As a former teacher, preventing (and if that failed, responding to) bullying is something that has been very important to me for a long time. I have, therefore, viewed with interest the many media reports of bullying in our party over the last ten days.
There have been reports of MPs receiving e-mails urging them to vote against extending the bombing campaign in to Syria and 'threatening' them with deselection if they decided to vote in favour of bombing; there were reports on the BBC that Stella Creasey's constituency office and her home were under-siege by demonstrators 'intending to intimidate' her. The following day, when 'reporters' actually bothered to speak to Stella Creasey, they were told that the reports of demonstrations outside her home were incorrect.
The claims that pro-bombing Labour MPs were bullied have been repeated so often by the vast majority of media outlets that I have heard even long-standing party members who should know better repeat some of the comments they have read or heard, but what is the truth of the matter?
According to the Oxford Dictionary,
a 'bully' is someone who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate those who are weaker: while 'to bully' is to use superior strength or influence to intimidate someone, typically to force them to do something.
Clearly, whether or not the MPs were 'bullied' depends on whether or not the people sending them e-mails or, in very rare cases, demonstrating outside constituency offices, had 'superior strength or influence'. Despite the almost universal media accusations of bullying, I have not read or heard of any physical threats being made to any MPs, the threat which has been most widely reported has been that of deselection.
Having been involved in numerous selection procedures over my years in the Labour Party, as well as in other non-political organisations with which I have been involved I think I am fretty well aware of what happens when someone wishes to be selected as a candidate or elected. The candidate or potential candidate does their best to persuade the selection panel or electorate that they are the best person to represent that electorate.
Each candidate will have different qualities to offer, but each must convince the electorate that they will represent them to the best of their ability. Every Labour candidate knows that, while their personal qualities have earned them the selection and, if elected, they will be expected to exercise their judgement, if that judgement is significantly or regularly out of line with those who selected or elected them, they will be replaced by someone else who better represents the views of the local party.
All our MPs should be aware that when they are selected they are being placed in a privileged position and one which carries a lot of responsibility both towards the party members who selected them and (if elected) to the electorate as a whole. What a few of them appear to have forgotten is that they are selected to fight the next election for us – they are not selected to be our candidate for life – and that the same applies whoever they are; Jeremy Corbyn has to convince the members of Islington CLP that he is the best person to represent them, in just the same way as Stella Creasy must convince the members of Walthamstow CLP. I fail to see how reminding someone that they are subject to reselection, can in anyway be classed as bullying.
So, no bullying then. WRONG. I watched part of the debate on television and I saw quite a lot of bullying. In what other context would it not be classed a bullying when an old-age pensioner stands up to explain to a large group of people, most of them considerably younger than him, why, after deep consideration he has decided to maintain a principled position, and is continually booed, hissed, barracked and interrupted for the duration of his speech? Such behaviour would not be tollerated in schoolchildren and, if it were witnessed by OFSTED would, without any need for further investigation lead to a school being classified as Unsatisfactory and probably being placed into Special Measures. Fortunately, the sixty-six year old man in question is an exceptionally strong and courageous man who refused to be intimidated where many others would have been.
Oddly, the English media failed to comment on this blatant attempt to intimidate.
Or maybe it's not so odd after all. Let me just remind you of the Oxford Dictionary definition of Bullying -
'... to use superior strength or influence to intimidate someone…'
There can be little doubt that, over the past few years, people in this country have been more influenced by the media than by anything else.
|Financial Times||219,444||Nikkei (Japan)||Tory|
|Guardian||185,429||Scott Trust Ltd||Lib Dem|
|Sun||1,978,702||News UK (Murdoch)||Tory|
|Times||396,621||News UK (Murdoch)||Tory|
As can be seen, only just over fifteen percent of the print media is Labour supporting. With the exception of The Independent (one percent) the rest of the print media is opposed to the Labour Party and regularly print biased articles which pander to the views of their owners and regular readers or, in the case of The Guardian, seek to subtly undermine Jeremy Corbyn's leadership and the convictions of seventy per cent of our members, in an attempt to move opinion back to the wishy-washy, lack of conviction middle ground that for too long we shared with the Lib Dems and led to a steady decline in our support after 1997.
That, Comrades, is bullying.