The threat to MPs is real. But Michael Gove’s empty extremist plans will do nothing to fix it | Gaby Hinsliff

BBefore entering a public meeting, MP Zarah Sultana, 30, takes a break to record her location and the time. It is a security measure taken on the advice of the police in case they are attacked, and one that too many British politicians facing death threats will recognise. Like the panic buttons by their beds or the instructions to vary the route by which they take the children to school, it is part of the sinister price paid for being in public life. But amid growing tensions over the war between Israel and Gaza, it is Sultana, as a Muslim, woman campaigning passionately for a ceasefire, who became a particular lightning rod for abuse.

She was recently told that she was now the most targeted MP of all the people being monitored, earlier this week she matter-of-factly read some of the most broadcastable messages she receives, for Sky TV cameras. “Send this bitch to Palestine, they no longer have any objectives,” said one.

Sultana later sat next to her friend Diane Abbott as Parliament discussed Tory donor Frank Hester’s donation. Abbott was reported to have said “you want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”, while the Prime Minister squirmed and refused to commit to returning Hester’s money. Almost surreally, the speaker’s inability to let Abbott intervene about her own safety left three men arguing about a woman instead of actually listening to her.

There is something both frightening and exhausting about this end-to-end parliament, seemingly powerless to defend itself against an uncontrollable torrent of hatred coming from all sides – not just from the right or the left, but also from from various wild-eyed racists, misogynists, homophobes and conspiracy theorists. theorists are convinced that municipal traffic calming measures are the start of a plot to install a global dictator – against politicians of all parties and factions. This is not only scary, but exhausting, because it keeps good people away from public engagement on difficult topics and sometimes even politics.

There has been real cross-party sympathy recently for Tory MP Mike Freer, who is considering stepping down after years of appalling threats against himself and his husband became “too much”, and again for Abbott this week, precisely because everyone in Parliament knows it. it could be them tomorrow, if it isn’t already them today. Yet one way or another, Michael Gove’s plans to deal with the dangerous tensions that emerged in the wake of the October 7 attacks – which saw a surge in incidents of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism against members of the public as well as an increase in threats against parliamentarians – have nevertheless managed to transform. a brief flash of unity reduced to ashes.

Three former Conservative home ministers had already taken the highly unusual step of warning the Communities Secretary against politicizing an incredibly sensitive issue, even before he published proposals to refuse government funding or ministerial meetings to any organization promoting “violence, hatred or intolerance” in a way that undermines the situation. democracy but not be illegal.

Although the blacklist will now be finalized by politically neutral civil servants, not ministers, Gove confirmed he would consider groups ranging from the Muslim Association of Britain – currently support a campaign to oust Labor MPs in protest over Keir Starmer’s stance on Gaza – to groups such as Patriotic Alternative, which he accuses of promoting neo-Nazi ideology, advocating for a white ethno-state, and targeting minority groups for intimidation. Since neither is likely to be invited to Whitehall for tea and biscuits any time soon, this feels suspiciously like a political hammer intended to crack an empty shell. Yet it is still a hammer so carelessly aimed that former Tory Home Office ministers have lined up alongside Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway to question the implications for freedom of speech. expression, freedom of association and potential unintended targets such as critical gender activists.

The test of a successful counter-extremist plan should be that ultimately someone like Zarah Sultana can peacefully advocate for a ceasefire without ending up fearing for her life, and just as importantly , other actors in public life should also be able to argue or vote against one without needing police protection. In a healthy democracy, people should be able to differ on sensitive issues without their opponents wishing them dead. But Gove’s plan is now failing in the face of an even more fundamental obstacle, namely Rishi Sunak’s reluctance to take a hard line in the face of apparently inflammatory statements from his own party’s donors.

Would the Conservatives now return the £10 million to Hester, the SNP’s Alison Thewliss asked Gove in parliament. What about Labour’s Sir Paul Marshall Andy Slaughter I wanted to know, who has donated to Gove in the past and was recently caught liking a tweet predicting it was a “It’s only a matter of time before civil war breaks out in Europe» and others calling for mass expulsions of immigrants, supposedly to preserve civilization? Gove dodged the first question and, in response to the second, irritably defended Marshall’s record on educational philanthropy. Yet such questions are not going to go away.

The instinct to blame the other side for inciting hatred or downplaying one’s real fears of intimidation, while bending over backwards to excuse dangerous rhetoric within one’s own ranks, remains the greatest obstacle to unity of political parties against what they all surely now recognize as a common objective. threat. The chances of putting such tribalism aside in the final stages of a parliament certainly seem very low. What is striking, however, is that many of the toughest questions asked of Gove on Thursday came from the Tory benches. If Parliament cannot unite around a fair and effective plan to defuse tensions ahead of what promises to be a bitterly bitter general election, perhaps it can still unite to reject a bad election .

Bir yanıt yazın

E-posta adresiniz yayınlanmayacak. Gerekli alanlar * ile işaretlenmişlerdir