We Must End The Abuse Of Politician’s Families Before It Leads To Violence

Influential politicians now have to nip this in the bud. There is no excuse
Dan Kitwood via Getty Images

Any use of a politician’s family as political weaponry is a symptom of political debate transcending respected norms. As Britain limps through the most polarised political scene for a generation, activists from all sides of the spectrum must take steps to avoid turning debate into violence, at all costs.

Last week, protesters confronted lead Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg and his family outside their London home. One activist, claiming to be from the anarchist group Class War, repeatedly told Rees-Mogg’s children, who are no older than nine-years-old, that “lots of people hate your daddy, do you know that?”, as the children looked on, rightly confused and petrified. While Rees-Mogg later appeared to brush the incident off as a typical occurrence in public life, the fact is that the abuse of politician’s families isn’t, and should never be, something that they just have to accept and come to expect.

Make no mistake, activists that bridge the gap between the public and private lives of politicians are laying the foundations of violent extremism. By bridging this gap, the so-called ‘direct-action activists’ are normalising the idea that politician’s families are fair game, which is an extremely dangerous game to play.

It is downright disturbing that just two years after the murder of Jo Cox, society has become so polarised that some choose to behave in this way. It should be the case that the tragedy of Jo’s death acts as a stark warning for us all, in that allowing politicians to appear as almost sub-human paves the way for further abuse and physical violence against them. To be frank, if the murder of one of the most promising and well-liked politicians in the country has not deterred this kind of behaviour, then it is difficult to see what will.

This week, comedian Bethany Black, a recent guest on Ed Miliband’s podcast, tweeted suggesting that leading Brexiteers should be strung up after they make a mess of Brexit. The tweet, that has since been deleted, said “7 months until the country has food riots and strings Farage, Rees-Mogg and Johnson up from lamp posts by piano wire”. This led to a thread of people gleefully talking about murdering politicians. While clearly in jest, with no real intent to go out and hang Boris Johnson from the nearest lamp post, it is this rhetoric that has, in the past, normalised violence against politicians.

We, as a society, are now at risk of a downward spiral in which extreme activists believe it is acceptable to harass politicians at home and when they are with their families. It is not, and never has been, acceptable. Journalists who doorstep MPs while asking relevant questions is completely expected and a valid part of public life, but the line must be drawn somewhere. Barking abuse and insults at MPs in the street is not journalism - no matter how much some far-right and far-left groups will claim that it is.

Those of us on the left would like to think that common sense and tough principles will prevail in this war on the right to a private life away from politics, waged by those of extreme political opinion. While the condemnation from all sides of the political spectrum after the Rees-Mogg incident was welcome, it is not enough. Influential politicians now have to nip this in the bud. There is no excuse - whether Labour, Tory, Remain, or Leave - for upholding this kind of behaviour. Silence is complicity.


What's Hot