The cry-bully debating strategy is a disgustingly cynical and manipulative bad faith debating tactic that is becoming increasingly common in UK political discourse.
In this article I'm going to describe what cry-bully tactics are in the context of the lamentable decline in the standards of political debate, and then detail some of the worst offenders.
Bad Faith vs Good Faith debating tactics
The vilification of Jeremy Corbyn after the EU referendum debate for daring to treat the electorate like adults by presenting a considered fact-based case for remaining in the UK is evidence that in modern politics good faith debating tactics are considered "useless", "inept", "lacklustre", "half-hearted" and all of the other criticisms hurled at him.
What people apparently wanted from Corbyn was more of the kind of manipulative absolutist propaganda that the rest of the political class were spewing. They didn't want him to treat the electorate like adults, they wanted him to treat us like a bunch of sub-juvenile halfwits who can be goaded into supporting one position or the other through fearmongering, false promises, threats, naive wishful thinking, flag-waving and a great big mound of outright lies.
Political debate has been so corrupted that people haven't just become normalised to bad faith debating tactics, bad faith is now so ubiquitous that people react with horror and derision when they notice someone like Jeremy Corbyn who actually uses good faith debating tactics.
There are all manner of bad faith debating tactics, but one the most disgusting of all is the cry-bully strategy. This deeply cynical and desperately hypocritical tactic entails goading people with a barrage of insults and smears, then reacting with synthetic outrage when someone eventually retorts in kind with insults of their own.
One of the things that makes cry-bully tactics so effective is that the people using them are usually professional writers or media trained politicians, which means they're adept at finding ways of structuring their insults to really wind people up without resorting to foul language or actual threats, while a certain percentage of the people they infuriate with their insults are bound to be nowhere near as well-educated and articulate, meaning they will retort by slinging abuse laden insults at them.
Cry-bullies are basically above-the-line trolls who deliberately wind up large cohorts of people in order to fish for insults in order to then shriek "look at the abuse I'm suffering" to smear everyone within the cohort of people that they insulted first.
The ex-Guardian columnist Alex Andreou gave a masterclass in cry-bully tactics in his Acid Attack article against Jeremy Corbyn and anyone who supports him. The article was absolutely full of smears and insults aimed at riling up anyone who is sympathetic to Jeremy Corbyn, but the article was book-ended with complaints about how he's been bullied for expressing his anti-Corbyn views, and how it's all been so stressful that he had to take a "Twitter break" over it.
Funnily enough Andreou's "Twitter break" didn't stop him from turning up on the Another Angry Voice Facebook page to sling insulting generalisations at everyone who follows my work and to make defamatory claims that I'd falsely attributed quotes to him in my critique of his article (a claim he was far too much of a coward to retract and apologise for after I clearly disproved it).
Apparently it's absolutely fine for members of the punditariat class like Andreou to deliberately wind people up by insulting them and their ideas, to dismiss all criticisms of these utterly cynical tactics by labelling them "nothing but seething abuse" and to deliberately make defamatory accusations in desperate efforts to discredit their debating opponents, but anyone who gets angry with them and retorts in kind is held up as evidence that all Corbynistas are nasty aggressive bullies.
Michael Foster is the millionaire Labour Party donor who tried to get Jeremy Corbyn barred from the Labour leadership election. After his effort to use the courts to oust Corbyn was thwarted he wrote an extraordinary diatribe for the Daily Mail entitled "Why I despise Jeremy Corbyn and his Nazi stormtroopers".
In his article he called all Jeremy Corbyn supporters "bullies", "arrivistas", "a divisive, aggressive holier-than-thou cadre of hard-Left socialists", "bullies and arm-twisters", "economically illiterate people", "a mob", "second-rate minds", "the extreme left" and "Nazi stormtroopers" who are guilty of "wave after wave of inappropriate, democratically damaging and wrongful actions".
After writing an insult laden diatribe like that he had the absolute gall to complain that Corbyn supporters are bullies based on pathetically weak stuff like lies about that notorious brick (you know, the one that wasn't actually thrown through Angela Eagle's constituency office window at all).
Andreou's article was a clear example of cry-bulling, but Foster's article went so much further it's actually quite extraordinary. Imagine the kind of gullible fool it would take to mindlessly accept that the guy slurring his political opponents as "Nazis" in the Daily Mail (of all places) is the innocent victim, while the hundreds of thousands of ordinary people on the other end of this appalling public smear (with no massive mainstream media platform of their own to sling insults, even if they wanted to) are the nasty bullies!
Sadly a lot of people are that gullible, otherwise cry-bully tactics wouldn't work and would be widely held up to ridicule in the mainstream press, instead of the job being left to independent bloggers like me.
The Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland has been having a spectacular Twitter meltdown which includes repeatedly yelling "entryist" at people (including lifelong Labour voters), calling for a Stalinist style purge of left-wingers from the Labour Party and blocking thousands of accounts (including me, Harry Leslie Smith, Tom Pride, Owen Jones, The Morning Star and huge numbers of people who have never even interacted with him!).
Blenkinsop is clearly using cry-bully tactics. The vitriol on his Twitter feed is extraordinarily provocative and it's no wonder it's made a number of people absolutely furious.
The only messages Blenkinsop ever draws attention to by replying to them are the tiny minority that include insults or abusive words and phrases. He has received hundreds of politely worded messages questioning his behaviour, but he just instantly blocks them all. Just check out the #BlockedbyBlenkinsop and #Blenkinblocked Twitter hashtags to see how many people he's been blocking.
It's bad enough that coup-supporting political pundits and a major Labour party donor have been using cry-bully tactics, but it's absolutely outrageous to see an actual Labour MP deliberately riling Labour Party members and voters with a torrent of insults and smears, then cherry-picking only the tiny minority of abusive replies in order to cry about the abuse he's suffering.
The three examples above are all Anyone But Corbyn coup-supporters, which certainly makes it look like there's a concerted effort to use cry-bully tactics to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, but there are plenty of other non-Labour cry-bullies out there too.
One of the most glaring examples of cry-bully tactics happened when a notorious right-wing attention-seeking troll woman (who I have sworn never to name on this blog) read out a selection of mean Tweets that people have sent her. This woman has insulted pretty much everyone on the face of the planet with her attention-seeking right-wing diatribes, so crying about the abuse people send back to her is an absolutely blatant display of cry-bully hypocrisy.
The cry-bully strategy is increasingly common in wider-UK politics thanks to the Anyone But Corbyn coup-plotters, but the people of Scotland are much more familiar with it because the Scottish columnist David Torrance is an absolute master of slinging insults at huge cohorts of people then crying for sympathy when a minority of the people who argue back use insulting words and phrases.
Torrance's use of cry-bully tactics was brilliantly skewered by Stuart Campbell in an article entitled "The Formula". This section relies heavily on the points raised in that article. I strongly advise you to read it for yourself, it really is one of the most devastating take-downs I've seen in years.
Torrance loves to insult people. In one article he referred to all Scottish nationalists, Leave voters and Corbyn supporters as "utterly vacuous". Not just some of them, but all of them. Every single one of them.
The maths is a bit complicated because there is some overlap between the three groups, but it's clear that Torrance has called something like three quarters of the entire Scottish population "utterly vacuous".
Insulting as many people as possible is a very good strategy for provoking angry insult laden diatribes in response so that you can cry about all the abuse that horrible "cyber-nats", "Bexiters" and "Corbynistas" are slinging at you, and imply that it's representative of all of the people you insulted, rather than just the tiny minority who swallowed the bait.
After years of using his public platform to sling abuse at all kinds of people, retweeting severe misogynistic abuse, gratuitously comparing people to Donald Trump, and taking people's words completely out of context to score lame political points, Torrance decided to flounce off Twitter and then write an article for the (Rupert Murdoch owned) Times about the trauma of being supposedly bullied off Twitter.
Stuart Campbell explains that when using Torrance style cry-bully tactics it’s important to "emphasise that it’s never your fault for being wrong or deliberately provocative, of course. None of the subjects of your attacks, whether they be powerful politicians or powerless members of the public are ever permitted legitimate anger in reaction to your provocation. They must simply endure it forever in meek silence, even when they’ve been obliged to pay for it through a legally-enforced licence fee. They must ON NO ACCOUNT call you a 'disgruntled walnut' or 'angry Weetabix', for example. The vacuous, dishonest, stupid, bullying cultist cyber-scum".
Campbell concludes his article about Torrance's cry-bully formula with a couple of useful observations:
"The political landscape is shifting faster than anyone can keep up with, and those who see themselves as gatekeepers, interpreting events for the benefit of the poor dumb plebs live in terror of being rendered obsolete by change and by ridicule. Any voices ranged against them must be tainted and discredited, painted as a vicious lynchmob of thugs and bullies ... so expect this routine to be played out many more times over the coming months and years (not just against Scottish independence, but also Jeremy Corbyn and anything else perceived as a threat to the existing order). Because the one thing that can never be allowed to happen is normal people being allowed to speak and think for themselves".
Dealing with cry-bullies
The conclusion is simple. Cry-bullies are appallingly manipulative people. Beware of giving them what they want by retorting to their abuse with insults of your own, because if you do, you're giving them precisely what they're fishing for. You're handing them exactly the ammunition they're looking for to attack you, your ideas, and anyone they care to identify you with.
It's often best to just ignore cry-bullies, but if you do feel compelled to respond to a journalist or politician who has taken to slinging insults in the hope of goading people into insulting them back, it's vital to stay calm.
An "I can see what you're doing" response is one of the best approaches. You could calmly identify the insults and smears they've used, then explain that you know that they're just using such insults in order to provoke inarticulate people into slinging insults back at them so that they can then start crying about the terrible "abuse" they're suffering.
Once they've been rumbled like this. other people can become aware of their cynical and manipulative cry-bully tactics, and any abuse that does get thrown back at them elsewhere in the comments can be seen in its proper context.
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