Of course nobody deserves to suffer abuse, intimidation or death threats for expressing their political views.
It seems ludicrous that I should even have to point this out because everyone who follows my work knows that I never advocate violence or abuse. The reason it's necessary to start out like this is that we've all seen the deeply cynical attempts by certain people to use appalling examples of abuse from members of the public to smear their political adversaries with, so starting with such a disclaimer is sadly necessary.
One of the worst offenders at politically weaponising abusive messages to smear their political adversaries is the Labour MP Ruth Smeeth who was the victim of a vile homophobic anti-Semitic Facebook rant posted by an unknown person in July 2016.
The police are investigating the message, and rightly so. Here's what they have said:
"On Wednesday, 13 July, allegations of malicious communication and threats to kill made via social media were reported to the Metropolitan Police Service, After an assessment, an investigation was started by the Met's Counter Terrorism Command in liaison with the Parliamentary & Diplomatic Protection Command. That investigation is ongoing. At this stage, whilst there have been no arrests, a number of lines of enquiry are being actively pursued."This statement makes it absolutely clear that the police don't yet have a suspect. Nobody knows who is responsible for this appalling Facebook comment, but that has not stopped Ruth Smeeth from capitalising on the incident to attack Jeremy Corbyn, and handing the mainstream media yet another attack point to damage Corbyn and the entire labour movement with.
Even though she has no evidence at all about who sent the abuse, and absolutely nothing to suggest that anyone within the Labour Party was responsible, Smeeth has decided to politically weaponise the abuse by loading personal responsibility for the attack onto her own party leader in an interview with Rupert Murdoch's right-wing propaganda rag the S*n.
Instead of condemning the person who actually sent the message she told the S*n "I very much hold Jeremy personally responsible".
There are several factors that make Smeeth's opportunism particularly distasteful.
- Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly spoken out against abusive behaviour. Casting personal blame for abuse and threats on someone who always tries to use good faith debating tactics and repeatedly speaks out against abusive behaviour is extraordinary stuff.
- Using an abusive Facebook comment as an excuse to attack Jeremy Corbyn is particularly distasteful in a week when Corbyn himself was sent an explicit beaheading death-threat against him and his family members. Corbyn was also targeted with another explicit death threat in the same week that the Facebook comment about Smeeth was posted. In trying to make out Corbyn is responsible for the political atmosphere that has resulted in numerous death threats being sent to Corbyn himself, Smeeth is putting on an extraordinary display of victim-blaming.
- Smeeth has no evidence whatever that the abusive comments came from a genuine Jeremy Corbyn supporter. In fact, an awful lot of previous examples of death threats (1 , 2, 3) and attacks against Labour MPs suggest a pattern of radicalised right-wing extremism.
- Another strong indicator that the abusive message is likely to have come from a radicalised right-winger is the threat of hanging. The gallows motif and and fantasies about conducting lynch mob hangings are extremely common in the Britain First hate group. On the other hand Momentum activists and the vast majority of genuine Jeremy Corbyn supporters are social liberals who strongly oppose the death penalty.
- Yet another indicator that the perpetrator has fanatically right-wing political sympathies is the bizarre effort to defend the reputation of the Nazi propagandist Lord Haw-Haw towards the end of the rant. You don't have to know very much about politics to realise that Corbyn and Lord Haw-Haw are on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
- The rambling conspiracy theory riddled Facebook diatribe that calls for Smeeth to be hung by the state for treason is appallingly abusive, but in the scale of death threats, it's actually significantly less serious than the explicit beheading threat that was emailed to Jeremy Corbyn and some twenty five other MPs this week.
- Corbyn clearly can't be blamed for the rise of violent right-wing extremism (which has been increasing dramatically since long before he became Labour Party leader) or the sending of death threats to MPs (including several to himself), but part of the blame must surely fall on the S*n newspaper. Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly used his propaganda empire to foster hatred, divisiveness, extreme-right politics, xenophobia, Islamophobia and the even the lynch mob mentality. Surely people haven't already forgotten the disgraceful outright lies the S*n published on their front page in an effort to stoke up hatred against British Muslims?
- Sticking with the theme of the S*n using bogus headlines to spread hatred, the article that Smeeth contributed to was misleadingly entitled "Counter terror cops hunt foul-mouthed Jeremy Corbyn supporter who launched a vile tirade threatening to HANG moderate Labour MP Ruth Smeeth". This explicit headline claim that the perpetrator is a Corbyn supporter is totally contradicted by the counter terrorism cops openly stating that they don't yet have a suspect.
- Instead of trying to calm the situation, Smeeth has deliberately stoked the fire by contributing to the S*n's efforts to promote hatred by spreading more of their lies, which is absolutely appalling behaviour for a former director of Hope Not Hate. Nobody who genuinely opposes hatemongering would read the S*n, let alone feed quotes to them.
This is quite an extraordinary stance from a newspaper that has harped on about the importance of personal responsibility for decades. According the the S*n it's vital that everyone takes responsibility for their own actions, unless of course they're sending vile messages and death threats to MPs, in which case it's all Jeremy Corbyn's fault, even if he's one of the MPs being threatened with beheading!
According to S*n "logic", if anyone else sends Jeremy Corbyn a death threat, that's proof that he's unfit to lead the Labour Party!
Smeeth added to the calls for Corbyn to do the impossible by telling the S*n that "I expect Jeremy to show true leadership, which means calling out individuals at times by name to say what they are doing it is unacceptable", which would be difficult in her case because even the police haven't been able to establish the identity of the abuser. It would also be difficult for Corbyn to call out by name the person who threatened to kill him and his family, because they're as yet unknown to the police too.
Instead of looking at the real causes of the toxified political environment (stuff like hatemongering front page headline lies in the S*n, the constant xenophobia of the Express, the Britain First hate-fest ...) Smeeth has decided to weaponise a disgusting Facebook rant about her to attack Jeremy Corbyn.
The fact that Corbyn was the victim of a very much more explicit death threat this week doesn't seem to have crossed her mind at all. Otherwise she might have considered the victim-blaming angle of trying to hold Corbyn "personally responsible" for the spate of threats and abuse against MPs.
She clearly doesn't actually care all that much about the problem of abuse and threats against MPs, she just sees it all as convenient ammunition to continue waging her petty vendetta against Jeremy Corbyn.
It's a remarkably cynical strategy because Smeeth knows that most people will be afraid of criticising her brazen opportunism out of fear of being seen to attack a victim of abuse, but what she's ignoring is that in attacking Jeremy Corbyn and explicitly blaming him for this spate of threats and abuse against politicians, she's clearly and undeniably attacking a victim of even more vile and disgusting abuse than the Facebook rant about her.
Pointing out that Smeeth is being extraordinarily cynical isn't condoning the abuse she received, and neither is it blaming her for having received it, but in helping the S*n to cast the blame for this unacceptable spate of abuse and death threats against MPs entirely onto Jeremy Corbyn, she's undeniably guilty of victim-blaming.
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* = If anyone within the SNP had taken Tory cash in order to bankroll a campaign against the official SNP position it's beyond doubt that they would be facing disciplinary procedures. The fact that the Labour Leave people who decided to use Tory cash to undermine the Labour leadership are not facing disciplinary procedures is quite extraordinary.