WHEN Members of Parliament talk about the language we choose to use and its impact on our constituents, there can be no greater litmus test than what happened in Batley and Spen just over three years ago.
My predecessor and friend Jo Cox was shot and stabbed in the sleepy village of Birstall by a white supremacist who shouted “Britain First” as he committed his heinous crime. The language we use has impact. It matters.
Clever people throughout history have measured their words with great seriousness, understanding the repercussions of what they, the law-makers, legislators and leaders, say.
What tone they take dictates the destination of our politics, and that destination was patently obvious in this week’s House of Commons debate on the Supreme Court’s decision that the prorogation was unlawful.
Bellowing, jeering, sneering, clapping and shouting. Booming speeches full of hot air and hyperbole. Wild gestures best suited to the end of the pier in Clacton. Bannon and Trump would be proud. Sadly, it got worse.
During the debate on the Prime Minister’s response to the judgement of the Supreme Court, rather than apologise or show any humility for misleading the Queen, Boris Johnson went on the attack, throwing crude dog-whistle language into the debate.
A cheap trick to avoid scrutiny. The classic dead cat. Goading MPs with his use of Surrender Act instead of giving the so-called Benn Act its correct title, he seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself.
Sadly, Northern MPs are extremely alive to the implications of being called a traitor. We are not collaborators, bending to the whim of the European Union. We just want the best for our constituents. A No Deal would impoverish our communities and however you voted, you didn’t vote to be poorer.
So, we pushed back, demanding he apologise or at the very least stop, but he just couldn’t help himself.
Challenged by my friend and neighbour Paula Sherriff, the MP for Dewsbury, about the death threats and torrents of abuse she has received, and how this language that tripped so easily off the PM’s tongue had been hijacked by those who sought to threaten her, the Prime Minster swatted away her obvious anxiety in the most patronising and dismissive way, calling it ‘humbug’.
Understandably this brought derision and shock from all benches. Even the most loyal of Tory MPs looked green around the gills. Desperate to cut through the bravado, I asked him to stop the Bannon-playbook rhetoric, the People versus Parliament schtick.
I asked to stop so we could go about our job knowing we were safe. His response drew gasps of horror: “The best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox was to get Brexit done.”
This wasn’t casual. He knows Jo was a passionate Remainer. Only days before her death, she spent a couple of hours on the Thames with her young family, campaigning to stay in theEU.
And for those who say it was a misspoken moment, badly phrased, the PM had every chance to come back to the House on Thursday to explain in the Urgent Question raised by Jess Phillips MP.
Why has he chosen this tactic? My suggestion is that he was shocked when Jeremy Corbyn, working cross party, refused to fall into the trap of committing to a general election.
A general election would see us distracted and the Government able to say they were unable to negotiate a deal, leading to a crash out no-deal Brexit. Something we can’t countenance especially after the Government’s own impact assessment spells out in vivid, terrifying detail of the devastating impact that no deal would have on our communities and the lowest earners.
Well I urge all Yorkshire folk reading this article to expect more from their Prime Minister. Civility, healthy debate, compassion and humanity.
As Brendan Cox said so eloquently on Thursday, the job of Prime Minister is, however turbulent the times, to bring the people together.
In Yorkshire we see through charlatans, millionaires dressed up as the ‘voice of the people’ and we call it out. In my view, ‘Leave our town’, the polite comment from a resident of Morley to the Prime Minster during his recent visit, should be projected on every Northern town hall until he acknowledges we aren’t stupid. We see through his plan and we call it out.
Because when, yet again, I have a police officer sitting in my constituency office with my staff for the second time this month, thanks to some lovely emails threatening violence, it is more urgent than ever to stop the hate.
But there is also good news. Hundreds of thank you emails, grateful that MPs are challenging the strong man in power. A message from Brendan thanking me for my question. People in the street stopping me to give me a hug.
This is what we mustn’t forget. We decide how we react. We decide if we fall for the snake-oil salesman’s spiel.
We decide how we want to live as neighbours and friends. And by showing love, keeping the memory of Jo alive, insisting that we have far more in common than that which divides us, we’ll get through.
Tracy Brabin is the Labour MP for Batley & Spen.