Monday, 2 July 2018

Luciana Berger and Social Media Abuse

When you're a MP and a woman you will, on the whole, get a great deal more shit than your male colleagues. This applies regardless of what party you represent, and on what side of the factional divides your cookie crumbles. The latest manifestation of this unwelcome fact of political life comes from Luciana Berger, who complains about being the subject of a pile-on. The occasion was her whereabouts concerning this weekend's NHS march. I.e. Why she wasn't on the demo. As you can see from her thread, she was engaged on NHS-related activity all week, including some casework, and rounded off with a plea for civility.

Yes, of course people should endeavour to engage politely, patiently explain (to coin a phrase), and intervene politically with an eye to persuasion. Do I fall short of this? Nearly every day. Sarcasm, sharp language, piss-taking and so on does have a place in politics, but the art of good argument is knowing when to do it, to understand when a more persuasive tone is more effective, or when a barb can have greater impact. I don't think establishment politics has a great deal to commend it, but watching and learning how our Parliamentary orators, whether good, middling or rubbish, employ different styles and stratagems to address, destabilise and subvert opponents while rallying one's own side is one of the genuinely useful things you can take away from keeping an eye on the chamber.

It's easy to see why politics never leaves up to the standards of seminar room ethics, and that's because it's not jolly old bantz. Politics is struggle, politics is the clash of opposing interests. It is only about ideas in so far as they articulate and map onto positions that exist in wider society, and they ebb and flow according to the strength or otherwise of constellations and assemblages of social relationships. Politics is structurally abusive because it is war, albeit by other, more peaceful means. Once you understand that, you understand why so many people online are rude. It's not rocket science.

Keeping this in mind can help explain why Luciana has come in for so many pointed demands that she account for her absence on Saturday. In addition to the sexism noted above, a great deal has to do with social media as a leveller. Were Twitter around 20 years ago, the leading lights of the Blair government would have received the same brickbats, and women ministers a greater amount than most. Yet irreverence toward politics and MPs are hardly new, but what is are the easy means with which our representatives can be served with "feedback". Social media makes visible what was previously shouted at the telly, it offers a simulacrum of empowerment, of being heard. And this is now a fact of political life that's never going to go away.

The second is reaction to posturing on the part of MPs, and of Labour MPs in recent times. It wasn't that long ago when the only MPs who would turn out for rallies and marches for labour movement causes, for measures that defend the position of working class people, are those who currently lead the Labour Party. The small, guilty shuffle to the left under Ed Miliband and then the left turn and consequent renovation of the party under Jeremy Corbyn has still seen most Labour MPs stay away from the mobilisations of working people. It doesn't take genius reasoning to note the link between demos and marches they do turn out for, like the Pro-EU demo and the rally against anti-semitism in Labour, and the factional leverage they hope to recuperate. As Luciana was one of the MPs to have resigned from the shadow cabinet during the failed coup, and has hardly been effusive in her support for the Labour leader since, you can understand why she might have had more than her fair share of angry tweets. Please note, this isn't to excuse but to explain. I haven't checked, but I'd imagine other noted Blairists, like our mates Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Wes Streeting, et al have received similar "correspondence" too.

Hence measures to try and police social media, in the name of curbing "abuse" are doomed to fail. It does nothing to address what politics is and, in fact, tries to force it into a straitjacket of faux respect. This can only serve to try and obscure its character, a transparently ideological and self-serving move that would prove impossible to pull off and discredit politics even more. And second, just because the politicians can't see it doesn't mean it's not there. Social media is an outlet, a way of letting politicised anger out in a non-violent way. Anything that might try and button that up just allows that frustration to build, and who knows what awful turn it might then take?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How much of it is astroturf?