Nick Baines, the Bishop of Leeds, suggests the “lack of any legal or political restraint” has fuelled an increase in “violent bile” in the three years since the murder of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox during the EU referendum.
His urgent call for MPs and peers to lead by example in their response came as Theresa May’s Cabinet prepares for a crucial meeting today ahead of the May 23 poll as public support for the Tories appears to be evaporating.
Ministers will receive an update on cross-party talks with Labour as senior Opposition figures, headed by deputy leader Tom Watson and Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, increase pressure for a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal.
Their intervention prompted former Ukip leader Nigel Farage, now heading the Brexit Party, to warn that Labour was “vulnerable in the most extraordinary way” in its Northern heartlands as he campaigned across in Leave-supporting areas in West Yorkshire.
But Mr Baines, speaking out in the House of Lords, warned that the coarsening of rhetoric on the political extremes will make it harder for Britain to unite once its future relationship with the European Union is settled.
“Classic populist language, of left or right, uses simple slogans, divisive negativity and visceral emotional pull,” said Mr Baines who worked as a linguist for GCHQ prior to his ordination.
“The accuracy, factuality or truth of what is said is irrelevant. Such language is powerful and effective - it works. It is also apparently unaccountable. What are Nigel Farage’s policies for the construction of a post-Brexit United Kingdom?”
Speaking out six months after Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, intervened over the Brexit debate and said “the work of politics is to find workable and just compromises”, Mr Baines is the latest church leader to express deep misgivings about the “toxic” and hate-filled tone of political discussion after a number of MPs revealed that they had been forced to take additional security precautions in recent weeks.
He also cited a Ukip candidate’s offensive tweet when he warned: “Jess Phillips MP was openly spoken of in terms of when rape might be deemed OK. People are voicing violence that would have been deemed unacceptable three or four years ago, but which now is normal. This poses a danger to our democracy and corrupts the nature of our common life.”
The Bishop said the UK was “witnessing a trading in the language of victimhood” over Brexit as he called for people who use reckless language to be held “publicly accountable”.
Calling for effective “counter-narratives” to confront the politics of hate, he appealed to all politicians: “We might be entering a dark age in these matters, but we can put our own house in order and lead by example. We need strategies for addressing this, and we need to start here, with politicians, in Parliament.”
Make PMQs less ‘rowdy’, says Minister
PRIME MINISTER’S Questions should become less rowdy, according to one of Theresa May’s Ministers.
Lord Young of Cookham made the plea in his response to the Bishop of Leeds, and others, who expressed fears about the tone of debate.
He said PMQs “could be a better advertisement for the political process if the context was less rowdy”, adding: “I admire the way the Prime Minister handles this bear-pit with dignity, and I suspect it is not how she would prefer to conduct political discourse.
“I hope at some point it might be reset, retaining it as the forum of political debate but without the concomitant uproar.”