United Kingdom

Alison Rowat: The Speaker is right, political conversation must be kinder

WITH a fortnight to go until the world comes to Glasgow to talk climate change, it was reasonable to assume the Sunday shows would be taking a more global look at politics this week.

Then, on Friday, came a tragedy closer to home with the killing of Sir David Amess MP. With that the focus switched to politicians’ safety and the general temperature of political discourse in the UK today.

“There are few phrases more often and glibly used than ‘It’s an attack on democracy’,” said Andrew Marr in his intro. “But this week that is exactly what it was.”

Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday interviewed Priti Patel, the Home Secretary. The Minister was pictured in the Sunday papers paying her respects to Sir David in his Southend West constituency, alongside the Prime Minister, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and the Commons speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

Ms Patel said MPs were part of the “the fabric, the DNA of society, our democracy”, while acknowledging that a lot had changed.

The murder of Jo Cox MP in 2016, and other incidents, had led MPs to think again about security. “We have all changed our ways of working because of changing concerns, threats in society.”

But she added: “This should never ever break that link between an elected representative and their democratic role, responsibility and duty to the people who elected them.”

Asked if she would ban anonymity on Twitter as one way of tackling online abuse, she said: “I want us to look at everything. We can’t carry on like this.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Lisa Nandy said the difficulty with a blanket ban on anonymity was that it risked exposing whistleblowers, pro-democracy activists and others.

The dangers faced by some MPs were outlined by the Conservative MP for Romford, Andrew Rosindell. He told Phillips that his office had been the subject of an arson attack, his car was smashed and someone tried to get into his house.

“I’ve been an MP 20 years, and during that period I see a lot of more nasty people around than ever before, and they are willing to say and do things in a way that I would never have thought possible in this country. We all have to be really aware and keep our wits about us.”

Marr asked Ms Nandy if she felt safe working in her constituency. “No, not really,” said the Wigan MP.

The response to MPs’ security concerns had been “far too patchy”, she added. “We can’t afford to get into a place where we are all trying to out do each other about the risks we are prepared to do this job – an attack on MPs is an attack on democracy because it silences the people who we represent, so we have to take this more seriously.”

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said protection should be offered to MPs who felt at risk, and that he expected this would happen in the next few days.

Writing in the Observer and the Mail on Sunday, the Commons Speaker said he did not want to see an end to face-to-face meetings with constituents.

“If anything positive is to come out of this awful latest tragedy is that the quality of political discourse has to change, wrote Sir Lindsay Hoyle. “The conversation has to be kinder and based on respect. This incident has shown that there is unity across the political divide in support of democracy. The hate, which drives these attacks, has to end.”

Part of the earlier schedule survived on Marr in the form of interviews with Philip Reeker, America’s chargé d’affaires to the UK, and Andrey Kelin, the Russian ambassador.

Marr’s mind was on COP26 in Glasgow and who would be attending. It is the question many are asking, including the Queen, who was overheard talking about COP last week at the opening of the Welsh Parliament. “Still don’t know who is coming,” said the Queen. “No idea. We only know about people who are not coming … and it’s really irritating when they talk, but they won’t do.”

Among the no-shows looks set to be President Xi Jinping of China.

Ambassador Kelin said a decision had not been taken yet on whether President Putin would be in Glasgow, which seemed a diplomatic way of saying “no”.

With both Presidents not attending the gathering beside the Clyde will be watered down further.

One President who will definitely be there is Joe Biden, said the American ambassador. Indeed, with Barack Obama returning his rsvp as well, that makes two US Presidents.

In his sit-down with the Russian ambassador, Marr asked about Sarah Rainsford, the BBC’s Moscow correspondent, who was expelled from Russia earlier this year. Border guards told her she could not enter the country because she was deemed a threat to the security of Russia.

According to the ambassador, Rainsford was expelled because Russian journalists in the UK had been “very badly treated” in that they had been asked to leave a year earlier. Russia expected that decision to be reversed, said Mr Kelin, and the BBC reporter had been told she could return as soon as the Tass news agency correspondent received their visa to enter the UK.

Times and climates and guest lists may change, but the tit for tat of Cold War days lives on.



File source

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