Many years ago I spoke out against the proposed CITES ban on the ivory trade and received a mountain of written abuse. Well over eight hundred letters were delivered to my home and without exception, they could only be classed as Hate Mail.
Few of the letters were signed and although I made a joke about it then and still joke about it occasionally in my elephant talks, those letters hurt. I felt that I was correct in what I said and spoke from the heart, but it seemed unbelievable that so many people seemed to disagree so violently.
I am only glad that this all took place in the late nineteen eighties and not in this horrible internet age or that abuse would have been magnified fifty times over.
Take the Labour MPs who voted for Bunter Johnson’s deal this week. They went against the party whips but voted according to their consciences or the wishes of their constituents, yet they have since been subjected to a torrent of abuse far worse than any of the letters I received way back when. Perhaps this is not surprising in a political party that is plagued by allegations of anti-Semitism and bullying by Momentum thugs but my heart goes out to all of them.
Even though most of them represent Leave-voting constituencies, they have been castigated on social media as ‘vermin,’ ‘drug addicts’ and ‘sex pests.’ For good measure, trolls have also lambasted their constituents as ‘racist scumbags’ for voting to quit the EU.
Among the targets are women and a seventy-two year-old former coal miner and ex-official of the National Union of Mineworkers. Let’s have a look at just a few of the insults thrown at these people by supposedly respectable citizens of a civilised, democratic country.
I have listened to Lisa Nandy a few times on Question Time and although she seems honest, her rabidly anti-conservative stance and refusal to budge in her views has never impressed me. Nandy represents Wigan, a constituency in which sixty-four percent of the voting population voted to leave the EU. Whether I like the lass or agree with her views is immaterial but she does not deserve the torrent of abuse to which she has been subjected.
She has been receiving it for months apparently but after voting with the Government on Tuesday, she received messages such as: ‘You should have your fat arse kicked out of the party. I don’t know how anyone could walk past you without holding their nose. I hope you rot in hell.’ She made this despicable message public as well as one which read: ‘Your utter, selfish, ignorance has just LOST Labour any chance of winning an election.’
Emma Lewell-Buck, the MP for South Shields and a former child protection social worker, said: ‘Remainers and Leavers, not for the first time, are calling me a traitor.’
South Shields had a sixty-two percent vote to leave but Lewell-Buck was told by one troll: ‘Traitor is a bit harsh. You might just be really fucking stupid.’ Another anonymous critic went even further, saying: ‘I’ll get my violin. You think that crying about being called a backstabbing Tory traitor actually equates to fucking this country over by saving the Tories and their Brexit. You should be dragged out of the Labour Party and thrown into the gutter where you belong.’
Charming stuff and I love the wide range of vocabulary used but it gets worse.
Sir Kevin Barron, a former Yorkshire miner and ex-union official is standing down in Rother Valley (sixty-seven per cent Leave) at the next election. He was told: ‘Surely there’s a special place in hell for the likes of you to rot?’
Stephanie Peacock, the MP for Barnsley (sixty-eight per cent Leave) was told: ‘You’ve just voted in concert with the most destructive right-wing government in our history. You have just spat in the faces of my Polish neighbours. You must be so proud that you have supported the most divisive, nasty and anti-workers government since Margaret Thatcher. Shame on you.’
I have admired the down to earth bluntness of John Mann when I have seen him on Question Time but he tells us that Twitter trolls have made him one of their main targets for years because of his persistent criticism of Jeremy Corbyn. The MP for Bassetlaw (sixty-eight per cent Leave) said the abuse he had received in the past few days was the worst yet.
Insults included: ‘Your constituents are mainly racist scumbags.’ Others suggested: ‘You must have sex scandals to hide’ … ‘Hope you get a horrible debilitating illness’ … ‘How can that piece of shit John Mann look at himself in the mirror?’ … ‘He stands for nothing.’ … ‘The last ‘fuck you’ to Labour from that turd John Mann before he slithers off to the House of Lords. He is a disgusting snake with no morals.’
I can only wonder at the mentality of the people who send these hateful messages. Of course, nobody needs to know who they are which I suppose makes them brave enough to do it. Would they say these things to the person’s face? Even in hate-filled Britain at the moment, I doubt it.
Let me give you a few more. There was so much anti-Semitic abuse aimed at Ruth Smeeth, which she says has come from fellow Labour members, she has changed her Twitter handle to try to avoid it.
The forty year old who represents Stoke on Trent North (seventy-two per cent Leave), was called ‘moronic’, a ‘thick bint’ and that she voted for something she ‘had not even understood… why don’t you go the whole hog and join the Tories? May you rot in hell.’
Similar treatment was meted out to thirty-three year old Gareth Snell, in neighbouring Stoke on Trent Central (sixty-five per cent Leave). ‘Why don’t you fuck off now and join Ukip you wanker’ was typical of the messages. Another troll wrote: ‘You are excrement and don’t deserve any place in our party. You disgust me. You are pure, treacherous vermin.’
Caroline Flint, who is the MP for Don Valley (sixty-eight per cent Leave) was deluged with abuse. One brave person – I think they call them trolls but that is an insult to Hans Christian Andersen – said: ‘Are you smoking crack?’ Others said she was ‘doomed,’ ‘either a bit thick or just plain nasty – but you will have blood on your hands’. Or tartly: ‘Resign from the Labour Party and join the Tories where you belong.’
Miss Flint refused to be fazed, saying: ‘I wasn’t elected to Parliament to bow to threats and intimidation. I won’t now.’
Good for you Girl. I might not be on the same side with my political views but I admire your spirit.
Good old Kate Hoey who railed against Mugabe and represents Vauxhall (seventy seven per cent Remain), was called ‘a snake in the swamp’ – which was one of the more printable comments.
Amid such vitriol, it is small wonder that Ms Lewell-Buck despaired that ‘the art of compromise left our country’s psyche a long time ago.’
All I can say is where does Britain and the Labour Party go from here? The country seems to be drowning in a swamp of confusion and hate.