There are a number of very disturbing headlines circulating that report that Dominic Cummings, advisor to Johnson, said, in response to disgusting attacks on our elected representatives MPs will stop getting threats and abuse if they “respect” the EU referendum result.
None of the reports use quotation marks that I can see so I assume these headlines are a precis or intepretation of words that are a direct quotation: “If you are a bunch of politicians and say that we swear we are going to respect the result of a democratic vote, and then after you lose you say, we don’t want to respect that vote, what do you expect to happen?”
I know what I expect to happen. I expect criticism with civility. I do not expect death threats. I expect the Prime Minister, his Government and his advisors who speak on his behalf, to lead by example and avoid aggressive dog-whistle rhetoric. I do not expect the effective Chief of Staff of No.10 to issue what amounts to threatening statements towards MPs.
There is a difference between the headline summaries and a verbatim quote of what Cummings seems to have actually said. If the headlines are correct then it is possibly the most disgusting and disgraceful statement ever to have come from an official source in my lifetime. It kind of suggests that someone is in control of, organising the threats and abuse, and if that person gets their way then they will call the dogs off. If the threats and abuse are not being coordinated how can Cummings possibly know that they will cease once the UK leaves the EU. Which also begs the question as to who is coordinating the threats and abuse. Maybe it isn’t coordination; perhaps it is encouragement or merely tolerance of abhorrent behaviour. There is a temptation to wonder whether “fake news” is involved in the reporting, except that the same headlines and conclusions appear in the far right popularist press as are reported in the more liberal media.
If the quote attributed to Cummings is a better reflection of his views, is that any better? Cummings actually undermines his own opinions. He apparently said both Leave and Remain campaigners have faced ‘serious threats’ of violence, which he said should be taken seriously. Well if implementing Leave solves the problem then Leave campaigners wouldn’t be the victims of the threats and abuse. Beyond that, no, as representative of the Government he should be condemning threatening behaviour, making it clear that it is illegal and the police will pursue those responsible, and saying that the expectation of the Government and civilised society is that differences are reconciled by discussion not by threats.
Cummings, as the architect of the current bear-baiting atmosphere in Parliament, must be relieved of all public responsibilities. I would personally like to see an investigation into whether any of his pronouncements amount to encouraging crime under the Serious Crime Act 2007.
Cummings aside, the inflammatory language of the Prime Minister and his Ministers is beyond the pale. If I have a criticism of Speaker Bercow at the moment, it is that he permits this language in the House of Commons on the grounds that it is not disorderly. Mr Speaker Bercow, you can leave a legacy by establishing a new precedent that members will not use inflammatory and uncivil language towards one another. How can “liar” be banned when “betrayer” is permitted.
I tried to think back over 50 years of being interested in politics and politicians. Enoch Powell and his Rivers of Blood speech was the only instance of such extreme inflammatory language I could think of. And Powell was dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet as a result. Wilson, Heath, Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair, Brown, Cameron, May – all have made cutting remarks about opponents, and have struggled at times to retain their temper, but none would ever stoop anywhere near as low as Johnson has this week, egged on by Cummings, and backed by this week’s lead apologist “Not So” Cleverley. Johnson has demeaned his office and is not fit to remain in his post. Even Amber Rudd, until very recently a close Johnson ally and personal friend, has turned on him and her conclusion is damning. In fact, if Rudd is right, then the police also need to be investigating Johnson for potentially encouraging the commission of a crime.
One last thing to remember in this affair. Whilst the abuse is real and the threats must be taken seriously, the perpetrators form a minute, almost imperceptible, proportion of the people of this country, even people angry at the lack of movement towards leaving the EU. The vast majority of people of all views are decent and would never dream of issuing threats or shouting abuse. Even 1 in 10,000 is 1 too many and these extremists must be prosecuted and jailed. But we are not on the verge of civil war or the collapse of society.