not winning on a lottery ticket.
What I’m trying to say is that hate, and its actions, are petty emotions. Politics is a difficult and frustrating public concept. It’s better to engage with it through peaceful discourse than spitting all over an email.
When we see acts of human kindness, our hearts have that indescribable murmur that compels us to react. I get it whenever I watch videos of reunions between people (sometimes dogs as well). The raw emotion and love in those moments can spark joy. It’s these moments we should cherish and draw upon. We must stand up to those who hate, or else our tolerance will never fully succeed.🔷
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(This is an original piece, first published by the author in PoliticsMeansPolitics.com. | The author writes in a personal capacity.)