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, 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. But start understanding that some perfectly legitimate political activities are not. 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.