Sunday 6 December 2015

Advice for "Bullied" Labour MPs

I'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 Students' Union in a few weeks' time. He duly did so 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, 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.


ejh said...

Maybe worth saying (and I'm not a party member, for what it's worth) that as far as I'm aware, a respected constituency MP who enjoys a good relaionship with their local party is rarely the target for deselection, regardless of where they stand in terms of left and right in the party. It's the timeservers and the cynics who get into trouble.

Anonymous said...

Listening to Trissy's interview on the radio, he anticipates an angry CLP meeting who 'overwhelmingly' are against military action.

I know what it is like Tris, to be bullied by the Labour party (progress/NEC/) just take what comes and pretend it doesn't matter.

It does, it does, it does.

Took 7 phone calls over the weekend to return.
Amazed at how many know about this.

fendawg said...

Usually I agree with most of what you write, but your attempts to justify any of the s**t that some MPs took last week is simply wrong. Death threats, telling pregnant MPs you hope they miscarry or their child is born limbless, that is unforgivable and indefensible. And let's not forget Stephen Timms and Nigel Jones, both nearly killed (and Jones' Agent murdered) by "facing" their protesting constituents.

Sadly social media has convinced the morons of Momentum and the like that they can say and do anything, and it's time supposedly responsible people stood up for our elected representatives instead of suggesting they lump it in the name of democracy.

Phil said...

"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 ..."

Igor Belanov said...

The abuse was fully deserved, however some of the extreme examples have been unfortunate mostly for the fact that they have given these lame MPs an opportunity to seek an undeserved moral high ground.

Gary Elsby said...

Those that issued death threats are "Corbynites".
They belong to "momentum".

Oh, and aren't progress milking this one. Oh yes.

Boffy said...

Has anyone actually proved that the trolls are members of Momentum? The fact is that you only have to look here at the trolls who post under a multiplicity of names, so as to argue views ranging from fascist through Trotskyist to anarcho-capitalist, to see that the vast majority of them are just saddos for whom this is just the only form of entertainment and social interaction.

There are 5 trolls per week being prosecuted in the Courts now, and a look at nearly all of them shows that they are just people who are basically socially inadequate in one way or another. Their aggressive and assertive language is usually in inverse proportion to their actual knowledge, and their threats are similarly usually in inverse proportion to their ability to carry them out!

Generally speaking, if someone really intends to do you harm, they will not announce it first on social media. Although most trolls are again stupid in inverse proportion to how clever they think they are, most are not so stupid as to actually tell the police in advance that they intend to kill or injure someone, if they really mean to do it. The troll who e-mailed Coyle, even e-mailed him back to apologise, when he realised that he had invited a knock from the constabulary!

So, if these MP's are really scared as a result of the activity of trolls, the answer is simple, stay off social media. Focus on actually holding meetings with your party members and constituents instead, and in that way you at least know you are talking to real people and not just a load of sock puppets.

But, the reality is that all the broo ha ha is manufactured, as a means of hitting Corbyn over the head, whilst the Blair-right factionalists, plotters and splitters plan the real violence with their dreams of a party coup against the leader.

BCFG said...

I think Boffy has just about accused everyone he has ever debated with a troll at one point or another (that is no exaggeration). He must think one guy logs into the internet and uses 3 million different identities!

"telling pregnant MPs you hope they miscarry or their child is born limbless, hat is unforgivable and indefensible"

possibly but less unforgivable and indefensible than actively voting to make this a reality in Syria. It really sickens me that people who vote to bomb and kill other people get all worked up by people spouting words.

Have they not heard the saying, "Dropping bombs and sending drones will break your bones but calling names won't hurt you"?

Gary Elsby said...

No Boffy, nobody has proved it.
What is certain is that members of progress are blaming momentum.

An exceptionally clever tactic if I may say so.

Their newest cleverest tactic is to be more left wing than left wingers.

Whippets, flat caps, pork pies, titles, the lot.

Boffy said...

The most ridiculous thing I have seen in the last couple of days has been the BBC, backing up Blair-right MP's, who have complained about the Socialist Party leafletting at a Momentum event!

Do these MP's and journalists not get out much? On the basis that the SP turned up and leafletted the meeting the MP's and journalists interpreted this as being evidence that Momentum had been taken over by the SP, and that what the SP had on their leaflets was thereby Momentum policy!

On that basis the TUC, and Labour Party itself must also have been taken over by the Socialist Party, Communist Party and all the other groups that these MP's and journalists know nothing about - which could be one reason that the Daily Politics keeps having the Editor of the Morning Star on, who represents nobody - because they all turn up and leaflet the events organised by those bodies too.

Or, perhaps, they might want to apply the same rules to the Tory Party, whose vents have often been leafletted by members of UKIP, and in the past the BNP. Or, perhaps the Blair-right MP's think the Labour Party has been taken over by the Fabian Society, and other Think Tanks who put forward their suggestions on what party policy should be?

Its rather rich for the Blair-rights to be complaining about non-party members having a voice, in any case, because they have been insisting in recent weeks that MP's have to listen to "Electors" rather than party members in deciding how they should vote! It was the Blair-rights, who wanted to give non-party members a vote via a Primary system, in electing the party leader!

In other words, they want all these things only so long as the result is the result they want, and when it isn't, they can't understand why, and so find themselves opposing the very mechanisms they previously promoted.