Tom Richmond: Vile abuse that threatens the very future of politics

The abuse sent to Labour politician Diane Abbott is indefensible in a civilised society.
The abuse sent to Labour politician Diane Abbott is indefensible in a civilised society.
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HAS nothing been learned from the murder of Jo Cox MP? Even though her family continue to show immense dignity as they launch The Great Get Together to mark the first anniversary of their loved one’s death, the same cannot be said for political debate and dialogue in this country.

Far from becoming more measured and respectful, social media continues to bring out the worst in those ignoramuses who think it’s acceptable to send vile and abusive messages to Parliamentarians and others under false or heavily disguised names which make it difficult to establish their identity.

I’m no fan of Labour’s Diane Abbott – unsurprisingly I agree with very little of her politics – but I, like so many, was revulsed to learn about some of the racist and sexist abuse that she has been sent in recent weeks. I thought the Britain of today was different to 1987 when she became the country’s first black female MP.

She’s not alone – other Parliamentarians, male and female, have also revealed the torrid threats that are making the lives of their families, and their staff, a misery because they do not know whether to take the more extreme messages seriously or not.

Labour’s Bradford West MP Naz Shah is among those that have been sent abusive messages. Speaking to The Yorkshire Post this week, she said: “The worst I’ve had is someone who said, ‘I hope you watch your children die tonight’.”

There is simply no place for such vile comments either online or in the real world, but the worrying truth of the matter is that such threats are becoming the norm.

As Ms Abbott said: “When I was a new MP if you want to send racist abuse you wrote a letter, in green ink usually, and you got maybe one or two of those letters a week. Now you can press a button and threaten to rape somebody.” The more some of these guys see this stuff online, the more they feel encouraged and emboldened.

Former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe misread the situation when she urged her former Labour sparring partner to grow up. Unless Facebook and Twitter ban people sending such insensitive posts, and the criminal justice systems starts making an example of the worst perpetrators, I fear for the future of politics at a time when there’s already a shortage of willing and able people from all walks of life willing to serve the public.

Would you if this is how you’re thanked?

TALKING of protecting public servants, Halifax MP and policeman’s daughter Holly Lynch launched a very thoughtful 10-minute rule bill the other week calling for more draconian sentences against those criminals who assault ‘blue light’ responders to 999 emergencies, whether it be constables, firefighters, paramedics or hospital staff who are being physically assaulted or spat at.

She’s right. An attack on such staff is an attack on this country’s values. The Home Office says it is considering its response, though it does point out that the courts have considerable sentencing powers at their disposal. Its response misses the point. If they were used, tougher laws would not be needed.

WITHOUT wishing to say ‘I told you so’, this week’s whinging about transport investment in Yorkshire makes the point I made a month ago when I challenged leaders to devise schemes so compelling that the most hard-hearted of Ministers could not block them.

This viewpoint is even more justifiable after the IPPR North think-tank claimed £1,943 per person will be spent on transport infrastructure in London this year compared to just £427 across the North and a measly £190 in Yorkshire.

The answer, I suggest, rests here. It’s called leadership. Yorkshire should try it.

ASKED if he had been asked by officials to find time for a Parliamentary debate on his future, Speaker John Bercow replied: “The short answer is no, and there is absolutely no reason why they should have done...”

Is there no limit to his arrogance?

WHAT price loyalty? When I contacted my car insurer to query an increase in the proposed premium before beginning the task of sourcing more financially advantageous cover, it didn’t take long for an agreeable £135 discount to be offered. Why couldn’t they have done so in the first place? This sector is as bad as the energy industry.

SIXTY years after his late grandfather Michael won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, jump jockey Tom Scudamore was hoping to do the same aboard the talented Thistlecrack.

Yet, when steeplechasing’s crackerjack was ruled out this week by a tendon injury, the rider’s thoughts turned to the trainer, owners and – most pertinently of all – the stable staff who invest so much time and love into each and every racehorse in their care. Their dreams, too, have been dashed.

It was an eloquent reminder that the Sport of Kings, and all its inherent risks, is the ultimate team sport.

LIKE you, I assume BBC 5 Live presenters now have a staff competition to see who can misuse the word ‘absolutely’ on the most number of occasions – the pacesetting George Riley managed to describe Manchester City’s 5-3 Champions League win as “absolutely sensational” and the side’s defending as “absolutely all over the place” in his opening gambit.

Long gone are the days when consummate sports broadcasters like Peter Jones, Bryon Butler and, more recently, John Inverdale, were able to provide listeners with word pictures.