SARAH VINE: Abuse of MPs and their families is a modern blood sport 

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By all accounts, Sir David Amess was the gentlest and kindest of men – a veteran public servant who dedicated his life to his constituents. He never harboured ministerial ambitions, preferring to campaign on local issues directly affecting the people he represented. He was old-school: an MP who brought about real change for real people.

I came across him only once, very briefly, years ago, at that most quirky of parliamentary events, the Westminster Dog of the Year show. Sir David loved animals and fought all his life for their welfare.

He and his beloved French bulldog, Vivienne, were hot favourites to win 2021’s contest. ‘If I am feeling down, she lifts my spirits as she is always pleased to see me and she makes me smile,’ he said, adding that she deserved to win ‘because she is an enthusiastic supporter of Southend becoming a city!’

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Now Vivienne and Southend have lost their greatest champion and Parliament mourns the passing of one of its most enduring members. Saddest of all, though, is that his family – Sir David had five children with his wife Julia Arnold – have lost a beloved father and husband.

There truly are some moments when the words can’t reach, and this is one of them. It was the same when the Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered in 2016 in similar circumstances to Sir David, serving her constituents at a surgery in Birstall, West Yorkshire.

An act of senseless brutality that shocks and confuses and calls into question everything we’ve ever believed about the fundamental decency of the human spirit, reminding us that evil really does exist, and that it doesn’t discriminate.

Of course MPs aren’t the only public servants who face violence and threats in the line of duty. Let us not forget men like PC Keith Palmer, who was killed during the 2017 Westminster attack, or PC Andrew Harper, who died in horrific circumstances in 2019.

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But a fatal attack on a MP on a quiet Friday afternoon in a Methodist church is not just a wicked act of violence against an innocent man, it’s also a blow to the very heart and soul of Britain as a liberal democracy.

Tory MP Sir David Amess on his daughter's wedding day, just weeks before he was killed

Tory MP Sir David Amess on his daughter’s wedding day, just weeks before he was killed

Let us not forget men like PC Keith Palmer, who was killed during the 2017 Westminster attack

Let us not forget men like PC Keith Palmer, who was killed during the 2017 Westminster attack

British Politician Jo Cox was murdered by Thomas Mair in similar circumstances in 2016

British Politician Jo Cox was murdered by Thomas Mair in similar circumstances in 2016

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It’s at times like this that all the freedoms and rights we take for granted feel as vulnerable as a single human life. So easily snuffed out by evil or prejudice or just plain insanity, and with them all civilisation and reason.

Because people such as Sir David don’t just represent those who elect them, they represent democracy itself, that most fragile of political systems which, while far from perfect, remains the fairest and most tolerant form of government we’ve got.

Quite simply, our elected representatives are all that stand between us and the kind of despotic, barbaric regimes we see rampaging out of control elsewhere in the world. Without them, we would be at the mercy of corruption and chaos; without them there would be no such thing as justice, only the brutal will of the strongest.

It’s easy to forget that this is the case, especially in a world of cheap headlines and rampant egos of the kind who, like Nick Robinson, think they can tell the Prime Minister to ‘stop talking’ as though he were nothing more than a cocky teenager.

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But then that is what it means to live in a democracy: freedom of expression and the right to challenge authority.

But there is also an irony here. Because it is precisely democracy, and in particular the defence of free speech, that is partly responsible for not only these fatal attacks on MPs, but for the astonishing level of daily abuse and threats that all MPs – and their families – suffer in the course of their work.

It is no coincidence that these attacks have rocketed in intensity since the advent of social media. Unchecked, unregulated and uncensored by the rules that govern traditional media outlets, social media platforms have become breeding grounds for hate, feeding the worst and darkest aspects of the human psyche by allowing abuse and lies to flourish.

Abdicating all responsibility on the grounds that they are not, per se, ‘publishers’, but merely ‘platforms’ – and therefore not responsible for third-party content – they act as cauldrons for extremism and paranoia, disseminating half-truths and bogus conspiracies and allowing certain groups or individuals to be grotesquely misrepresented and vilified. All without acknowledging one iota of responsibility for the outcome.

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This has resulted in a situation where abuse against public figures has not only become a kind of online blood sport, it’s also become thoroughly normalised.

The childish and toxic popularism of individuals such as Angela Rayner (pictured), who seem to think it's OK to call her fellow parliamentarians 'homophobic, racist, misogynistic Tory scum' for the sake of a cheap round of applause, means it's not hard to see how, in an unsound or wicked mind, stabbing a defenceless man to death might seem justified, SARAH VINE writes

The childish and toxic popularism of individuals such as Angela Rayner (pictured), who seem to think it’s OK to call her fellow parliamentarians ‘homophobic, racist, misogynistic Tory scum’ for the sake of a cheap round of applause, means it’s not hard to see how, in an unsound or wicked mind, stabbing a defenceless man to death might seem justified, SARAH VINE writes

In the same way that, over the years, online pornography has gradually legitimised violence against women, seeding patterns of toxic behaviour in all areas of life, from pop music to the playground, and culminating in the depraved crimes of men such as Wayne Couzens, so the persistent bile and vitriol aimed at MPs across various social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter eggs on sick individuals, encouraging and – perhaps most importantly – enabling abusive and dangerous behaviour.

Add to that the childish and toxic popularism of individuals such as Angela Rayner, who seem to think it’s OK to call her fellow parliamentarians ‘homophobic, racist, misogynistic Tory scum’ for the sake of a cheap round of applause, and it’s not hard to see how, in an unsound or wicked mind, stabbing a defenceless man to death might seem justified.

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There are now almost no limits to the level of abuse many MPs – and in particular Tory MPs, who are also affected by the vitriolic and desperation-driven tactics of the far Left – now face.

By way of example, take the 18th birthday card addressed to my daughter that popped through the front door earlier this year. With her name and address in multi-coloured childish writing, it looked like something from a cousin or friend.

Excitedly, she opened it. Inside a card that read ’18 today! Yay!’ with a badge attached saying ’18, Woo!’

And inside that, in letters cut out from a magazine or newspaper, the following message: ‘Tell your dad that if he doesn’t [and here I can’t specify for security reasons] he won’t live to see you turn 19. Do not make this public.’

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Of all the many messages of hate and harassment we have as a family received over the years (and believe me, there have been plenty), that one shook me the most.

It was not just that the person had our home address (again, thank you social media and the internet – not to mention whoever it was who daubed it on a wall in Northern Ireland), it was the fact that in seeking to harm my husband, they had chosen to threaten my daughter.

As a mother, that provokes a visceral response. That is someone who doesn’t care they are attacking a wholly blameless 17-year-old, violating her identity and threatening to kill her father if she doesn’t comply with their demands.

They don’t see her as human; to them she is just a legitimate vehicle for their own hatred.

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No matter that now her 18th birthday will always be marred by the memory of that sickly executed death threat, or that a part of her will always live in fear of her father suffering the same terrible fate as kind, sweet, animal-loving Sir David.

Who cares? After all, we are all just ‘scum’, aren’t we, Angela?

No doubt over the next days and weeks there will be much discussion about what is to be done, and how we can ensure the safety of our parliamentarians. I’m afraid it will all come to nothing.

Because unless the public is prepared to pay for all MPs to have enhanced security, which, let’s face it, is unlikely in the current economic climate, you won’t ever stop individuals with hate and determination in their hearts.

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Besides, the enemy here is a far greater one. It’s a culture of loathing and abuse that hangs low like a toxic cloud around all our heads.

It’s a world where someone who dedicates their entire life to helping others can be labelled as ‘scum’, and where political discourse is conducted in 280-character bursts by pond-life who wouldn’t even make it out of the slime were it not for the swamp provided by social media.

Until that changes, nothing will change. All MPs and their families can do is pray for their lost colleagues. And hope that next time it’s not them.

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