IN the wake of The Yorkshire Post’s revelations last weekend about death threats to MPs, the abuse faced by Jewish MPs and an urgent question tabled by Nicky Morgan, the former Education Secretary, about abuse, John Bercow – the Speaker of the House of Commons – made an impassioned intervention on the issue.
One of the Parliamentarians who visited Birstall the day after the murder of Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox, this is an edited version of what what he told MPs.
I WILL do everything in my power, sitting in this Chair, to uphold and champion not merely the right but the duty of every Member of this House to do what he or she thinks is right for the country.
I am sorry to say that there has in recent times been a burgeoning phenomenon of people who hold a particular view, often rather an extreme one, simply not seeming to be able to imagine that anyone can legitimately hold a view that diverges from their own.
This is very different from straightforward political disagreement.
What seems to have happened is that people who violently disapprove of the opinion of a Member of Parliament think it is somehow proper to write in quite the most horrific and obnoxious terms, to post blogs on the matter, to tweet in the most offensive terms and in person either to threaten or, worse still, to inflict violence.
With the help of the House authorities, conscientious reporting to the police and, above all, effective action by the police, two things are obviously necessary.
The first is that such people should be brought to book and made to realise that that behaviour is not acceptable.
The second is that Members, as a result, should feel that proper safety net around them, to which anybody is entitled.
However, the importance of free expression in voice and vote for Members of Parliament can hardly be overstated, just as it is impossible to overstate the sinister character of the threats posed to journalists to boot.
It is true that men as well as women have been threatened, but I think it legitimate and proper to point out that women have been disproportionately targeted by chauvinist and misogynistic abusers. This is intolerable.
In dealing with this threat, we have to be clear on three fronts.
First, no matter how strongly people may feel, this behaviour is wrong. Period. It is not possibly wrong or partially wrong, but wrong. Period.
Secondly, an attack on one Member has to be viewed as an attack on us all and on our democratic principles.
Someone who is not currently in the line of fire has a responsibility to realise that he or she could be at any time.
Thirdly, as a result of our conscientiousness and an effective regulatory and police enforcement process, it has to be made clear to the bigots – and they are bigots; there is really no other way to describe it – that not only is their behaviour objectionable, bullying, in many cases misogynistic, and utterly immoral, but it will fail.
If the House of Commons, as one of the two Houses of Parliament and the elected House, cannot do what it thinks is right, that would be the death of democracy.
None of us in this House is going to allow the bigoted extremists, who do not just disagree with a person but want to trash that person’s motives, to win.
It simply must not, cannot and will not happen.
John Bercow is Speaker of the House of Commons.