Intimidation in Public Life — [Sir Gary Streeter in the Chair]

Part of Secondary School Standards: East Cleveland – in Westminster Hall at 3:23 pm on 21st May 2019.

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Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole 3:23 pm, 21st May 2019

That is absolutely right. While I say I can laugh at it, and I do so because I will not allow those people to get to me, the fact is that that sort of highly personalised abuse would not be tolerated in any other working environment. It would not have been tolerated when I was a school teacher. I certainly would not tolerate it from the pupils, and they would not get it from me. Nor would it be tolerated among other staff or professionals. So, yes, we can laugh about it in one respect, but all that that does is desensitise us to the stuff.

Social media and fake news websites are of course part of the problem. Some of the fake stuff goes on Facebook, and social media are a particularly insidious source. The reason I left Twitter was that after a visit to Israel I was accused of being an agent of Mossad, being paid in shekels, wanting to murder Palestinian children, and all the rest of it. So I decided to leave Twitter, and it was the best thing I ever did for my mental health. The serious point is that with social media we invite this stuff into our home. Reading it sitting at home on a Friday or Saturday night, having had something to eat and a glass of wine or some beer, it starts to have an effect. I realised it was affecting me, and I was obsessing over what was being said. I decided to leave Twitter and social media altogether at that point, and have been happier as a result.

The downside of that, of course, relates to the good I was able to use Twitter for. We have a lot of flooding in my area, and we could use it to get messages out quickly. I lost that direct contact with some of my constituents. That relates to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire made, that the unintended consequence of continued abuse is its potential to distance Members of Parliament from their constituents and the public even more.

Brexit is, of course, a particular source of such abuse, and one tweet that I received recently contained a very rude word. Following an appearance about Brexit on “Brexitcast”, one of the first responses I received was:

“Utter, utter cunts the lot of you, even more stupid than a cunt.”

That is the sort of abuse we are receiving, and it is happening in both directions on this issue. I do not agree with Nigel Farage about many things, but I do not agree with him being abused. Today, however, Chorlton Brewery tweeted to say that, quite apart from throwing a milkshake,

“Hit them over the head with a brick” instead. That is not acceptable. Whatever we think of people such as Mr Farage, or anybody else in politics, encouraging people to commit acts of violence, and hoping to trend on Twitter—that might be the result if anybody is watching this—is not acceptable. We must toughen up the law, but the parties have to act as well. We have all failed to deal with some of our own party members who have been involved in some of this behaviour, and we must get tougher and quicker at addressing that.