Principles of Democracy and the Rights of the Electorate

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 4:18 pm on 26th September 2019.

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Photo of Bob Seely Bob Seely Conservative, Isle of Wight 4:18 pm, 26th September 2019

I have to say that it has been a pretty bad-natured 24 hours and, as far as I can see, a fairly bad-natured two years, so I will try to make some fairly blunt points, but I will do so in moderated and moderate language.

I do not think I am above anybody, and I am happy to be criticised; actually, I try to judge my own party more harshly and to have higher standards than others, because I think that is a good way to conduct oneself.

I am a big fan of democracy, because my parents’ lives were shaped by tyranny. My British granddad was burned alive in his tank in 1942, killed at the hands of the Nazis, and my German grandmum was killed by the Soviets, so the Nazis killed one of my grandparents and the Soviets killed another. I am lucky that I live in a democracy, and I hope I always respect and appreciate that.

Mrs Moon talked about threats. I say just for the record—this is not a competition with anybody—that the last threat to my health and safety that had to be reported to the police was last week. I do not make a song and dance about it. I do not make out that I am a victim. I do not use it for political capital. I make sure my staff are okay, we report it to the police and we crack on. I take is as part of the job, but I do not become a diva about it. At various points in my life—as a foreign correspondent, as a soldier, as a Member of Parliament—I have had people try to kill or harm me, or tell me they are going to kill me or harm me. I am delighted to say that so far they have been unsuccessful, and I am content for that to continue.

As to rules of public debate, I think that public debate should be conducted in good faith. A critical element of that is that those who lose elections and referendums need to respect the results. This Parliament is trying to worm its way out of that fundamental issue of respecting the 2016 mandate. I congratulate Cat Smith on her speech, but for me it was simply more of the same: “The European Union vote was not about the European Union.” I think that it was. There is one thing that is worse than that vote for remainers—I am a Brexiteer and am happy to leave—and that is not respecting that vote, because the contempt of the British people for the political classes will simply grow.

I believe that the language of this place needs to be temperate. We have seen, I am afraid to say, months of poisonous and hysterical language—often from the left, but not always—about coups and dictatorships, and a level of personal abuse aimed at this Prime Minister unseen since the days of Mrs Thatcher. [Interruption.] I am happy to give way to Lloyd Russell-Moyle if he would like. I have found that language to be entirely corrosive to the public debate.

Jess Phillips, whom I admire and think is a decent representative, has talked about knifing her own leader in the front. That is violent imagery. Today, Neil Coyle tweeted to Piers Morgan:

“It’s early doors Piers but I say this hand on heart: go”— eff—

“yourself. You’re a waste of space, air and skin. Trying to use Jo against us whilst encouraging the fascists is shocking even for a scrote like you. You make me sick.”

That is an MP engaging in political debate now. I have seen a lot of the literature that came out of the Labour party conference. There was, “How to get rid of Tom Watson”, who is a “treacherous incumbent”. I will not even begin to talk about the debate on antisemitism.

There is a problem with the left in this country. There is a problem with the hard-Brexit right—not in Parliament, but on the fringes UKIP for sure—but there is a problem with the left about moral purity. Some Opposition Members are seeing that in the deselection campaigns that are being fought against them. We make no such claim of moral purity. For us, politics is not about moral purity; it is about doing the best job we can. Personally, I think people on the other side of the House are generally wrong, but I do not subscribe to them a moral motive; I do not believe they are immoral.

Fundamentally, too much politics in the modern day is about moral purity and finding moral benefit over other people, which I think is profoundly wrong. Respecting each other but thinking that we can do a better job than those on the other side of the House is the way to make progress in a democracy. There is a corrosive debate in the Labour party, which is affecting not only the futures of Opposition Members but politics in general, and it needs to end.