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Respect for Politicians

By Joshua Brady

Politicians: We all like to take a jab at them. Whether it’s through a friendly joke or a scathing critique of their policy, there seems to be something satisfying about seeing the politicians we dislike look foolish, or making them look with our own words. Perhaps this applies to all those who we may dislike and perceive as authority figures, it could be bosses, teachers, law enforcement, and yes, politicians. Not to imply that the others don’t deserve respect, but I find there is something rather unique about politicians which merits respect from all they serve.

Take, for example, Diane Abbott and Boris Johnson. Two very different politicians with one key similarity, they have both received a large amount of online abuse. By no means are these the only politicians to receive such abuse on such a scale, but they are notable figures and good examples of the disrespect faced by MPs.

However, before analysing this abuse, it must be known why the abuse happens. What causes a person to take to vile language and childish rudeness to express their discontent with an MP? With Boris Johnson, there are a few main reasons that I see.

Firstly, his policies. His conservative approach to government, wherever he may find himself, Foreign Office or Mayor of London, naturally annoys the people who disagree with that approach, and many who disagree vent their annoyance through insults online. Secondly his offensive remarks, such as the assessment that ‘Liverpudlians wallow in their victimhood’ when writing for The Spectator in 2004, or when he compared EU plans for federalisation to Hitler’s plan of a Nazi superstate when writing for The Telegraph in May this year. Thirdly, I find that the reason people are so casual about insults online that they wouldn’t utter in real life is because of a lack of repercussions. People will mostly act however they please if there are no consequences for their actions. This lack of consequences is definitely having an effect on insults online: Boris Johnson’s twitter timeline was composed of 9.3% offensive tweets in 2017.

The reasons for abuse against Diane Abbott are similar, but there are some large differences. Although she has still made remarks which have merited harsh criticism and caused insult to her, such as saying ‘On balance, Mao did more good than harm’ on This Week in 2008, and her tweet which said ‘White people love playing divide and rule’ in 2012, much of the insults made against Diane Abbott aren’t in relation to her policy or as a response to her offensive comments, it’s unwarranted offensive comments made towards her. These comments are usually made because the author of the comment is racist, and sees Diane Abbott as a good target for such racism.

So why do our MPS deserve our respect after all, regardless of whether or not we agree with them? I think a chief reason for respecting our MPs is because of the nature of political discourse itself, and the effect our input has on it. Although political discourse is mainly dominated by our parliamentary representatives, what we say to our representatives is bound to affect their opinions. If the right wing is “acting nasty” towards a left wing politician, the left wing politician will probably begin to associate the right wing with nastiness more than they did previously. This may cause the left wing politician to automatically disregard right wingers before they have a chance to explain their views. This can go both ways, and when it does, it leads to political polarisation: a state in which the politics of a country is divided between two very opposed sides who cannot and will not meet halfway. We already see this among some members of the electorate due to social media influence, so it is not unlikely that social media influence will have the same effect on politicians if such disrespect continues.

They also deserve our respect for the contribution they make to our nation and its democracy. Boris Johnson, despite what ones opinion of him may be, introduced free travel on public transport for veterans as mayor of London, and oversaw the success that was the 2012 Olympic Games. Diane Abbott was the first ever black female MP in Britain, which was an incredibly brave move in the 80s, and was a large step forward for more proportional representation within Westminster, and has been a powerful voice in the discussions on abortion rights and the Windrush scandal.

At the end of the day, we should remember that MPs are servants of the people, and that it’s only polite of us to be respectful to those who serve us, even if they aren’t always serving us well.