EVEN though Theresa May and Yvette Cooper are long-standing political rivals who have repeatedly clashed over policing, austerity and Brexit, their exchanges have always been characterised by a level of mutual respect.
There’s never been any of the derogatory language which has been attributed to anonymous Conservative MPs in recent days as the party’s patience with the Prime Minister wears thin over Brexit negotiations.
And when Ms Cooper, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee, says enough is enough, and that even the PM deserves more respect than this, the intervention by Pontefract, Castleford and Normanton MP should be heeded.
Not only is some of the coarse language totally at odds with the change of tone promised in the aftermath of the murder of Batley & Spen MP Jo Cox, but there’s a risk that some of the more nasty rhetoric actually normalises violence at a time when politicians of all persuasions need to be uniting in the fight against extremism.
To Downing Street’s credit, it did not need to dignify some of the most despicable and inexcusable remarks with a response. Ms Cooper said it for them with this rebuke of the Mrs May’s tormentors: “This is vile and dehumanising language towards a woman MP, towards a Prime Minister who, no matter how much you might disagree with her, is someone who is doing a job in public life.” And many MPs, to their credit, endorsed this stance in the Commons.
Yet there’s another principle at stake here. MPs should not be hiding behind the cloak of anonymity. Not only is it cowardly, but it suggests that they’ve not got the ability to make reasoned arguments in their own name. And it doesn’t end here. If the Tory chief whip Julian Smith, the Skipton and Ripon MP, knows the identity of the culprits, he should make an example of them, suspend them from the Parliamentary party and, in doing so, signify that such language will never be tolerated in public life.